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Forth Bridge, Fife

Archive/Image Reference

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Elevation and section (coloured)
Forth Bridge elevation and section (coloured)

Did you know?

All that was built of Thomas Bouch’s suspension bridge was a single pier on Inch Garvie. Today it has a small lighthouse; dwarfed by the vast scale of the Bridge itself.

The Forth Bridge is a celebrated Scottish landmark, and a milestone in the development of railway civil engineering. It was the first major structure in Britain to be made of steel and its construction resulted in a continuous East Coast railway route from London to Aberdeen. 

The first crossing of the Forth by the railway came in 1850 when the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway started the world’s first ‘train ferry’ - a ferry boat specially designed by Thomas Bouch to take railway coaches - between Granton and Burntisland.

In August 1873 the North British Railway obtained authority to build a railway bridge across the Firth of Forth and construction of a suspension bridge, also designed by Thomas Bouch, began in 1878. However when Bouch’s original Tay Bridge collapsed during a storm in December 1879, work on his bridge across the Forth stopped immediately pending a full inquiry.

Bouch’s suspension bridge plans were abandoned in 1881 and designs for a new bridge were invited by the newly formed Forth Bridge Railway Company which had been established jointly by those railway companies who had most to gain from a railway crossing the Forth: the North British Railway, the Midland Railway and the North Eastern and Great Northern railways.

 

New plans are made

The bridge was to cross the Forth between South Queensferry, now part of Edinburgh and North Queensferry in Fife, making use of the island of Inch Garvie a little way from the north shore. Its design had to conform to specifications from both the admiralty who stipulated that the Forth remained a navigable channel, and the Board of Trade, concerned by the recent Tay Bridge disaster, who stipulated that the bridge must be rigid and stiff and capable of carrying the heaviest freight trains.

John Fowler and his partner Benjamin Baker were engaged by the Forth Bridge Company to develop their cantilevered design for the bridge which took into account these restrictions. The contract for its construction was let to Messers Arrol & Co of Glasgow in 1882 and work on the bridge started in 1883.

 

Bridge building on a vast scale

The Forth Bridge has three double cantilevers with two 1700ft suspended spans between them, at the time the longest bridge spans in the world. As required by the Admiralty, the rail level is 150ft (46m) above high water. Each of the towers has four steel tubes 12ft (3.7m) in diameter and reach to a height of 361ft (110m) above high water. Their foundations extend 89ft below this into the river bed, making the total height from foundations to the top of the towers 137 metres. The total length of the bridge, including its approach viaducts is 2,467 metres. The main structure itself measures 1,630 metres portal to portal.

Baker and Fowler’s bridge was the first major construction in Britain to be made from steel; the bridge incorporates 53,000 tonnes of the material. The design of the bridge was very carefully balanced, with allowance being made for a maximum thermal expansion of 16½ inches (420mm) over the 5350ft (1630m) steel central structure. It incorporated 6.5 million rivets, which aggregated 4,200 tons weight alone. It was designed to withstand a wind force of 56lb per square foot.

Building the foundations for the vast towers started with the construction of huge caissons which were built on site and sunk using compressed air. The first of the caissons was floated into position on 26 May 1884. By 1886 all the foundations were in position ready to take the steelwork. Thanks to the organisation and inventiveness of William Arrol, the bridge was completed in November 1889, just 6 years after work started (although at the time the weather was particularly cold and Arrol had to wait for milder weather conditions before the enormous structure expanded sufficiently for the final rivets to be inserted). Overall the bridge cost £3million to build and employed a workforce of 4,600 men at the height of construction.

After all testing and inspections of the bridge were completed, it was formally opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), who drove home a final gold plated rivet, on 4 March 1890. At the same ceremony, he also knighted Benjamin Baker.

 

Painting the Forth Bridge...

In 2001 a major refurbishment project on the Forth Bridge was announced. Over the following 10 years, sections of the bridge were covered with significant scaffold access systems with specially prepared screening to prevent debris from the sandblasting and paint affecting or contaminating the environment. After removing the old paint back to the metal, any steelwork that required maintenance was repaired before the new paint was applied. After thorough cleaning of the steel structure, paint was then applied in three protective layers, both by airless spray and by hand in areas particularly difficult to access, over an area of 230,000 sq metres. The techniques and paint used during the refurbishment means that the bridge will not require a full paint for at least 20 years, finally putting an end to the myth that ‘painting the Forth Bridge’ is a never ending task.

 

Page first created: Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Page last updated: Wednesday, June 19, 2013

1850

The ‘train ferry’ was introduced between Granton and Burntisland. This service continued until the Forth Bridge was opened.

 

1873

5 August: the North British Railway obtains initial authority to build a suspension bridge across the Firth of Forth.

 

1878

William Arrol begins construction of Thomas Bouch’s suspension bridge design.

 

1879

December: the collapse of Thomas Bouch’s Tay bridge in a storm immediately halts Forth Bridge construction.

 

1881

January: Thomas Bouch’s design for the suspension bridge across the Forth is abandoned.

 

1881

11 June: the Forth Bridge Railway Company is jointly established by the North British railway, the Midland Railway, the North Eastern railway and the Great Northern Railway at a meeting at York.

 

1881

September: the cantilevered design for the Forth Bridge is accepted by Board of Trade.

 

1882

3 July: the Forth Railway Bridge is approved by Act of Parliament.

 

1882

21 December: the contract to build the bridge is awarded to Messers Arrol & Co. of Glasgow.

 

1883

Bridge construction begins.

