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High Level Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne

Archive/Image Reference


Title of Original Drawing



Name goes here

Description of Drawing


Date of Creation


Scale of Original Drawing


  • Image 1 of 5
    Elevation of part of middle bays
    High Level Bridge...
  • Image 2 of 5
    Longitudinal section through land arches and foundations at Newcastle end of bridge
    High Level Bridge...
  • Image 3 of 5
    Side Elevation at One of the Middle Piers
    High Level Bridge...
  • Image 4 of 5
    Plan of railroad at Newcastle end of bridge
    High Level Bridge...
  • Image 5 of 5
    Plan of carriage road at Newcastle end of bridge
    High Level Bridge...
High Level Bridge side elevation
Side elevation at one of the middle piers

Did you know?

The original roadway over the bridge required the manufacture of 200,000 specially shaped wooden blocks.

When the High Level Bridge at Newcastle opened in 1849, it was an important part of the railway promoters’ objective to create a continuous line that would run from London to Edinburgh. Designed by Robert Stephenson, the bridge was to combine rail and road traffic, and was the first in the world to do so. 

The Newcastle & Berwick Railway secured the Act to build its line in 1845. It stipulated that the company should construct a combined road and rail bridge across the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead, to be completed within four years.

The bridge was designed by Robert Stephenson and detailed drawings were made under the supervision of Thomas E Harrison. To avoid excessive width, and thereby expense, it was decided to carry the railway above, rather than beside, the roadway. The roadway itself was designed to be 20ft (6m) wide with a 61/2ft (2m) footway on either side. The combined width allowed three standard gauge tracks to run across the top rail level of the bridge. The overall length of the bridge was to be 1338ft (408m).

The bridge was a tied arch (or bow-string) bridge with the main structural elements made of either cast or wrought iron. It had in total six spans each 125ft (38m) in length, the cast iron bows supporting the railway while wrought iron ties supported the road deck below. To enable a level line for the railway across the deep and wide Tyne valley, the roadway was built at 96ft (29m) and the railway 120ft (37m) above high water on the river. Contracts for the production of the ironwork were let to local firm Hawkes, Crawshay & Co of Newcastle.

The bridge sits on five masonry piers, 50ft (15m) thick and 16ft (5m) wide. Although the River Tyne at the point the bridge is constructed was no more than 3ft (1m) deep at low water, its bed consisted of some 30ft (9m) of silt before underlying bedrock could be reached. A recent invention, the ‘Nasmyth Steam Pile Driver’, was used for the first time in bridge building, enabling the piles for the bridge foundations to be driven down to the bedrock quickly and efficiently. Rush & Lawton of York were contracted to build the five main masonry piers and the land arches on each side carrying the approaches; 50,000 tons of stone was quarried near Newcastle, mainly at Heddon on the Wall.

To assist in the construction work a wooden viaduct was built immediately to the east of the permanent one. This temporary structure was opened to railway traffic on 29 August 1848, just a year before the High Level Bridge itself was opened by Queen Victoria on 27 September 1849. The public roadway over the bridge was not completed and opened until some six months later.

In 1906 King Edward VII opened the King Edward railway bridge nearby, which provided a shorter route into Newcastle station. Today the High Level Bridge is used as a turning loop on the East Coast Mainline. Between 2001 and 2008 Network Rail undertook an extensive refurbishment project of the bridge which strengthened the structure as well as restoring some if its original features. For its research into the use of cast iron as well as the conservation techniques it employed, the project received prestigious awards, including the 2009 Grand Prize for Conservation from Europa Nostra. 

Page first created: Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Page last updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012


31 July: the Newcastle & Berwick Railway Act is passed. Robert Stephenson is appointed engineer to design the High Level Bridge.



August: the contracts for the construction of the bridge are awarded.



Work on the High Level Bridge begins.



