The Royal Albert Bridge is one of the most impressive bridges in the UK and
indeed the world. Built in 1859, this bridge's 455 truss spans represented an
unimaginable span length for metal truss bridges at the time. Even more
impressive, these spans were assembled along the nearby shore, floated into
position and slowly lifted into their place high above the river (100 feet of
navigation clearance) as the end piers were constructed. Even today in bridge
construction, moving a pre-fabricated span of 455 feet would be worthy of a news
article. Imagine what an impressive feat this would have been in 1859.
This unique bridge was one of the crowning achievements of famous engineer
Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He died shortly after the bridge was completed, and the
bridge had his name added to the portals in honor of him. Brunel's design here
resulted in one of the first lenticular truss bridges in the world, using a
unique massive tubular top chord.
This bridge remains in good condition today and continues to serve rail
traffic. It was rehabilitated in 2010-2014. The historic integrity of the two
main spans is good, although some alterations have taken place care has been
made to preserve and not alter the original design details created by Brunel. An
exception is the approach spans of the bridge. The original Brunel designed
plate girder approach spans (which were similar to the deck-level girders that
remain on the main truss spans) were replaced ca. 1905 with standard looking
riveted plate girders.
Above: This historical image shows the assembly of one of the truss spans
along the river.
Above: This photo shows the second truss span being slowly lifted into place
as the far pier was constructed.
Above: This historical photo shows the original approach plate girder spans.
Official Heritage Listing Information and Findings
Listed At: Grade I
List Entry Number: 1159292
Royal Albert Bridge and
seventeen approach spans (formerly listed as Royal Albert Bridge (the
part within the Borough of Saltash) Railway bridge over River Tamar by
Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Cornwall Railway while it was leased to
the Great Western Railway. Begun 1848, restarted 1854 and completed
1859, I K Brunel, the engineer, being first across, although on the
verge of death. Granite built piers, the land piers paired, the outer
water piers solid on oval plinths, the central pier and group of four
octagonal piers linked by trelliswork. The two main spans are 135 metres
each and are carried by an ingenious form of suspension (by cast iron
segmental tubes) - the only one of its kind surviving to carry a
railway. In engineering terms, it is known as a bowstring tubular plate
girder bridge, a combination of suspension and arches structure, the two
tubular arches, with outward thrust onto the abutments, counteracting
the inward drag of the chains. The portals on the outer river piers are
in pylon style, ashlar faced, with tall elliptical arches in square
recesses. The Cornish side has raised lettering above the arch "I K
Brunel Engineer 1859". There are, in all, seventeen approach spans (on
both sides), the Cornish side ones towering above what remains of the
inner town on the quay, curve south-west towards the station. The bridge
is 51 metres above high water mark to the top of the tubes (the
Admiralty specified 30 metres mast clearance). It cost under £225,000.
At the time, and now, it was regarded as a triumph of engineering.
Original / Full Size Photos A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
Original / Full Size Photos A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
Mobile Optimized Photos A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
Mobile Optimized Photos A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer