In addition to the massive Tyne Bridge and the futuristic Millennium Bridge, five more bridges cross the Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead, together making an immediately recognisable riverside scene.
Looking upstream under the Tyne Bridge you see two nineteenth century bridges, first the low, ship-like structure of the Swing Bridge then the High Level Bridge which carries a main line railway on its top deck with a roadway beneath. In the distance the piers and arches of two further bridges add their layers to a complicated view.
It was the Romans who built the first Tyne bridge and almost incidentally founded the future city of Newcastle. Known as Pons Aelius – or Aelius’ bridge – after Emperor Hadrian’s family name, the bridge was supported by stone piers but the deck structure was probably made of wood. After the Roman occupiers left, the bridge remained an important river crossing with the timber structure patched, repaired and replaced over the centuries using the same stone foundations. Late in the 12th century the final timber structure was washed away by a storm and a new, twelve arch stone bridge was built in its place. Buildings were gradually added to the bridge so that by the 18th century there were 21 houses, several shops, a chapel and a prison along its length.
In 1771 the stone Medieval bridge was badly damaged by a flood….
and in 1775 the Georgian bridge was built to replace it. As the city grew and industrialized the low stone arches of the Georgian bridge became a major obstacle to shipping. In 1841 local architect Benjamin Green proposed a high level road bridge but failed to attract financial support for his ambitious plans.
By 1843 George Hudson was seeking a route across the Tyne to link his Great North of England Railway to routes towards Edinburgh. Hudson adopted Green’s idea for a high level bridge and, after much negotiation between different railway companies and Newcastle Town Council, an Act of Parliament was granted in 1844 authorising the construction of a dual railway and road bridge. Construction started in 1847, to a design by David Stephenson, and in 1849 the High Level Bridge was opened by Queen Victoria.
In 1861 the Tyne Improvement Act established the River Tyne Commission, tasked with improving navigation and expanding trade by opening the upper reaches of the Tyne to larger vessels. In 1871 the low Georgian bridge was demolished and in 1873 work began on the construction of the Swing Bridge.
Bridge building continued in the twentieth century with the King Edward VII Railway Bridge opened in 1906, the Tyne Bridge in 1928 and the Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge in 1981. The elegant concrete bridge in the distance is the Redheugh road bridge, opened in 1983 by Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Metro Bridge was originally white but was repainted blue in 2006 – the perfect shade to blend with sky and water on a bright, crisp winter day.
The historic pictures in this post come from the wonderful online collection of Newcastle Libraries. Click on any image for a closer view.