30 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 9. Postscript

Since the publication of "The National Trust Book of Bridges", there have been a few coffee-table tomes on contemporary bridge structures, but none of these restricts itself to the U.K. and hence I'm not covering them in this series. There has also been the excellent "Civil Engineering Heritage" series of books, but these don't limit their contents to bridges, and it's not clear to me whether anyone other than civil engineers and industrial historians buys them.

So what, if anything, can be said to summarise this trawl through the books on the bridges of Britain? Do they indicate a shift in public interest in bridges over the years?

I think they don't, but they do reflect the continuing diversity of public opinion. The books of Jervoise and Wood offer different versions of the romantic strain, with its evocations of carefully crafted stonework nestled amidst the Constable-like landscape.

Others, such as de Maré, Walters and Richards, acknowledge the technological imperative which led Britain to become for a time in the 19th century one of the world leaders in bridge-building. With the exception of Richards, their books are still to some extent nostalgic in tone, with relatively little to say about what was happening in bridge design at the time they were written. Aside from Richards, only Jerome and Henry's book properly tackled contemporary bridges, and it wasn't really aimed at the general public.

None of these books reflect the significant shift in public perception that has taken place over the last two decades. I think two phenomena have combined to make a large portion of the public not just tolerant of contemporary bridge design, but actively enthusiastic about it.

The first is a general increased public interest in architecture and design, fostered in no small part by television's ability to establish a continuity between the aspirations of home owners (Grand Designs) and award-winning achievements in the public realm (the Stirling Prize).

The second is the introduction into bridge design of something beyond mere elegance. This is the joie de vivre and unashamed spectacle which is often credited to Santiago Calatrava but is a general feature of the more prominent involvement of architects in bridge design.

I had therefore expected to conclude my series with the thought that the first book on British bridges to acknowledge the post-modern era, the period of highly architected "iconic" footbridges, is long overdue. But there's little sign of such a beast just yet. No doubt it's time will come.

I'll conclude by noting that, later this year, Priory Ash are due to publish David McFetrich's "An Encyclopaedia of Britain's Bridges". This new book will cover more than 1,650 structures over 352 pages, alongside general information about types of bridge, failures, and lists of various record-breaking bridges. I gather that the print run will be dictated by demand, and pre-orders can be placed at Priory Ash, 2 Denford Ash Cottages, Denford, Kettering, Northants NN14 5EW, UK (send your name, address and contact details, and you'll be invoiced £45.00 when the book appears - overseas readers should enquire for details first). For orders placed before the end of August, subscribers can have their names acknowledged in the book.

29 July 2010

Bridges news roundup

Whitby bridge 'fixed by Friday'
Swing bridge jammed open, repairs due soon. Sometimes its important to be reminded just how central a bridge can be to community life.

Check out what could become the UK's tallest bridge
Impressive video of the proposed Techniker / Spence bridge in Sunderland.

Transporter Bridge to re-open
Newport's historic structure reopens after £1.2m refurbishment.

Meads Reach footbridge, Bristol
Very nice article in Building Design on a very interesting footbridge.

Santiago Calatrava's DIA project: A bridge too far?
Denver airport bridge cost doubles (see also Denver Post). At least he gets the cartoon treatment, how many bridge designers can say the same?

28 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 8. "The National Trust Book of Bridges"

Published in 1984, "The National Trust Book of Bridges" [amazon.co.uk], by Sir James Maude Richards is, as far as I can tell, the last book about this country's bridges to have been aimed at a general audience.

A book on bridges seems an odd choice for the National Trust, who are better known for their stewardship of stately homes and areas of landscape value. They do own the splendid Conwy Suspension Bridge and Carrick-a-rede footbridge, but their other bridges are generally incidental to the sites and estates they look after. Of those, the iron bridge at Cragside is perhaps the best.

