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The building of the Transporter Bridge

Then in 1906 - There were over 4000 workmen employed in and around the Port Clarence area on the north side of the River Tees. As most of them lived on the Middlesbrough side, this meant they had to cross the river at least twice a day.
  
The logistics of this exercise become apparent when viewed in the light of the capacity of the ferry boats operating at the time whose passenger capacity averaged 700.

 The one way crossing took about 15 minutes to complete which added to the five minutes it took to embark and leave the boat, was not only an inefficient method of transportation, but also a most frustrating one.
  
Little wonder there was a rush to get on the ferries, and there was much criticism of the rough determination displayed by many of the workmen at the end of their shifts. Even those catching the first ferry were not guaranteed a quick crossing. 
  
The weather and tides played an important part, and on one blustery day a ferry was blown down river and it took three hours to complete the crossing.
  
At night when an accident occurred on the Port Clarence side, the injured had to suffer whilst someone ran to the ferry terminal and shouted himself hoarse in an effort to raise the boatman on the Middlesbrough side. By the time the captain and engineer had been been called out, at least two hours would have elapsed before the injured were transferred to the other side. 
  
Clearly, as industry expanded on the banks of the Tees something had to be done about the river crossing. In June 1901, Ald. McLauchlan suggested a transporter bridge should be built, but three years passed before the Town Clerk presented a report which favoured such a move. But once again the council allowed the subject to be dropped, although it did give permission for any councillor to join a deputation to visit transporter type bridges in France and Spain - providing they did so at their own expense.
  
Finally in 1906, the council commissioned Mr A.C. Pain, a London engineer to prepare a report on improving the river facilities.
  
Pain considered many types of bridges, including the sinking of a tunnel, but because of the prohibitive #154,000 cost, he declined to put this idea forward. Instead he recommended the construction of a transporter bridge as the best option.
  
After favourable exploration borings had been taken on both sides of the river, the advice was sought from two of the world’s leading bridge builders - Mon. Ferdinand Arnodin and Mr William Pease of the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co. Ltd. and at the same time it was agreed to appoint the company’s chief engineer - Mr G.C. Imbault - as advisory engineer to the council.
  
The council agreed to pay Cleveland Bridge £200 to prepare a plan and specification which would be necessary for the council to seek parliamentary support for the project. In the event of the company not being successful in tendering for the construction, it would receive a further 5% of the cost of the bridge for supervising its construction.
  
Not everyone was in agreement with the idea of building the bridge. Coun. Sadler thought it was case of throwing money down the drain and others were of the opinion that the council was not the best body to undertake such a project.
  
On the other hand Ald Amos Hinton thought the bridge would prove to be a rapid and efficient method of crossing the river, and blamed the socialists on the council for the distrust in the scheme.
  
It was decided to hold a public meeting to allow the ratepayers to have their say and on January 8th 1907 Middlesbrough’s Town Hall was packed when the scheme was explained to the general public. A fortnight later they were given the opportunity of voting on the whether the town should have its bridge. The voting was 2,255 in favour and 1620 against, a majority of 635.
  
On July 11th, following Parliament’s permission, six tenders were received and the contract to build the bridge was awarded to Sir William Arrols Co Ltd. Glasgow. The contract price was #68,026- 6s- 8d (I love that 8d!), and the company was given 27 months to complete the construction.

This article originally appeared in the June 2000 issue of Now & Then Magazine