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Ruswarp suspension bridges, sites of
River Esk, Ruswarp, near Whitby, North Yorkshire, UK
Ruswarp suspension bridges, sites of
associated engineer
Captain Sir Samuel Brown
date  1824 -1825, 1828
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  NZ887090
photo  engraving published 1826
The first suspension bridge in Yorkshire was also one of the earliest in Britain. Built over the River Esk near Whitby for a local landowner, it was swept away by floods. Two of the later replacement river crossings, including another suspension bridge, fell prey to flooding.
In 1820, Colonel James Wilson (1772-1830), owner of the Cane Grove plantation on St Vincent in the West Indies, and future Member of Parliament for York, purchased estates in Sneaton, south of Whitby. To cross the flood-prone valley of the River Esk to the north, he commissioned a bridge between Ruswarp Mill (built 1752, now in residential use) and the river weir. It was completed in 1825 by Captain Samuel Brown (1776-1852, knighted 1838).
Brown, a serving officer in the Royal Navy, had been experimenting with using iron chains for ships’ anchors and rigging, chain piers and suspension bridges. In 1813, he constructed a prototype suspension bridge with bar-link chains at his Millwall chain works in London. It was inspected there by Thomas Telford (1757-1834) and John Rennie (1761-1821) and won their approval.
Ruswarp chain bridge was only the second of Brown’s suspension bridge proposals to be constructed — the first was Union Bridge near Berwick upon Tweed in 1820, which still exists.
The Ruswarp bridge had a span of 33.5m and was 4.6m wide. The two suspension chains passed over cast iron hollow obelisk pillars almost 4m high, one pair at either end of the span. The masonry abutments beneath the pillars were 30.5m apart, with pointed cutwaters. A rounded flood arch pierced the northern approach.
The 51mm diameter main chains extended about 61m in all and were anchored by "ponderous blocks of stone, each sunk deep under the surface of the road". The catenary between pillars consisted of 12 links per side, each nearly 3m long.
A contemporary engraving shows the bridge deck sloping up from the abutments to mid-span, rather than following a flat arch. The roadway was around 3m to 3.7m above the water.
The deck was suspended from the main chains by 32mm diameter vertical hanger rods connected at the joints between links, 11 per side. The ends of the rods were "firmly clenched" to two longitudinal iron bars, 25mm wide and 89mm deep, running the full length of the span. Each side had 1.2m high iron railings, with a gate across the road at the Ruswarp (north) end.
The roadway of 76mm thick timber planking was carried on 21 cross beams, "further secured by being morticed into string iron plates", 584mm deep and 19mm thick, forming a longitudinal cornice to each side of the bridge, which was clad in timber. According to The Whitby Repository and Monthly Miscellany of March 1826, the arrangement added "greatly to its solidity; the plates being fastened to each other, as well as to the beams, the bars, and the vertical rods".
The addition of this deep plating to the superstructure, placed apparently below the roadway, would have given some measure of stiffness to the bridge deck, whether intentional or not. If the feature was part of the original structure, it contrasts significantly with the design of Brown’s known suspension bridges (1813-44). Could it have been a sole early experiment that was not taken forward in his later work? As Emory Kemp (1977) and others have noted, Brown’s bridges did not have deck stiffening, potentially exposing them to damage under dynamic loading.
Heavy rains on 8-13th July 1828 caused flooding in the Esk Valley and, early in the morning of 13th, the suspension bridge’s deck and two of its cast iron pillars were swept away. The masonry abutments were not much damaged, though one of the northern anchor blocks was displaced.
Later the same year, work commenced on a new suspension bridge, which was erected around 350m upstream (south west) of the earlier one, though its deck was apparently some 610-910mm higher. The new structure could have been completed in 1828, and was definitely in place by 1835. The ironwork was done by "our townsman Mr. George Chapman", who may have recycled some elements of the damaged bridge, as we are informed that "The materials are still on the spot … though much broken and dislocated".
In 1871, a road bridge was constructed downstream of Ruswarp Mill, spanning the river on the east side of the skew rail bridge — the railway had a level crossing at the north end of the new bridge. This structure was not a suspension bridge. It had a level roadway bounded by latticed parapets and was carried on eight cylindrical iron pillars linked in pairs by diagonal bracing.
In October 1880, the suspension bridge of 1828 was destroyed by further flooding. It was not rebuilt and only traces of its abutments survive. However, its existence is marked by the name 'chainbridge' in some local properties.
In July 1930, the 1871 road bridge at was washed away by another flood event that engulfed the Esk Valley. Its replacement was the present steel bowspring bridge constructed by Cleveland Bridge Co., opened in 1935, that carries the B1416 High Street.
Contractor (1828): George Chapman
Research: ECPK
Additional information kindly supplied by: Robert Bridge
"Ruswarp Chain Bridge: a history" by Robert Bridge, research sources, unpublished paper, updated 23rd May 2016
"Chain Bridges and Welsh Iron" by Stephen K. Jones, adapted by Jane Joyce, Engineering Timelines, 2015
"Ruswarp & Sleights Through Time" by Alan Whitworth, Amberley Publishing, Stroud, 2009, ebook 2013
"Samuel Brown: Pioneer Suspension Bridge Builder" by Emory L. Kemp, in History of Technology, Second Annual Volume, eds A. Rupert Hall and Norman Smith, Imperial College, London, 1977
"A Picture of Whitby and its Environs" by Rev. George Young, Horne& Richardson, Whitby, 2nd edn, 1840
"The Stranger’s Guide Through Whitby and the Vicinity",
pub. Robert Kirby, Whitby, 1828
"The Whitby Panorama, and Monthly Chronicle. Vol.II",
pub. R. Rodgers, Whitby, 1828
"The Whitby Repository and Monthly Miscellany: Religious, Sentimental, Literary, and Scientific. Vol.II", pub. Robert Kirby, Whitby, 1826
reference sources   BDCE1

Ruswarp suspension bridges, sites of