Richards wrote widely on architecture, with books on the architecture of Finland and Japan. Like Eric de Maré thirty years before, he took an interest in utilitarian architecture, writing "The Functional Tradition in Early Industrial Building" (indeed, many of the photographs in the National Trust book are taken from de Maré's "Bridges of Britain"). Richards also edited the Architectural Review for 34 years.

"The National Trust Book of Bridges" is probably the best of the various books in this series, partly because of the breadth of its coverage, which rules out no type or period of bridge, and partly because of its sensitivity to architectural history. As well as chapters devoted to historical periods (the middle ages, the 17th to 19th centuries, and the 20th century), it offers a concluding chapter on "bridges never built". Other chapters cover ornamental bridges, early iron bridges, canal bridges, railway bridges, suspension bridges, and footbridges.

Each chapter begins with an informative discussion, which does a good job of setting the period of history in context and introducing the various designers who played key roles. I particularly enjoyed his section on railway bridges, largely because it gives fair coverage of rail footbridges, many of which are very interesting in their design but which are almost always ignored in other texts. Richards' is always informative - even a committed pontist will find plenty in this book they were not previously aware of.

Each chapter includes with a listing of relevant bridges, arranged by region. These descriptions are sometimes so short as to be frustrating, but include so many interesting bridges that this is forgiveable. Richards is generally scrupulous in crediting architects and engineers responsible for the bridges featured, and giving dates. He states that his choice of which bridges to include is idiosyncratic, but there are few bridges of any note which are missing, and many surprising ones included. He's generally good at making clear why each bridge is of interest, although often his text is dryly descriptive rather than subjective and inspirational.

The photographs are generally very good, and this is the first and only book I'm covering in this series of posts to include colour plates. Together with the text, they give the most comprehensive coverage of Britain's bridges that I've seen. It remains a vital compendium today, especially for its far more positive treatment of twentieth century design than most of its competitors managed.

22 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 7. "Bridges of Britain"

I guess that authors of books about British bridges had as much trouble naming their books as I did this series of posts. This is the third book titled "Bridges in/of Britain" that I'm featuring.

Written by Geoffrey N. Wright, and published in 1974, "Bridges of Britain" [amazon.co.uk] is subtitled "A Pictorial Survey". The introduction is short and sweet, telling us that:

"Most bridges are fascinating, many are beautiful, particularly those spanning rivers in naturally attractive settings. The graceful curves and rhythms of arches, the texture of stone, the cold hardness of iron, the stark
simplicity of iron, form constant contrasts with the living fluidity of the water which flows beneath."
Essentially, this book takes the romantic view of bridges, with a preference for the old and rustic over the modern and technological. It does include a few twentieth century bridges, such as the Kingsferry lifting bridge, Kingsgate Footbridge, and M2 Medway Viaduct, but these are vastly outnumbered by older structures, particularly stone bridges.

That isn't entirely disappointing, largely because the photographs are generally excellent, and most of the bridges well-chosen. In addition to a number of well-known medaeval bridges like Bideford Long Bridge or Devil's Bridge, there are some great pictures of clapper and packhorse bridges.

Each bridge is accompanied by a mercifully short paragraph summarising key points of interest, and I think the format works very well. The bridges are left to stand on their own, without distractions, in marked contrast to some of the books I've covered in this series which have a surfeit of text, with limited illustration. It seems to me impossible to give any sensible impression of a bridge without a picture of it!

20 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 6. "Bridges in Britain"

George Bernard Wood's "Bridges in Britain" [amazon.co.uk], published in 1970, is one of several similarly named guides to British spans that I'm covering in this series of posts.

Wood was the author of a variety of books of "local history", on topics like "Secret Britain", "Ferries and ferrymen", and "Yorkshire villages". As such, "Bridges in Britain" is a book aimed more at readers interested in traveller's tales than in the bridges of its title.

The book appears initially to be organised by theme, with chapter headings like "Prayers on the Bridge", "Bishops and Bargemen" and "Minstrels, Witches, and the Devil". But these largely disguise the fact that it's a peripatetic ramble, structured loosely by location. "Bishops and Bargemen", for example, largely recounts tales of bridges in the Bristol/Bath area, and the southern Welsh borders.

