Friday, 4 November 2011

The Transporter Bridge (NZ500214)

The more modern a landmark the more likely it is to be disliked, it seems, by those who know it.  With the passage of time, and as feelings of familiarity grow, often such prejudices disappear as an ageing creation becomes assimilated into the local psyche.  It may even become a loved and protected treasure.  And so it is with the Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough, as it moves beyond its centenary and begins to enjoy a new-found place in the hearts of Teessiders.

Built in 1911 to meet the growing demand for improved communications across the Tees, the famous old erection epitomises the town’s famed rapid Victorian growth – population of 131 in 1831 to in excess of 91,000 in 1901.  A ferry had previously laboured under the increasing strain and, though the idea of constructing a bridge was mooted as long ago as 1858, progress was slow.  Alderman McLauchlan advocated the idea strongly in 1901, and eventually the notion permeated Council circles until being properly adopted in 1906.  An Act of Parliament was thus obtained in 1907 and years of preparation followed culminating, in 1909, in the appointment of the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company of Darlington as designers/engineers, with Sir William Arrol & Co. of Glasgow named as contractors.

It was Alderman McLauchlan himself and the then mayor, Colonel Poole, who laid the two foundation stones on the south bank on 3rd August 1910.  Little more than a year later the bridge was complete, and HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught performed the opening ceremony on 17th October 1911 with a host of other dignitaries in attendance.

The ‘Tranny’, as it came to be known, is a curious affair.  One of only sixteen such bridges built worldwide (and most likely to be the last survivor), it works by the simple principle of rolling a suspended ‘car’ hung from overhead cables from one bank to the other.  The journey takes some 2½ minutes, and around 600 persons (or the equivalent weight in vehicles) may be carried at once.  The original toll of 1d per passenger and 6d per car remained in force until as recently as 1967 when, in fact, such items as carts, oxen, sheep, cows and goats were still listed among the tariff rates!

Not long after the threat of demolition was averted, Martin Phillips wrote in 1992 that the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge “is a focal point of local pride and a symbol of achievement and hope.  As I write during a recession it is difficult to see how anybody would wish to destroy such a symbol” – surely the height of praise for any landmark, anywhere in the world.

Facts & figures:  
Total cost: £84,000;
Total length: 850ft;
Span between towers: 570ft;
Highest part of bridge from high water mark: 225ft;
Concrete in foundations: 10,000 cubic ft;
Steel in bridge: 2,600 tons.

[this article was taken from Aspects of North-East History, Volume 1, by Michael Southwick –available from here in both hard copy format and as an e-book]

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