Preparations for rebuilding as border bridge work continues
Works are continuing in preparation for rebuilding the famous Union Chain Bridge in the New Year.
Work on the 200-year-old structure got underway in October last year and over recent months teams have been busy inspecting, repairing and refurbishing all the components that made up the bridge after it was dismantled.
Masonry repairs are well-advanced, and engineers are now preparing to reinstall the critical chain elements in the Scottish tower top before Christmas. These components are essential in connecting the main span chains to the back stay chains and the new 800 tonne concrete anchor block that has been constructed on the Scottish side of the bridge.
This will allow the painstaking work of reassembling the bridge to start in earnest – firstly the main chains which support the bridge, then the hangers and the deck, with the railings being the final element before moving into completion in Spring 2022.
While the project team had originally aimed for the bridge to be re-opened early in the New Year, due to a range of challenges being faced the reopening is now scheduled to be late Spring.
Northumberland County Council Cabinet Member for Local Services John Riddle said: “It’s fantastic to see month on month progress on the restoration of this famous bridge, although as with any major engineering project that involves work on a complex historic structure it hasn’t been without its challenges.
“The amount of replacement parts we’ve needed to make has been more than we first thought, but it’s often not possible to tell until you’ve taken the bridge apart and have undertaken detailed inspection and testing of every individual component, before you can accurately determine which parts are able to last for another 120 years and can be safely reused and those which need to be replaced.
“However it’s crucial we follow this very robust and diligent approach, so that we retain as many of the original parts as is possible while also ensuring the bridge is able to fulfill its structural purpose and remain the world's oldest suspension bridge still open to vehicular traffic.
“By carefully restoring the bridge to exactly how it should be will mean the crossing will be closed for a bit longer, but in doing so we will ensure that once it reopens in the spring it will remain available for many future generations to use and enjoy, so we thank people for their patience.”
Councillor Gordon Edgar, Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Infrastructure, Travel and Transport, said: “Whilst the closure of the bridge will unfortunately need to be extended a little, the end result will absolutely be worth it.
“The careful restoration of this iconic structure will ensure it can continue to carry vehicles for many more years to come, providing an important link between communities on both sides of the border and for visitors to the area.
“I look forward to seeing the various elements of the bridge being put back into place over the coming months as we move towards the completion of this significant partnership project.”
The structure which is a key transport link between Scotland and England and received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2019.
Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge is the oldest operational chain suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.
The ambitious funding bid was put together by Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council, Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, following serious concerns about the condition of the world-famous structure.
Both councils committed match funding totalling £5.7m towards the £10.5m scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.
As well as conserving the historic structure, the project team has also developed a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities. The challenges presented by Covid-19 has actually enabled the team to expand the educational offer further via online activities.