It's quite unlike most of the other books I'm covering in this series (although it's closest in style to Jervoise). Wood sets out his stall in the introduction:
"Bridges of almost every description, from the primitive Dartmoor type to elegant Georgian examples, make the British country-side worth exploring on this count alone. They inveigle one into quaint by-ways, charming villages, and fine old country towns. They can make one aware of local history, and of the people who in bygone times dipped hand in pocket so that the river or stream that gave the squire (and not a few poachers) a dish of salmon-trout could be crossed in safety."
As this might suggest, Wood is generally more comfortable relating tales of ghosts, legends and historic happenings related to the bridges, than discussing the bridges themselves. As such, his preference is for older bridges, although more modern structures like the Forth Road Bridge and Severn Suspension Bridge are both featured. Few rail bridges are included, indeed few bridges from the 20th century.

There are photographs included, and a map showing the general location of the main bridges mentioned but the book is not well-illustrated. Great lengths of text read not unlike an amiable old uncle, developing verbal diarrhoea when under the mistaken impression that your brief mention of a liking for bridges was an invitation to submit to endless tales of fusty, dusty antiquity.

There's little here that recognises bridges for their architectural and engineering achievements, and consequently it's probably one of the books on British bridges that's of least interest to me.

17 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 5. "Modern British Bridges"

Earlier in this series of posts I deliberately skipped past "Road Bridges in Great Britain", published in 1939, on the grounds that it was aimed at engineers rather than general readers. This next book nearly fell prey to the same decision, but despite its inclusion of numerous (simplified) technical drawings, it was clearly aimed beyond the engineering audience.

"Modern British Bridges", by Dorothy Henry and Jack Albert Jerome, was published in 1965 [amazon.co.uk]. According to the authors, this was near the end of "a momentous decade for British bridge builders", with roughly 3,000 new bridges built, including the Forth and Severn Suspension Bridges. These were highway bridges associated with construction of many new dual carriageways and motorways, although as I mentioned in the last post, there were new railway bridges built throughout the 1960s as well. This book, however, concentrates overwhelmingly on road and foot bridges.

In introducing their subject, the writers suggest that:
"Bridge-spotting is an exciting pastime which may outlive train-spotting .... It is hoped that the specialist bridge engineer will realise that it has taken a lot of courage to attempt some of the simplified explanations of complicated engineering principles. The aim has been to enable the interested enthusiast to understand the problem, so that he can more readily appreciate the difficulties that have had to be overcome".
This isn't really a book aimed at bridge admirers keen to get about the country in search of structural splendour. For one thing, many of the bridges featured are, to say the least, visually unspectacular, while others have no visual interest at all (e.g. "Flood arches, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire" or "Typical underbridge, Birmingham - Preston Mortorway"). Even bridges which by virtue of their form ought to be more attractive are often aesthetically unsatisfying, as with the reinforced concrete arch of Lune Bridge on the M6, which compares poorly with Robert Maillart's achievements of some three or four decades before.

Each bridge is allocated a one or two page spread, with generally short text accompanied by photographs and technical drawings - plans, elevations and sections, many of them plucked straight from the original bridge general arrangement drawings. Clients, designers and contractors are all properly credited. Some of the bridges were still in progress at the time of publication, such as the Wye Viaduct, and are illustrated by artists' impressions.

The text is generally dry to the point of dessication. Taking the Wye Viaduct as an example, it tells us its dimensions, weight and estimated cost, but the nearest it gets to describing the bridge's significance is the statement that it "is of considerable technical interest" (as well it might be, being one of the first major cable-stayed bridges built in Britain).

Where bolder opinions are ventured, they sometimes seem bizarre. For example, Clifton Bridge in Nottingham, a rather bland prestressed concrete balanced cantilever road bridge, is described as "one of the most beautiful bridges built in this decade".

