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Union Chain Bridge

When erected in 1820 to the design of Cdr. Samuel Brown RN, a pioneer in chain making, this was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world.

 


Region:
Northumberland
Red Wheel Site:
Yes
Transport Mode(s):
Road
Address:

Chain Bridge, Horncliffe, Berwick on Tweed TD15 2XT

Postcode:
TD15 2XT
Visitor Centre:
No
Website:

About Union Chain Bridge

The Union Chain Bridge (also known locally as Union Bridge) is a suspended-deck suspension bridge that spans the River Tweed between Horncliffe, Northumberland, and Fishwick in Scotland. When it opened in 1820 it was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world with a span of 133 m (437 ft), and the first vehicular carrying bridge of its type in the United Kingdom. Although work started on the Menai Suspension Bridge first, Union Bridge was completed earlier. Today it is the world's oldest suspension bridge still carrying road traffic. (See also entry for Gattonside Suspension Bridge).

The bridge was maintained by the Tweed Bridges Trust, between the abolition of turnpike tolls in 1883 and 1986 when Tweed Bridges Trust was wound up. It is now managed by Northumberland County Council in an arrangement struck between the two local authorities. Part of it lies in the Scottish Borders Council area, formerly the County of Berwickshire, and is therefore listed at category A as well as Grade 1 listed building. Generally works that affect the whole bridge will require two consents.

Its longevity may owe something to the fact that it was designed by a Royal Navy officer, Captain Samuel Brown. Brown's first design for the bridge was prepared in 1817, and reviewed by the eminent civil engineer John Rennie. Brown had built at his London works an experimental suspension bridge with a span of 110 ft, which impressed Rennie. Nonetheless, Rennie asked for changes to the design of the stone abutments and towers.

Brown would have been familiar with the fact that a wooden sailing ship is not totally rigid and designed the bridge on the same basis. Originally the deck was supported by six chains of iron bar links on each side. In 1903 a pair of wire rope cables was added. The decking is of timber and flexibility is an innate feature of this type of construction. 

Union Bridge Browns patent 1818

Union Bridge Browns patent 1818

The bridge proposal, received consent in July 1819 using an Act of Parliament that had been passed in 1802, and construction began 2 August 1819. It opened on 26 July the following year, with an opening ceremony attended by Robert Stevenson among others. Captain Brown tested the bridge in a curricle or tandem followed by a number of loaded carts, before a crowd of about 700 spectators crossed. The final cost was about £7,700.

In addition to the 1903 addition of cables, the bridge has been strengthened and refurbishment on many occasions. The bridge deck was substantially renewed in 1871, and again in 1974. It lies on Sustrans Route 1 and the Pennine Cycleway.

In September 2019 the National Lottery Heritage Fund announced a grant of £3.14 million for crucial repair works which started in early 2020, completed and reopened to traffic in 2023.

The Institution of Civil Engineers presented a plaque commemorating the significance of the bridge in 2020 which was unveiled on 6th July 2023

ICE Plaque

Above text has been corrected following feedback from Simon Rudman BEng (Hons) CEng MIStructE, Design Manager, Highways & Transport, Northumberland County Council - with thanks.

 

The Friends of Union Chain Bridge's series of newsletters provided an update on the repair work and are available for download here:

July 2020 newsletter

Supplement 1

Supplement 2

Supplement 3

Supplement 4

Supplement 5

Supplement 6

Supplement 7

Supplement 8

April 2023  newsletter - restoration completed

September 2023 Newsletter

December 2023 Christmas Newsletter

 

 

 

 

This entry has contributions from Prof. Roland Paxton, Mark Watson, Edward Cawthorn and The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, Simon Rudman, Jerry Swift and John Yellowlees for which the National Transport Trust expresses its thanks.

 

The NTT Red Wheel Heritage Plaque was erected in January 2024 on the downstream Scottish pillar. A formal unveilling will follow in due course.

Red Wheel Plaque erected

By road: Off A698 at Horncliffe, west of Berwick on Tweed. 

 

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Drewry, C.S., A Memoir of Suspension Bridges: Comprising a History of their Origin, BiblioBazaar, ISBN -10 05547 25657 (2008)

Melan, Josef, Theory of Arches and Suspension Bridges (1913, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN-10: 1437437125 (2008)

Paxton, R. and Ruddock, T., A Heritage of Bridges Between Edinburgh, Kelso and Berwick , Institution of Civil Engineers, Edinburgh and East of Scotland Association, ASIN: B001OPGJZ0, (1980)

Peters, Tom, Transitions in Engineering: Guillaume Henri Dufour and the Early 19th Century Cable Suspension Bridges, Birkhauser, ISBN-10: 3764319291 (1987)

Steinman, David, A Practical Treatise on Suspension Bridges: Their Design, Construction and Erection (1922), Kessinger Publishing, ISBN-10: 1436606446 (2008)

Steinman, David, Suspension Bridges and Cantilevers, BiblioBazaar, ISBN-10: 0559673132 (2008)

Miller, Gordon and Jones, Stephen K. Samuel Brown and Union Chain Bridge, ISBN 978 1 5272 1616  7 (Berwick upon Tweed 2017) 

 

National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR