22 May 2014

Tyneside Bridges: 9. King Edward VII Bridge

This bridge was built in 1906 to supplement Stephenson's 1849 High Level Bridge, which had proved to be a severe constraint on railway traffic across the Tyne. The King Edward VII Bridge eliminated the need for trains to complete a reversing operation at Newcastle railway station.

It was built by Cleveland Bridge, who have been a frequent presence in this series of posts, having also been responsible for the QEII Metro Bridge, Tyne Bridge, Infinity Bridge and Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge. It was designed by Charles Harrison, nephew of Thomas Harrison who had prepared the working drawings for the High Level Bridge.

In his book British Railway Bridges, David Walters describes this structure as "the last great bridge of the Railway Age in Britain". This seems a little unfair, as Sunderland's impressive Queen Alexandra Bridge, by the same designer, opened three years later. Even the King Edward Bridge's designer himself said of it that "there was nothing very striking in the design of the bridge". When the design and construction was discussed at the Institution of Civil Engineers, almost all the discussion related to the sinking of the foundation caissons.

Comparing the King Edward Bridge to its High Level predecessor, there are significant differences, reflecting the six decades which separate them. Stephenson's bridge incorporated considerable elements of cast-iron, which would later become discredited on the railways following a number of bridge failures. The old bridge had six spans of 125 feet, while the new structure had four spans ranging from 200 to 300 feet. It belonged to the age of steel, and so could avoid the need for so many expensive piers and foundations.

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