29 August: a temporary wooden viaduct built alongside the line of the bridge is opened to rail traffic.



15 August: the bridge is opened for rail traffic. 28 September: the bridge is officially opened by Queen Victoria.



4 February: the roadway on the bridge is opened. Tolls are charged for pedestrians, horses, wagons and for 20 head of cattle. The tolls were not abolished until 1937.



The cast iron girders at rail level are replaced with wrought iron



The timber cross girders of the roadway are replaced by steel to enable trams to use the bridge.



The road deck is modified to accommodate two tram tracks.



The bridge becomes a Grade 1 listed structure.



- 1959. The timber rail decking on the bridge is replaced by steel.



- 1991. The rail section of the bridge is refurbished by British Rail.



- 2008. Network Rail undertakes a major £42m renewal project to strengthen and refurbish the bridge and restore original features.

Front elevation and end towers

Britannia Bridge, North Wales | Bridges and Viaducts

The Britannia Bridge made use of Robert Stephenson’s iron tubular bridge design. When built it had the longest continuous wrought iron span in the world. Devastated by fire in 1970 the bridge was rebuilt using the masonry supports in Stephenson’s original structure. 
Read more


Tweed Contract South Abutment &c of the Tweed viaduct

Royal Border Bridge, Berwick upon Tweed | Bridges and Viaducts

The Royal Border Bridge was the last link in completing a continuous railway line running between London and Edinburgh. Designed by Robert Stephenson, the bridge was a more traditional masonry structure than its contemporaries the High Level and Britannia bridges, but it is one that has stood the test of time.
Read more


Seal of the Newcastle and Berwick Railway, 1845

Newcastle and Berwick Railway | Companies

A short lived company, the Newcastle and Berwick Railway was responsible for the construction of a crucial part of today’s east coast mainline. 
Read more


Signature of Robert Stephenson, 1847

Robert Stephenson  (1803 - 1859) | People

Robert Stephenson built on the considerable achievements of his father, George. His forward thinking enabled the significant expansion of railways during the ‘railway mania’ of the mid nineteenth century. His expertise in both civil and mechanical engineering established the concept of the railway which developed in this country, and was then exported to the world. 
Read more

Comments & Suggestions (5)

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 When I read the article in the Guardian about your online archive I was quite excited but what a huge disappointment. The scans are such low resolution that virtually no detail is readable and no high res download is available even in your store. What could have been a fascinating and valuable educational resource seems to be just a cynical marketing exercise.

Posted by john mac, Friday, March 2, 2012.

 Nice to se the pencil calculations for the overall peirs. Would also be an intresting note to add that the original timber road deck was replcaed at the same time as the restoration/repair work was carried out.

Posted by Paul Mason, Thursday, March 1, 2012.

 John Mac — the images are pretty high resolution! I'm guessing you didn't try zooming in on the images? Also, the images are available to license on the "Buy" link: just look at the bottom.

Posted by Alastair Jardine, Saturday, March 3, 2012.

My great grandfather was said to be the steam engine driver who drove the King over the bridge on its official opening, his name was George Watson Bell. I was told he was presented to the King after driving him over and the King gave him a coin to commemorate the day ( the King wore white gloves) wouldn't want to dirty his hands would he. Does anyone have any info on this please?

Posted by Gillian Bell, Wednesday, January 22, 2014.

 I seem to remember my grandfather mentioning that there were two drivers on the train that that opened the Edward VII bridge. My great grandfather ( his father) Joseph W Thompson was also presented with a bronze coin as the driver of the royal train at the opening. The bronze coin given to him says presented by WW and HAW.

Posted by Tony Thompson, Sunday, December 7, 2014.

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See also

Signature of George Stephenson, 1847

George Stephenson

The combination of George Stephenson’s achievements in both civil and mechanical engineering has directly influenced much of our railway infrastructure. He foresaw a national network of lines, running at a ‘standard gauge’ with minimal gradients. Routes he surveyed and structures he designed and built are still in use today. For this pioneering work he is known as the father of the railways.   Read more

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