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Union Chain Bridge

Union Suspension Bridge

Union Chain Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: May 13, 2018

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Road 68 Over River Tweed
Location
Berwick-upon-Tweed and Fishwick: North East, England and Scottish Borders, Scotland: United Kingdom
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1820 By Builder/Contractor: Samuel Brown

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
360 Feet (110 Meters)
Structure Length
449 Feet (137 Meters)
Roadway Width
Not Available
Spans
1 Main Span(s)
NBI Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

View Friends of the Union Chain Bridge Website

View Article By Friends of Union Chain Bridge In Historic Bridge Foundation Newsletter

View Friends of Union Chain Bridge Newsletter Describing History of Decorative Crests

View Historical Book About Suspension Bridges Which Discusses This Bridge

This bridge, when built in 1819-1820, was the first vehicular suspension bridge in Europe. It also had a record-breaking span when built. The bridge has a very unique layout, with the east end of the bridge having no tower whatsoever, and instead featuring a unique anchorage built into the natural rocky cliff at this side of the river. At this end, the eyebar chains do not pass over a tower and descend to ground level, and instead continue rising, passing over the approaching roadway, (which makes a sharp bend) and enter into the anchorage above the road. At the west end, a more traditional layout is found, with a stone tower holding the cables aloft at the end of the span, and leading away from the bridge, back-stay chains leading down to anchorages located at ground level.

Despite its age, the bridge retains good integrity in terms of the original design. The bridge retains its classic eyebar chains. The bridge has been supplemented with a wire cable, added above the original eyebar chain. The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge has proposed removing this alteration as part of restoration efforts, which would return the bridge to its original design and appearance.

Decorative crests on the towers, which were originally mounted at the center of the bridge on the chains, read "Vis Unita Fortior" which translates to "United Strength is Stronger."

Please refer to the article above, and official heritage information below for more detailed histories of this bridge. The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge are currently engaged in an ongoing effort to preserve and restore this bridge. Visit their website to learn more.

Above: Captain Samuel Brown, Designer/Builder of Bridge

Official Heritage Listing Information and Findings

England: Listed At: Grade I

Scotland: Listed At: Category A

Scotland (Bridge House): Listed At: Category C

Discussion: England:

List Entry Number: 1042214

Summary
Suspension bridge. 1819-20 by Captain Samuel Brown, Royal Navy, with advice from John Rennie. Improved and strengthened by J A Bean for Tweed Bridge Trustees, 1902-3. Sandstone ashlar piers. Iron with wood roadway.

Reasons for Designation
The Union Suspension Bridge of 1819-20 by Captain Samuel Brown is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Date: as a an early C19 suspension bridge, the structure sits in the period when there is a presumption in favour of listing; *Technological Innovation: the bridge was the first road suspension bridge in Britain and, when built, the longest span in the world. The new suspension bridge technology pioneered here allowed bridges to span large widths at a fraction of the cost of more traditional construction techniques.

History
The Union Suspension Bridge was erected on behalf of the Berwick and North Durham Turnpike Trust and opened on 26 July 1820. Spanning the River Tweed (the county and national boundary between Scotland and England), it was the first road suspension bridge in Britain and is the oldest still in use as such. For six years it had the longest span in the world, equal to a rope bridge in Tibet, until surpassed by the Menai Bridge. Technological innovation enabled suspension bridges to span large widths at a fraction of the cost of their masonry equivalents; the Union Bridge being 368ft long, 18ft wide, 27ft above the water and having cost approximately 7500 pounds to erect, rather than the anticipated £20,000 for a stone bridge. Captain Samuel Brown's bar links (patented by him in 1817) were used here for the first time. In 1902-3 the upper wire cables were added in case of a failure in the main chains and further suspenders added to the steel reinforcement at the sides of the timber deck. The deck was renewed in 1871 and again in 1974.

Captain Samuel Brown (1776-1851) joined the Royal Navy in 1795. Following the Napoleonic Wars, he formed a partnership with his cousin Samuel Lennox to manufacture anchor cable made from chain for use on naval vessels. Previously cables were made from hemp. His successful designs and the patents he took out on them meant he was soon the Admiralty's sole supplier of chain anchor cables. Beside his work for vessels, Brown also supplied the chainwork for approximately forty piers and suspension bridges. Brighton Chain Pier (1823) is a well-known example of the former and the Union Suspension Bridge being amongst the best examples of the latter.

The ‘Union Suspension Bridge (That Part In Scotland)' is also listed as a category A building in the Scottish Borders. It was formerly a scheduled monument and was de-scheduled 20 December 1999.

Details
Suspension bridge. 1819-20 by Captain Samuel Brown, Royal Navy, with advice from John Rennie. Improved and strengthened by J A Bean for Tweed Bridge Trustees, 1902-3. Sandstone ashlar piers. Iron with wood roadway.

DESCRIPTION: Timber carriageway spanning the River Tweed suspended from 3 pairs of swept, wrought iron chains of elongated eye bar links. The upper steel cable is a later strengthening.