Looking back on it today, the book is essentially worthless as a genuine traveller's guidebook. It's also hard to believe it found much of an audience beyond the engineers whose bridges are featured. While it is commendably positive about modern design, it is simply too dull to inspire any great enthusiasm in its subject.

There are pages and pages of what, to modern eyes, appear to be unremarkable motorway structures. It just predates the construction of the M4, which has some of the more technically interesting structures on the motorway network, but has many examples from the M6.

These are not without a certain interest: I've personally worked on a number of the bridges listed in this book, and many other bridge engineers working today will have done so too. In terms of the history of everyday bridge engineering, it's a valuable record of design practices that were once innovative but are now commonplace, as well as those which have been seen with hindsight to have been terribly flawed.

Indeed, with so many books on bridges concentrating only on the great and the good, it's pleasing to see the bad and the ugly recorded for posterity as well. This is therefore a book that fills a very special and important niche of its own.

14 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 4. "British railway bridges"

Most of the books I'm covering in this series are transport-agnostic in their coverage i.e. they feature bridges whether carrying railways, highways, canals or anything else. Jervoise's "Ancient Bridges" did restrict itself only to road bridges, and this next book similarly limits its interest only to rail bridges.

"British Railway Bridges" [amazon.co.uk], by David Walters, was published in 1963 by Ian Allan, a specialist imprint largely aimed at railway enthusiasts (or "trainspotters", as they're better known).

As such, it's a book aimed at a readership which was and is generally aware of engineering history, but probably has limited specialist knowledge of bridge engineering. It would therefore be unfair to use this book to speculate about wider social attitudes to bridges.

Walters provides details of a number of significant rail bridges, chosen because they are either major landmarks, or illustrative of key technical advances in railway bridge construction. The structures include many of the greatest bridges every built in Britain, such as Maidenhead Bridge, the Newcastle High Level Bridge, Royal Border Bridge, Royal Albert Bridge, Forth Bridge and Connel Bridge. The bridges date from the marvellous Gaunless Bridge of 1825 to 1906's King Edward VII Bridge, with only a couple of structures mentioned thereafter, like the pioneering prestressed Adam Viaduct in Wigan.

While this suggests an aversion to modernity, it's probably just the case that railway bridge construction in the UK entered a lengthy hiatus throughout the early twentieth century. Few new lines were built after the great Railway Age, and the bridge replacements undertaken were mostly of smaller structures.

Like National Benzole's "Bridges", published the same year, the main part of the book covers the chosen bridges with a series of 1, 2 or 3 page spreads. These are heavier on the factual detail, with dates, designers and dimensions carefully tabulated. While "British railway Bridges" is strong on the facts, and never afraid to offer a subjective opinion on each bridge's merits, it's weaker on the bridges in context, their effects on society and the surrounding environment.

It does include a very good history of rail bridges in Britain, and tables of bridges by span, length and height. Every bridge is given a map reference to assist travelling bridgespotters.

Sadly, most of the great railway timber viaducts had been replaced by 1963, and none are included in this book. (As I write, it has just been announced that one of the only remaining timber rail bridges, at Penrhyndeudraeth, is to be replaced with a modern structure, which is a terrible shame given its historic status and that it is supposedly protected by Listing.)

Walters could be perceptive about the qualities of engineering. Writing about the Crumlin Viaduct, completed in 1855, Walters correctly notes what a step forward its lightweight trusses were in design from the heavy box girders of Britannia Bridge opened a mere 5 years before. The Viaduct was closed to traffic only a year after this book was published, as a result of the Beeching cuts, and then dismantled beginning in 1966. Brunel's Chepstow Bridge is another bridge featured which has not survived (it was already being taken down while the book was being written).

This would all suggest that the book could have been a nostalgia-tinted tribute to a bygone age, as with Jervoise's books written in defence of a vanishing heritage. Railway bridges have never been well-protected, and many were swiftly torn down in the 1960s. But the 1960s was also a time of significant renewal of rail bridges, with technological advances like the welded box girders at Trowell Bridge and Churchdown Bridge, or the unusual post-tensioned spine beams at Fairfield Street Manchester and Besses o'th' Barn. While many of these were visually lumpen, fine bridges were being built, notably two prestressed concrete bowstring arches at Frodsham.

