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The ups and downs of Newport Bridge

Then in 1963 - Life is a series of ups and downs for Mr R. Batty, who for the past 29 years has been Bridge Master at Middlesbrough’s Newport Bridge. He has lost count of the number of times the 250ft span has been raised and lowered in that time. “With an average of two lifts a day, I suppose it must run into many thousands.”

It takes only seven minutes to lift and lower the 2,700 ton span to allow river traffic access to Stockton.

The throbbing nerve centre is not, as it looks, a little green “matchbox” perched on the centre span, but two huge workshops housing two mammoth 325 h.p. electric motors and all their complicated switch gear. These raise the span at 52ft a minute to a height of 120ft, and just in case there is a failure, a standby petrol engine is always at the ready.

If the day ever arrives when both these options fail, then the bridge can be raised by hand. “Mind you, it would take 12 men eight hours” grinned Mr Batty. “But it can be done with a special winch”

Mr Batty employs 12 men to man the bridge around the clock. Normally four are engaged to drive it. One of these is Mr S. Hunt of Neasham Road Middlesbrough, who has worked on the Bridge since it was built in 1934. “Don’t ask me how many times I’ve been up with it” he laughed. I lost count years ago”.

Another driver is Mr D. Rees, of Roseberry Road Middlesbrough, who handles the £500,000 structure from an oak-panelled control room which looks like a cross between an office and a ship’s bridge.

“If you would like to go right to the top of the towers, it can be arranged” said Mr Batty with a twinkle in his eye. “There are two lifts operating between the twin towers, and their roofs have been made to open just in case they stick and you have to climb down the girders.” I declined gracefully because I knew he wasn’t kidding. He once climbed the tower ladders twice in ten minutes, just for the hell of it.

When it was built in 1933 the bridge was the first vertical lift bridge in the country and the heaviest of its type in the world, described at the time as a marvel of engineering.It was officially opened in February 1934 by HRH the Duke of York accompanied by the Duchess of York – now the Queen mother.

Now in 1998 - River traffic to Stockton dwindled to nothing in the 80’s and in 1990 with the new barrage in position further up the river a decision was taken to seal the lifting span. In an informal ceremony the bridge was raised for the last time with scores of people enjoying the ride. Recently it was decided to repaint the bridge in its original green.

Now & Then was pleased to learn that this article brought back happy memories for the Queen Mother.

This article originally appeared in the August 1998 issue of Now & Then Magazine