The Bridges

Any visitor to Queensferry cannot help but notice our three very large and very different bridges. Indeed, people come from all over the world to see them.

The Forth Bridge

The Forth bridge (a railway bridge) was the first of the three to be built. Thomas Bouch, who had built the Tay bridge, originally planned a two part suspension bridge at the present site and preliminary work began in 1876. When the Tay bridge collapsed in 1879 work on the Forth bridge stopped immediately and a new design by John Fowler (a Yorkshireman) and Benjamin Baker was adopted. Work began in 1883 under constructor William Arrol and it was completed in 1890. The workforce was huge; more than 4500 men (known as Briggers) worked day and night at one point. The construction was not without tragedy; there were at least 73 briggers who died because of accidents while working on the bridge, their ages ranging from 13 to 61 years old.

The cantilever design of Fowler and Baker was quite revolutionary at the time and is regarded as quite beautiful today. The bridge used over 51,000 tons of steel, held together by 5,000,000 rivets. The highest point is 361 feet above high water level and the entire bridge is 1.5 miles long.

This image from 1888 shows the three cantilevers (Fife, Inchgarvie and Queensferry) under construction.

The bridge was opened officially by HRH The Prince of Wales on 4th March 1890, when he drove in the last (gold plated) rivet by turning a key on an automatic rivetting machine designed by Arrol. However, the first train carrying passengers (directors and senior management) had crossed on 24th January 1890, with the Marchioness of Tweeddale at the controls.

Image courtesy of Associated Newspaper

The Bridge was protected from corrosion for many years by a coating of lead oxide based paint developed by Craig and Rose of Edinburgh which gave it its distinctive red colour. “Painting the Forth Bridge” has entered the language as a metaphor for a job that never ends, although it is a myth that the painters would paint it end to end and then start again. There was always some “touching up” needed. The painters in this image from c.1931 have neither safety equipment nor special clothing, despite their rather precarious position. In the early 21st century 115 years of paint were removed and replaced with a modern polymer based coating designed to last 25 years.

The Forth Bridge was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2015.

Anyone seeking further information should read “The Briggers: the story of the men who built the Forth Bridge” by Elspeth Wills, published in 2009 by Birlinn.

The Forth Road Bridge

There were passenger ferries operating between South Queensferry and North Queensferry harbour for centuries. The original small sailing boats were replaced in 1821 by the first steam powered vessel, the Queen Margaret. After 1918, the Dundee entered service as a ferry for the Queensferry passage. She had served as a tender for some of Beatty’s battlecruisers during the war and had room on her foredeck for vehicles. Over the years, more and more vehicles required transport across the Forth and other ferries were brought into service, the older boats being replaced. These ferries continued until 1964. At their peak, they provided a 15 minute service across the Forth, and carried over 1,250,000 passengers, 600,000 cars and 200,000 commercial vehicles per year.

The Dundee at the Hawes pier.

This enormous volume of traffic could not be catered for by a few small ferries. A road bridge was required.

Work began on the Forth Road Bridge in September 1958 and it was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth on 4th September 1964. When opened it was the 4th longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest outside the USA. The roadway is suspended by vertical steel cables from the main cables. These are some 2 feet in diameter and are made of 11,000 5mm high tensile steel wires spun together.

The total length of the bridge is more than 1.5 miles and the central span is 3,300 feet long. The two towers reach 512 feet above mean water level.

The Forth Road Bridge from South Queensferry.

Seven lives were lost during construction.

The bridge was opened as a toll bridge, with the tolls set at 1/6d, (one shilling and sixpence) per car or 7.5p in today’s money. By 2008 when tolls were scrapped this had increased to 80p. In the first year, some 2,000,000 cars used the bridge, but in 2008 more than 21,000,000 cars crossed the Forth via the bridge.

At this point, the bridge had exceeded its planned capacity and engineers were becoming worried about its safety, so a third crossing was called for.

The Queensferry Crossing

Construction of the third Forth Bridge began in autumn 2011 and it was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth on 4th September 2017, 53 years to the day after she opened the second Forth Bridge. The name of the bridge, the Queensferry Crossing, was chosen by popular vote from a short list of five names. The style of this bridge is unlike either of the other two bridges. It is a cable stayed bridge with three towers, each some 697 feet tall.

Like the other two, it is a record breaker. It is the longest bridge of its type in the world at 1.7 miles and at one point during its construction it boasted the longest cantilever ever built.

The human cost was lower than either of the other two bridges; there was one fatality during construction.

Image courtesy of Scott Boyd Queensferry Photography Group.

The Queensferry Crossing offers different aspects at different times. From the correct angle on a sunny day its cables look like the sails on an enormous yacht. After nightfall the towers are illuminated by artificial light and appear to some like three huge sets of fishbones, to others as giant angels. You must make up your own mind!