 

1884

26 May: the first caisson launched.

 

1885

29 May: the last caisson launched.

 

1886

The foundations for the bridge are finished.

 

1889

November: the cantilever towers are completed. Testing of the bridge begins.

 

1890

4 March: the Forth Bridge is officially opened by the Prince of Wales. Benjamin Baker is knighted.

 

1913

– 1921. The bridge is strengthened.

 

1923

1 January: ‘Grouping’ of Britain’s main line railways into four companies takes place, although the Forth Bridge Railway technically remains independent until 1948.

 

1939

16 October: the Forth Bridge is attacked by the German Air Force early in World War 2.

 

2001

A major refurbishment of the Forth Bridge is announced.

 

2004

The Forth Bridge is commemorated on a £1 coin.

 

2007

The Forth Bridge is commemorated on the Bank of Scotland £20 note.

 

2011

The 10 year £130m project to refurbish the bridge is completed. The bridge will not need repainting for over 20 years.

 
NRCA110035TH1

Tay Bridge, Dundee | Bridges and Viaducts

A key structure in the Scottish railway route, the Tay Bridge brought increased travel and trade opportunities to the east coast of Scotland. Out of the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 a new structure emerged which set new standards for bridge building in Britain. 
Read more

 

North British Railway crest

North British Railway | Companies

From a modest start, the North British Railway provided a vital link in building an east coast mainline that would stretch from London to Aberdeen. Engineering on its railway lines was often pioneering and included the first major works in Britain to be made of steel and of concrete. Their bridges over the Tay, the Forth and their viaduct at Glenfinnan are major parts of the Scotland route today.
Read more

 

Signature of WH Barlow, c1866

William Henry Barlow  (1812 - 1902) | People

WH Barlow was a civil engineer known for his large scale engineering projects in the late nineteenth century. He was responsible for the magnificent train shed roof at St Pancras station, the largest in the world when constructed. In the wake of disaster he designed the new Tay Bridge, setting new standards for civil engineering. His investigations into steel and the engineering of girders led to the design of the Forth Bridge, one of the most impressive railway structures in the world. 
Read more

 
 
 
 
Comments & Suggestions (13)

Your comments and suggestions are welcomed. Please note that all submissions will be reviewed and will be dealt with in accordance with our terms and conditions of website use. We reserve the right not to publish any comments or suggestions. Your [user name] will be displayed as provided and all personal information will be dealt with in accordance with the terms of our privacy policy. Please ensure that you have read our terms and conditions of website use and our privacy policy in full prior to submitting any comments or suggestions.

 

 Wow, I'm very very impressed. And good for Network Rail to make these archives available on the internet where they will inspire future generations of young men and women to pursue engineering, management, and the trades! We focus so much on "celebrities", but the people who actually change our world, who change our way of life, generally pass by nameless and faceless.

Posted by Keith Tarrant, Wednesday, February 29, 2012.


 This is most beautiful structure ever. I have so many memories of my times crossing over to the Fife side to visit family.

Posted by Robina Abercrombie, Monday, October 21, 2013.


 I am so priveliged to be in possession of one of the one hundred rivots removed on the date that this beauty was 100 yrs old

Posted by CHARLIE HORTON, Thursday, August 8, 2013.


 very big

Posted by tyler, Monday, October 14, 2013.


 the bridge is magnificent

Posted by brian lynskey, Tuesday, October 1, 2013.


 Wow its realy cool site.... I can gather lot of information...... :)

Posted by Sinshore, Wednesday, February 20, 2013.


 How many rivets are in the constuction of it? Just abit of technology homework thats all:)

Posted by Molly-Ann, Monday, September 17, 2012.


 I was born and raised in Kirkcaldy and as a young boy I used to be in awe at the size and magnificence of the beauty of the Forth Bridge which made me feel very proud of my heritage and to cross over in the train was always a thrill and joy for me. We always tossed a penny out of the train window for good luck as well.

Posted by George Brown, Tuesday, March 27, 2012.


 I heard my ancestor took the first goods/ passenger train over the forth railway bridge,could you clarify this , his name was john waugh.

Posted by william waugh, Saturday, January 12, 2013.


Really excited about the proposed visitor centre(s). This bridge is world famous and visits would be a highlight of a Scottish holiday or a local day out. I look forward to developments and commend your enterprise. I walked the bridge twice when a student in the 1970s (legally!), but it was backs to the railings when the lookouts whistled and then a DMU passed at 40 mph with about 2 feet to spare (or so it seemed). Females were not allowed in those days!

Posted by Harry Laird, Friday, October 4, 2013.


 I got the chance to work on the bridge it was a great job and made great work mates It is one of the best looking bridges in the world and I am part of its history..

Posted by John Mc Clune, Wednesday, November 6, 2013.


 As along admirer of this magnificent edifice I congratulate you on the article you have provided on the Forth Rail Bridge. If I could suggest and addition to your article, would it be possible to add more photographs on this marvelous structure to highlight its spleandour. Thank you

Posted by James M Thom, Thursday, May 10, 2012.


Just wondering... how much does the bridge hold?

Posted by Carry Winn, Wednesday, September 19, 2012.


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See also

NRCA110035TH1

Tay Bridge, Dundee

A key structure in the Scottish railway route, the Tay Bridge brought increased travel and trade opportunities to the east coast of Scotland. Out of the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 a new structure emerged which set new standards for bridge building in Britain.   Read more


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