On the west (Scottish) side, tall battered, rusticated pier of pink sandstone with keystoned round arch for the roadway, bold dentilled cornice and high blocking course carrying the cables. In the blocking course an iron inscription VIS UNITA FORTIOR 1820, (‘United Strength is Stronger’) with intertwined roses and thistles. The pier at the English end is built into the cliff. Also of pink sandstone, it has similar rustication and 2 stages. The lower stage contains an pilastered doorway with modillion cornice surrounding a bronze memorial plaque of 1902; this stage has a modillion cornice. Battered upper stage has dentilled cornice and a high blocking course bearing a similar iron inscription and intertwined roses and thistles as the pier on the west side.

Rectangular-plan, pink sandstone piers flanking carriageway to W with rubble-coped rubble walls linking pylon to E. Pyramidal-capped, square-plan, pink sandstone piers flanking carriageway to W of E pylon; rubble-coped rubble walls to E.

Discussion: Scotland:

Historic Environment Scotland Number: LB13645

Description
Captain Samuel Brown, Royal Navy, with advice from John Rennie, 1819-20; improved and strengthened by J A Bean for Tweed Bridge Trustees, 1902-3. Timber carriageway spanning River Tweed suspended from 3 pairs of swept, wrought iron chains of elongated eye bar links. Wrought iron bolt brackets link iron rod suspenders; upper wire cables. Iron railings threaded around suspenders enclosing sides. Channelled pink sandstone, tapering rectangular-plan pylon to W (Scottish) side with keystoned, round-arched opening at centre; mutuled cornice; tall parapet with carved roses and thistles surmounting central block inscribed 'VIS UNITA FORTIOR 1820' to E. Channelled pink sandstone, tapering pylon set into rock face to E (English) side with blocked, pilastered doorway centred at ground framing memorial plaque; mutuled cornice; tall parapet with carved roses and thistles surmounting central block also inscribed 'VIS UNITA FORTIOR 1820'. Rectangular-plan, pink sandstone piers flanking carriageway to W with rubble-coped rubble walls linking pylon to E. Pyramidal-capped, square-plan, pink sandstone piers flanking carriageway to W of E pylon; rubble-coped rubble walls to E.

Statement of Special Interest
The Union Suspension Bridge, erected on behalf of the Berwick and North Durham Turnpike Trust and opened 26 July 1820, is the first road suspension bridge in Britain and the oldest still in use as such (2014). For six years it had the longest span in the world, equal to a rope bridge in Tibet, until surpassed by the Menai Bridge.

Spanning the River Tweed (the county and national boundary between Scotland and England), this elegant chain bridge with sweeping chains and monumental pylons remains much as it was when first complete. Technological innovation enabled suspension bridges to span large widths at a fraction of the cost of their masonry equivalents - the Union Bridge being 368ft long, 18ft wide, 27ft above the water and having cost approximately 7500 pounds to erect. Brown's bolt brackets (patented by him in 1817) are used here for the first time. In 1902-3 the upper wire cables were added in case of a failure in the main chains and further suspenders added to the steel reinforcement at the sides of the timber deck. The deck was renewed in 1871 and again in 1974.

Captain Samuel Brown (1776-1851) joined the Royal Navy in 1795. Following the Napoleonic Wars, he formed a partnership with his cousin Samuel Lennox to manufacture anchor cable made from chain for use on naval vessels. Previously cables were made from hemp. His successful designs and the patents he took out on them meant he was soon the Admiralty's sole supplier of chain anchor cables. Beside his work for vessels, Brown also supplied the chainwork for approximately forty piers and suspension bridges. Brighton Chain Pier (1823) is a well-known example of the former and the Union Suspension Bridge being amongst the best examples of the latter. Suspension bridges using chain were known simply as chain bridges until wire cable suspension came in to use circa 1870; from this date this type of bridge is usually referred to as 'cable suspension bridge'.

The Union Suspension Bridge tollhouse is situated to the west of the bridge (see separate listing). 'Vis Unita Fortior' translates as 'United Strength is Stronger'.

'Union Suspension Bridge (That Part In England)' is also listed, Grade I in Horncliffe Parish, Northumberland.

Formerly a scheduled monument. De-scheduled 20 December 1999.

Discussion: Scotland (Bridge House):

Historic Environment Scotland Number: LB47714

Description
Circa 1820 with later additions and alterations. Single storey with attic, 3-bay, originally L-plan former tollhouse with single storey and basement wing to SE; single storey garage block to NW. Harl-pointed sandstone rubble; tooled sandstone dressings. Base course; eaves course. Rusticated quoins; droved long and short surrounds to openings; projecting cills.

NE (ENTRANCE) ELEVATION: modern, part-glazed timber panelled door centred at ground; modern, glazed fanlight; single windows flanking. Later wing recessed to outer left. Garage block recessed to outer right.

SE (SIDE) ELEVATION: central opening; single window to outer right; single opening to left; projecting wing adjoined to outer left; piended dormer recessed above.

NW (SIDE) ELEVATION: single window to outer left; opening to outer right.

12-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows; modern windows to dormer and SE wing; rooflights. Grey slate piend and platform roof. Coped, brick-built ridge stack; circular cans.

INTERIOR: not seen 1999.

Statement of Special Interest
Originally associated and presumably contemporary with the nearby Union Suspension Bridge - see separate list entry. Now in separate ownership (1999). A modestly-detailed, early 19th century cottage, the core of which remains intact. Marked on the 1857 OS map as 'Union Bridge Toll'.

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