By Alex Jones
STRIKING photos capture the brave men and women who built one of the North East’s most recognisable structures ninety years after the icon was fully finished.
Although the awe-inspiring Tyne Bridge was officially opened on 10 October 1928 by King George V, it was not until august the following year that the bridge’s stone towers were declared complete.
Remarkable photos celebrate the construction of the Geordie landmark, which links Newcastle-upon-Tyne with Gateshead, and show the nimble workers who risked life and limb building what was to become the longest single span bridge in the UK, the watershed moment the 194ft arch above the river Tyne was completed, and the completed structure in all its glory.
These incredible images were taken by James Bacon & Sons of Newcastle and document the Tyne Bridge’s construction from March 1927 to October 1928. They belonged to James Geddie, who was Chief Assistant Engineer on the construction of the Bridge with Dorman, Long & Co. Ltd. of Middlesbrough.
The grade II-listed arch was designed by eminent civil engineer Ralph Freeman who was also central in the design of the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, considered its sister bridge (although construction of the far larger Australian Bridge started in 1923, two years before the Tyne Bridge project began).
Remarkably, considering the workers on the engineering masterpiece often used ladders roped together to complete their tasks and few health and safety precautions were in place, only one person died whilst the bridge was being built. His name was Nathaniel Collins and he was a father of four. A week after his death, and somewhat poignantly, the famous steel arch was completed.
Occasionally agile labourers would simply shimmy up the steel columns to get around the building site, earning them the nicknames of ‘spidermen’. The bridge, which cost £1.2million, was built like a ship using shipbuilding techniques with rivets and panels welded together. It is now a potent symbol of the character and industrial pride of Tyneside.
The Tyne Bridge’s towers were built of Cornish granite and were originally designed as warehouses with five storeys. But the inner floors of the warehouses in the bridge’s towers were never completed and, as a result, the storage areas were never used and the bridge was finally ‘finished’ in August 1929.
Lifts for passengers and goods were built in the towers to provide access to the Quayside although they are no longer in use.