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Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge
River Tees, Port Clarence to Middlesbrough, UK
Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge
associated engineer
Georges Camille Imbault
Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co.
date  July 1909 - 17th October 1911
era  Modern  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  NZ498213
ICE reference number  HEW 10
photo  © Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
One of only three working transporter bridges left in Britain, Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge has come to symbolically represent the town of Middlesbrough in the north east of England. It can carry nine vehicles at a time on its travelling platform and takes two and a half minutes to cross the River Tees. The Grade II* listed structure is the furthest downstream crossing of the river.
In 1831, Middlesbrough had a population of just 154 people, and its citizens relied on rowboats to ferry them to Port Clarence on the north bank of the river. However, with the iron and steel-making industries expanding, Middlesbrough’s population grew rapidly — reaching 91,302 people by 1901.
Over that period, the ferry service improved. In 1862, the first crossing was was made by a steam powered ferry — the Progress . In 1874, Perseverance was the first to transport horses and carts as well as people. Nevertheless, ferry crossings continued to be impeded by river currents and boat traffic. A more dependable solution was required.
In 1872, Charles Smith (1843-82), then manager of Hartlepool Ironworks north of the river, had put forward the notion of transporting passengers and carriages over the Tees by means of an aerial "bridge ferry". His plan consisted of a fixed high-level girder with a suspended carrying car, estimated to cost £31,162. It was not built.
The idea was fully developed by French bridge engineer Ferdinand Joseph Arnodin (1845-1924), who, with Spanish engineer Martin Alberto Palacio (1856-1939) patented the "pont transbordeur" in 1887. Arnodin’s first bridge of this type opened in 1893 at Bilbao, Spain. He went on to complete a further eight transporter bridges including those at Rouen, France (1898), and Newport in Wales (Newport Transporter Bridge, 1906).
In 1906, Middlesbrough Corporation met with Arnodin and later with William Edwin Pease (1865-1926), chairman/managing director of the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company of Darlington, and its chief engineer, Frenchman Georges Camille Imbault (1877-1951). Imbault had worked on Arnodin’s transporter bridges in Tunisia and Rouen, and directed the construction works at Newport.
In 1907, a Parliamentary Act was passed authorising construction of a transporter toll bridge for Middlesbrough and discontinuation of the ferry service. Imbault and Cleveland Bridge were appointed to design the bridge. The construction contract was awarded to Sir William Arrol & Company of Glasgow, with a tender price of £68,026 6s 8d. Installing a lift (elevator) was considered but rejected by Imbault.
The resulting steel truss bridge is 259.4m long overall, clearing high water level by 48.8m and supported on two pairs of tapering steel lattice towers. Its cantilever construction provides three spans — a central span of 174m between towers and end spans of 42.7m each, tethered to the ground with steel cables anchored in concrete. It has the appearance of two almost independent structures joined at the centre of the river.
The bridge's 10.7m wide travelling gondola has been tested to a load of 80 tonnes and can carry up to 600 persons or the equivalent of nine cars. It is suspended by a cradle of steel cables from a trolley running on a wheel and rail system mounted on girders along the base of the central span, powered electrically from a winding house on the Middlesbrough (south) side. A walkway above the rails is accessed by a flight of 210 stairs on the south east tower.
Foundation works commenced in July 1909. Steel caissons were sunk 21.3m below high water level on the Middlesbrough side and 27.4m below on the Port Clarence side. Construction was carried out in a compressed air environment to repel water, causing some workers to suffer ‘caisson disease’ or ‘the bends’ (nitrogen bubbles in the blood).
On 3rd August 1910, foundation stones of Aberdeen granite were laid by Mayor of Middlesbrough, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Gibson Poole (1859-1937), and Alderman Joseph McLauchlan. On 19th April 1911, the two halves of the structure joined over the river, and the bridge was completed exactly five months later, on 19th September. Its superstructure contains 2,640 tonnes of plated and riveted steel. The total cost was £87,316 — some 28 percent more than the original tender. The bridge was officially opened on 17th October by Prince Arthur of Connaught (1883-1938).
In June 1985, the bridge was Grade II* listed for, among other things, being "the largest bridge of its kind in the world when built". It has become a landmark that embodies Middlesbrough. In 1993, flood lights were installed on the bridge, and these are used in the winter months.
In December 1993, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ awarded the bridge a heritage plaque for engineering excellence, in recognition of the council’s bridge maintenance efforts. In April 1996, local government reorganisation transferred ownership jointly to Middlesbrough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, though Middlesbrough Council is responsible for its operation and maintenance.
The bridge needs to be recoated every decade. Its famous colour scheme of blue steelwork and yellow gondola was repainted in 2003. Ahead of events to celebrate the structure’s centenary in 2011, the winding motor was replaced (2010) to improve reliability.
In August 2013, the bridge closed for extensive refurbishment and upgrade works. These included the installation of a glass viewing lift, replacement of the walkway between towers, refurbishment of the gondola, alterations to the motor room and winding house to allow public viewing, development of the visitor centre (south bank) and improvement of access from the fire station.
At this time, the entire bridge was repainted under a separate contract (completed April 2014). Patch repairs were undertaken to about 25 percent of the steelwork area before recoating. All work was carried out via rope access rather than from temporary structures, and workers had to contend with the hazards of old lead paint.
The bridge reopened on 9th March 2015, after some £4m worth of work. Funding was largely from the Heritage Lottery Fund, topped up by a grant from Middlesbrough Council’s Local Transport Plan.
The refurbished gondola now features a waveform roof and 3,940 sq m of glass walls, making the most of panoramic views up and down the river. Its deck accommodates nine vehicles of maximum weight 3 tonnes.
On 12th September 2015, the new lift opened. It occupies a steel lattice tower attached to the vertical north face of the south east bridge pylon, and takes two minutes to rise to the upper walkway. Both list and walkway are open to the public. The tower is founded on a concrete-filled large diameter steel pile driven deeply into the river bed.
Except in adverse weather conditions, the bridge’s gondola travels every quarter hour during opening times. Tolls apply. Tours are conducted seven days a week.
A webcam has been installed on the bridge, and supervised abseiling and bungee jumping are permitted from time to time. Among other appearances, the Teesside landmark has been seen in the film Billy Elliot(2000), the TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (2002) and on a Royal Mail first class stamp (2015).
Two other transporter bridges survive in England — Newport Transporter Bridge (1906) and Warrington Transporter Bridge (1915). There are six known operational transporter bridges remaining in the world, including Newport and Middlesbrough, and a further three that are disused, including Warrington.
Resident engineer: Robert Anderson (Middlesbrough Corporation)
Contractor: Sir William Arrol & Co
Contractor: Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Ltd
Contractor (2013-5): Balfour Beatty
Steelwork repairs and repainting (2013-5): SCA
Glass lift supply (2013-5): Stros
Glass lift installation (2013-5): GB Access
Research: ECPK
bibliography
www.bridgesonthetyne.co.uk
www.ciht.org.uk
www.gazettelive.co.uk/news
www.gracesguide.co.uk
www.historicengland.org.uk
www.ice.org
www.middlesbrough.gov.uk
www.northeastfilmarchive.com,br>www.sca-group.com
www.thenorthernecho.co.uk
reference sources   CEH NorthBG
Location

Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge