Tyne Bridge

Landmark Span
Sat. 6th April, 2002

Newcastle's most instantly recognisable structure is the Tyne Bridge. It was opened by King George V on 10th October 1928. Movietone News recorded his speech for one of their first talkies, local schoolchildren were given a day off, and in the days after its opening unprecedented traffic jams were caused by those wishing to use this toll-free crossing. The jams continue to the present day.

Five years earlier T. Webster, a civil engineer, presented his proposals for a second high level road crossing to the Newcastle and Gateshead Chamber of Commerce. By April 1924 the plans were passed and the new Tyne Bridge was under way.

North Tower webcam

See the view from the North Tower
See the view from the South Tower

South Tower webcam

Tyne Brigde for Lombard Street
Classic view from Quayside
Building the bridge - 15th February, 1928

 ©1978 Newcastle City Libraries

From Sandhill and the Guildhall
Webcam mounted on the top of the North tower

The design was prepared by Mott Hay and Anderson, and the contractor was Dorman Long of Middlesbrough. Work started in August 1925. The navigation of the river had to be maintained so the building of the massive arch had to be carried out by means of supporting cables until the two halves met with great ceremony on 25th February, 1928. The photo to the left was taken ten days before that grand meeting.

Once the arch was secured work on the road deck could continue. The gas, water and electricity companies were given rights to install pipes in the service duct under the roadway.

Two large towers, faced in Cornish granite with internal passenger lifts completed the project, although the south tower was only half finished at the opening.

Two narrow arches of a rail viaduct on the Newcastle side had to be widened, and these in turn were removed completely during the construction of the Swan House Roundabout in the 1960s.

There was a story that went around that it was no use expecting the bridge to last as it was built on Sandhill on one side and snowballs on the other. Snowballs was a large  furniture store at the foot of Gateshead High Street where the bridge ended there.

In the 1960s two ambitious plans were put forward for further crossings. The A1 Highway was to extend north from the elevated section at Gateshead, where the present deck ends abruptly today, over a new crossing to the east of the Tyne Bridge, over the Quayside and City Road, east of Manors Railway station and join the present Central Motorway at Jesmond Station.

In 1969 a "Tyne Deck" was planned to extend across the river at the Quayside and cut off navigation completely. The bold plan was to join Newcastle and Gateshead into a new city of Tyneside. Opposition was strong, and the impeachment of T. Dan Smith and architect John Poulson ensured that the plans ended in the waste bin.

Today's view from the Tyne Bridge can be enjoyed the world over thanks to these two cameras mounted on the top of the towers. Click
here for the north tower cam, and here for the south.

North Tower

See the view from the North Tower

South Tower

See the view from the South Tower

Some people still believe that this bridge was the model for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is not so, as the contract for the Australian bridge was signed in March 1924 and that for the Tyne Bridge in December of that year. However, the larger bridge down under was not completed until 1932, over three years later than the Newcastle one and this gave rise to the notion that the Tyne Bridge was the practice version for the other.

Both structures were based on an idea suggested by the Hell Gate Bridge in New York. (Click
here for more)

The total cost was 1.2m pounds (36m pounds $60m in today's terms) of which 60% came from the government. Its freedom from tolls set the standard, and within a few years the other crossings were freed from payment.

Eastern side arch
Roadway looking north into Newcastle
Side and Queen Street with roadway above

The traveller to Newcastle is now conveyed on a level wide thoroughfare supported by a 3,500 tonne steel arch, and within seconds can be in the heart of this vibrant northern capital.

The vision of Webster and the local councils ensures that both Newcastle and Gateshead can remain commercial centres, and its presence meant that the other two horror story bridges were not carried out.

The renewed Redheugh Bridge and the construction of the central St. James' Boulevard have relieved the pressure on this crossing, but it still forms a bottleneck during the morning and evening peaks.

Only a small number of older buildings were demolished to make way for the bridge. A popular tavern was pulled down at the location of the northern abutment. Reporting on the opening, the Scotsman newspaper said, "In clearing the path of commerce, it has swept away ugly slums on both banks of the river and revealed to full advantage what Newcastle and Gateshead have to boast of in the form of mediaeval antiquities, as well as of modern industry, art, and architecture."

In his opening day speech, the King tried to encourage the spirits of Tynesiders by praising the efforts of construction and design. He said that Tyneside had been in the forefront of the Industrial revolution, the formation of the railways, the coal trade, and manufacturing industry. It had also been most deeply hit by the suffering of depression, unemployment and arrested prosperity that followed in the wake of the Great War.

Beneath the tin legs alongside Akinside Hill this public house was constructed to replace those "ugly slums". Now called Fever, for years it was the Akenside Arms, popular with office workers in this area.

During 2000 the bridge was repainted and the recipie from the original J. Dampney & Co. of Gateshead paint was faithfully recreated. A previous repaint had given it a two tone blue facelift, and to many eyes this return to the original was drab and lifeless.

The bridge played centre stage to the city's Millennium celebrations with a spectacular fireworks display on the stroke of midnight. This was repeated for the proper Millenium at the 00:00hrs of Jan 1st, 2001.

Remember, there was no year zero, so counting started with year one. One thousand years would, therefore, be completed on December 31st year 1000, not year 999.

The massive hinges, at the northern base of the massive arch, are on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, rebuilt from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1854. It had previouly been called the Steam Boat Inn.

The towers were originally designed to be five storey storage areas, but the internal floors were never completed. Those large green doors lead to a void now used to store equipment for the Sunday market. The towers also contain goods and passenger lifts, although these are no longer used.

Akenside Pub under the supports
The northern hinged abutment
Roadway looking west

The original reason for tolls on the High Level Bridge, seen in the background here, was to pay for its construction and upkeep. It was owned by the Railway company, and by the turn of the 20th century it had recouped its expenses many times over.

The tolls were universally hated as a tax on travel to bolster the greedy rail company bosses. Of course, the need for increased capacity in river crossing was a driving force in planning the new bridge, but it is instructive to see the LNER's wriggling and objections to it. It was reaping 20,000 (600,000 $1m in today's terms) per year from the Corporation Tram tolls alone.

The government's subsidy scheme and policy of tolls abolition was the spark that made the project possible.

Visitors and city residents never cease to marvel at this icon to the working man and the freedom to travel.

Its sturdy proportions seem just right, and it demonstrates flexible strength in a world increasingly given over to the flimsy and ephemeral. That the place remains polluted by that dreadful boat is a lasting indictment of the folly of Gateshead council.

The pleasure boat, The Tuxedo Princess, is a floating nightclub. That it is a popular booze and dance venue is not in doubt, but at this mooring it is an eyesore. There is a perfectly good location available just a little upstream from here, adjacent to the Brett's oil depot and served by a better road access.

Span from Sandhill
View over the rooves to the east

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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