Forth Bridge opens
Spanning the Firth Of Forth , the Forth Bridge is a titanic structure whose steel frame shoulders both trains and the burden of history as being, arguably, Scotland’s most iconic feat of civil engineering.
It took seven years to complete. The making of the bridge – an industrial skeleton of steel – was as dangerous an undertaking as the fight for the River Kwai. There is some doubt as to the number of men who lost their lives in its construction, but between 57 and 98 men never returned to their families. Thousands were injured. Some who had fallen from their working stations were picked up by rescue boats. This was a precarious business.
From the 11th Century the crossing between North Queensferry and South Queensferry had been an important route for religious pilgrims making their way from Edinburgh to Dunfermline and St Andrews . So much so that a road or rail route was hugely desired as an alternative to the ferry. But this was a time when civil engineering in Scotland was recoiling from the Tay Bridge Disaster.
On the 28th December, 1879 , 75 people died when Sir Thomas Bouch’s Tay Bridge collapsed, taking a passenger train into the river below. The Tay Bridge was an iconic construction, but when a enquiry was launched into its collapse, Bouch’s design was faulted. This left the Forth Bridge project at a crossroads. Bouch’s professional reputation was seriously damaged, and his original design for the Forth Bridge was now rejected. He died soon after.
The Forth Bridge project was, however, still a priority – it was imperative that Edinburgh and Lothian would have a direct crossing, reflecting the importance of both areas to Scotland’s economy. Scotland was entering a brave new age of industrial endeavour, the Forth Bridge was just a matter of time. In 1883, a cantilever bridge designed by Sir John Fowler, Sir Benjamin Baker and Allan Stewart went into production. Using only steel – over 55,000 tonnes of it – and over 8 million rivets, Sir William Arrol & Co. were tasked with the bridge’s construction.
Of the thousands of men who grafted on the bridge, the final rivet was the responsibility of royalty. At the bridge’s opening ceremony the last rivet, cast in gold, was hammered in by the Prince Of Wales and future King Edward VII . Built by blood, toil and steel, it stands to this day – one of the strongest symbols of Scotland’s nationhood, and its aptitude for industrial endeavour.
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