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Stockton Railway Bridge (1830), site of
River Tees, Stockton on Tees, County Durham, UK
associated engineer
Captain Sir Samuel Brown
Robert Stephenson
date  1829 - December 27th 1830, 1841 - 27th May 1844, 1881, 1906
era  Georgian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  NZ445179
ICE reference number  HEW 717
The present structure is the fifth railway bridge on the same spot. The original version was an iron suspension bridge built to carry the Stockton & Darlington Railway. It was a double first — the first suspension bridge built for rail traffic, running on the first public steam-powered railway. But the bridge oscillated alarmingly under locomotive loads and had to be replaced.
The railway began as a tramway for horse-drawn wagons but soon changed to the greater power of steam locomotion. As part of its eastward progress, Stockton Railway Bridge helped to establish the town of Middlesbrough by bringing the railway to what was then a settlement of some 40 people. It also demonstrated that this type of suspension bridge was not suitable for rail traffic, despite its designer Samuel Brown's pioneering expertise in building similar bridges for road users — he designed the Union Bridge over the River Tweed (1819-20).
Stockton Railway Bridge was 125.6m long with a main span of 85.65m. The 4.9m wide unstiffened deck was suspended from 12 chains of round eye bar links supported by two masonry towers, giving a 6.1m clearance above the river. There were lattice timber parapets on either side. The whole structure cost £2,300 and weighed only 113 tonnes.
According to contemporary reports, when the first steam engine and train crossed the bridge on 27th December 1830, the bridge flexed so much that the deck rippled like a wave in front of the engine. Suspension bridges had seemed to answer the problem of limited headroom that masonry or iron arches could not — at the time cast iron beams had only been proven for railway loads on spans less than 9.1m. Making the structure's deck rigid enough to withstand the live loads of railways was not compatible with suspension bridge design, and they are still not used for British railways.
Tests using an 18.3 tonne load produced a measured deflection of 235mm. And a load of 67.1 tonnes was enough to damage the towers — the one on the Yorkshire side cracked. Trains still had to cross the river somehow, so the bridge was propped mid span and traffic was restricted to four wagons at a time, spaced 8.2m apart by chains.
Site investigations were undertaken in 1841. Robert Stephenson designed a five span cast iron trussed girder bridge with three spans over the river. It was carried on piled masonry piers, and replaced the suspension bridge and opened on 27th May 1844. It was similar to his 1846 bridge over the River Dee in Chester.
On 29th May 1847, Stephenson's Dee Bridge collapsed and to safeguard against the same thing happening at Stockton, props were inserted. It continued to carry traffic until 1881 when a wrought iron bridge was built alongside (completed 1882) to add two more tracks. This new structure also had five spans of plate girders supported on concrete-filled iron cylinders.
In 1906, Stephenson’s Stockton Bridge was brought back into service. A new superstructure was founded on the original piers, and the cast iron girders replaced with mild steel plate girders. The nextdoor wrought iron bridge was closed and the rail tracks removed.
The 1882 bridge was demolished in 2008-9 to make way for a new steel and concrete railway bridge, which is what we have today. The foundations of the original 1830 suspension bridge were discovered during the works.
Suspension chains (1829-30): Brown's of Newbridge, Pontypridd
Site investigation (1841): John Harris
Contractor (1841-4): Grahamsley and Read
Research: ECPK
"The Chronicle of the Stockton and Darlington Railway to 1863"
by John H. Proud, North Eastern Railway Association, Hartlepool, 1998
reference sources   CEH NorthBDCE1RS

Stockton Railway Bridge (1830), site of