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University of Necastle Upon TyneTyne Bridge girders SINE Project: structural images of the North East
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Structure Details
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Structure Name: Union Chain Bridge

Iron chain bridge between England and Scotland with three pairs of iron chains strung between an ashlar tower on the north side, and a cliff face on the south side. The chains support a wooden roadway.

'In the Union Bridge (joining England and Scotland) the iron link bars are no more than two inches diameter, which from a distance makes them almost invisible against the darker waters of the Tweed. The Scottish support tower is a free standing structure whose sides have a marked batter (as suggested by Rennie) and a large round-headed vehicle arch passing through. The English side has no tower as such for the anchorages are here embedded directly into a rock outcrop at 36 feet (10.8 m) above the roadway; the cliff face below the anchorages was faced with masonry to match the Scottish tower, and a small toll collector's lodge, with a Tuscan porch, stood at the foot. This lodge was removed in 1955, but part of its façade, together with the columns, was incorporated into the anchorage wall. The span of the suspension chains is 437 feet (131 m), several times larger than any existing spans of any sort then in Western Europe, but the bridge deck span, at 27 feet (8.1 m) above low water mark, is only 361 feet (108.3 m) to an abutment on the English side which allows the roadway running parallel to the river to turn onto the bridge.'
[Stafford Linsley's annotation]

Extant: Yes

Legal Status: Listed Building Grade I, Scheduled Ancient Monument

Location: Union Br, SCOTTISH BORDERS

Eastings: 393400m (view map)

Northings: 651030m (view map)

Position Accuracy: 100m

Positional Confidence: Absolute Certainty


Historical Background
'Historically this is a very important bridge, being the first suspension bridge in the world designed to carry vehicular traffic. Built 1819-20 to the design of Captain Samuel Brown R.N., who later designed the chain piers at Newhaven and Brighton, as well as other suspension bridges; John Rennie advised on the abutments and the design of the tower. Large iron suspension bridges were first built in America (e.g. James Finlay's chain bridge of 1801 at Jacobs Creek, and White & Hazard's wire-rope bridge at Fairmont, Philadelphia, 1816) but the next developments in suspension bridge design took place in Britain and France. What makes Brown's contribution technically important is his invention of the wrought-iron chain link ('bar-link') and, through its application, the beginnings of long span suspension bridges in Britain.

The entire bridge cost only £7,700, being about one-third of the cost of an equivalent masonry bridge, and took only 11 months to complete. The original suspension hangers were replaced in the 1870s and additional wire suspension ropes and suspension hangers were provided in 1902; general refurbishment has continued in the 20th century.

Some accounts have claimed that the bridge was blown down six months after opening day, but there is no real evidence for this (possible confusion with Dryburgh Bridge). Brown himself, in 1826, said it had "given entire satisfaction" since opening day, and had "been in constant use without any restriction". Moreover, there is no contemporary account of the bridge's collapse. It is, therefore, the oldest surviving suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicular traffic.'
[Stafford Linsley's annotation]


  • 1819 - 1820   Construction of bridge. The official opening was on 26th July, 1820.
        Entities Involved:
              Captain S. Brown, RN: Designer.
              Rennie, John: Advised on the design of the north tower.
  • 1872 - 1873   Major repairs carried out. Suspension hangers replaced.
  • 1883   Tolls were abolished.
  • 1902 - 1903   Further repairs. Additional suspension ropes and hangers installed. Timber deck replaced.
  • 1933   Timber deck replaced.
  • 1955   Tollhouse demolished.
  • 1974   Timber deck replaced.
  • 1979 - 1981   Original chains altered.


  • Additional information about the structure type ROAD BRIDGE is available.
  • Additional information about the structure type SUSPENSION BRIDGE is available.
  • Additional information about the structure type TOLL BRIDGE is available.


The information displayed in this page has been derived from authoritative sources, including any referenced above. Although substantial efforts were made to verify this information, the SINE project cannot guarantee its correctness or completeness.


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Last Modified 26 March 2004
2002 SINE Project, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
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