04 January 2020

Some recent books about bridges

I have a couple of posts on recent bridge visits in preparation, but meanwhile here's a quick round-up of a few books about bridges that have recently arrived at Pontist Towers ...

From Brycgstow to Bristol in 45 Bridges by Jeff Lucas and Thilo Gross (Bristol Books, 144pp, ISBN 978-1-90944-618-2, 2019) is a catalogue of all the bridges spanning Bristol's main waterways (at least, those that can be crossed by foot), presented in the order of a possible walking tour (albeit quite a long walk). The city is mentioned as Brycgstow in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translated as "place by the bridge", sited at the confluence of the Rivers Frome and Avon. Over the years, it expanded as a port, especially after the creation in the early 19th century of the New Cut to divert the main river, turning the remainder into the "Floating Harbour".

Inevitably, a profusion of bridges resulted, and Jeff Lucas shares their stories with his own photographs in this book. It's a general interest book, so more of a travel guide or social history than a book on architecture or engineering, which is fine. The idea to write the book arose from an article by mathematician Thilo Gross applying the Königsberg Bridge Problem to Bristol, and a chapter by Gross explains this topological network puzzle in more detail.

Thomas Telford's remarkable bridge over the Menai Straits was opened in 1826, so to find an excuse for a bicentennial history, Menai Suspension Bridge: The First 200 Years (Menai Heritage, 206pp, ISBN 978-0-9932351-3-9, 2019), the author Bob Daimond has had to date events to the laying of the first stone, in August 1819. Spanning 176m, this was the longest bridge in the world when completed, a tremendous achievement given the state of engineering knowledge at the time.

Daimond's book is a definitive history of Telford's masterpiece, and very well illustrated with extracts from archive drawings, photographs etc. It discusses in detail the planning, testing, design and construction of the bridge, and its subsequent history including storm-induced failures, alterations and eventual reconstruction in the mid-20th century. As a history of engineering it is exemplary; my only complaint would be that it has little to say beyond that, on the bridge's cultural status, on the people who use it, and on its place in the wider history of suspension bridges.

Bridges by David Ross (Amber Books, 224pp, ISBN 978-1-78274-576-1, 2018) is essentially just a coffee-table photo book, a collection of photographs (with short descriptive text), arranged chronologically. The bridges are from all around the world and the photos are from a variety of photographers, so there's no special theme or style. Nonetheless, I found it a very enjoyable book. The photos are very well-chosen, and well presented, often across two pages. There are plenty of familiar bridges, plus quite a few that are less well-known, or were to me, anyway. A real effort has been made to span the globe, and the result is a fine reminder of the variety and ingenuity that bridge-builders have brought to their art over many centuries.

Ann-Mary Paterson is the great-grand-niece of William and Murdoch Paterson, two of the engineers responsible for construction of various railway lines radiating from Inverness in Scotland in the late 19th century. Her 2017 book, Spanning the Gaps: Highland Railway Bridges and Viaducts (Highland Railway Society, 96pp, ISBN 978-0-9927311-1-3; my copy was purchased from Old School Beauly) describes the history of the Highland Railways, with a focus on the structures that carried traffic through often quite difficult terrain.

The book is very well illustrated, with a mixture of historic and modern photographs, and several historic drawings. There are some informative photographs of construction, and some following various disasters, such as the 1989 collapse of the Ness Viaduct. There are some fascinating and impressive bridges along these railway routes: Culloden Viaduct, William Fairbairn's box girder bridges across the Rivers Findhorn and Spey; the timber Aultnaslanach Viaduct; Findhorn Viaduct; swing bridges over the Caledonian Canal; ornate castellated viaducts at Blair Atholl and elsewhere; and many more.

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