It's a shame that Walters' book came out just too early to include any of these, as despite his welcome appreciation of bridge engineering, he still leaves the impression that the great rail bridges are a relic of the past, monuments to a distant and more heroic age.

12 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 3. "Bridges" (National Benzole Books)

National Benzole was a British company best known for their petrol stations, and a line in spin-off literature intended to encourage motorists to make more use of their cars. The spin-offs included road maps, but also a range of pocket-sized guidebooks.

"Bridges" [amazon.co.uk], published in 1963, was written by Paul Sharp and E.M. Hatt, with a foreword by the artist Sir Hugh Casson. It was part of a series which included "Follies", "Monuments" and "Sailing tours".

The short introduction brims with hyperbole - bridges are "exciting", "daring", "imaginatively conceived", "stimulating and admirable":

"The glory of all such works, whether aesthetically pleasing or magnificently workmanlike without actual beauty, the panache, the breadth of vision enthral us, there is everywhere evidence of humility, the knowledgeable humility of all first-rate architects and engineers, for whom the laws of statics and physics, even in the infancy of such lore, were and are inviolable."
Far be it from me to deny the attraction of all-things-bridge-related, but this is the spiel of an orator or salesman as much as of an enthusiast.

Casson notes that the book is "devised for the entertainment and instruction of motorists". Elsewhere, the book tells us:

"Perhaps the best advice one could give to a would-be student of bridges ... is this: enjoy every single one you meet for the present, and perhaps you will find that connoisseurship develops ... You might make your newly awakened interest ... the excuse for many a happy week or weekend of easy motoring".
The putative happy pontists that this guidebook was aimed at were being offered the romance of the open road, spirits uplifted by engineering and architectural marvels along the way. All, presumably, to sell more petrol. It was a world unconcerned with pollution, energy crises, or climate change, and accordingly blithe of spirit, at least in the ad-man's presentation.

"Bridges" is structured chronologically, with a sequence of two-page spreads devoted to types of bridge (clapper, Roman, chapel bridges, fortified bridges etc, through to motorway bridges and modern footbridges). These are illustrated with drawings and paintings by the author, Paul Sharp, all of which are effective and attractive.

A typical spread presents two bridges (e.g. for early suspension bridges, Union Bridge and Winch Bridge). The text here is less hyperbolic, and indeed offers a range of straightforward facts unlikely to intimidate the lay reader. The book also includes an extensive gazetteer, arranged by county, with short details on a wider range of spans than are featured in the main text. Every bridge in the book is accompanied by National Benzole map references, so the suggestion that this is a guidebook for bridge tourists is at least taken seriously.

The range of bridges is conspicuously more conservative than in de Maré's book from the previous decade. There are few motorway structures, which may seem odd in a book aimed at the motorist, and modernist icons like Arup's Kingsgate footbridge are absent. This reinforces the sense that de Maré was something of a pioneer. The broader culture was presumably still ambivalent towards the modern ribbons of concrete which had made a motoring guidebook like this at all conceivable.

09 July 2010

Bridge museum in Austria

Some of my American readers may be familiar with the Calhoun County Bridge Park in Michigan, a presumably unique collection of six historic bridges in a parkland setting. Sure, there are parks with more bridges, but none quite so dedicated to the subject.

As a destination for overly enthusiastic bridge-lovers, it has now clearly been beaten by the creation in Edelsback, Austria, of a back-garden exhibit dedicated to bridges, both full-size and in Legoland-style models. Hundreds of them, apparently.

Renate Theissi, 39, who has apparently sunk £70,000 of life savings into the exhibit, comes in for quite a bit of stick at The Sun (never a newspaper afraid to stoop too low in its coverage of a story), who quote her as saying:
"I've never wasted my time with men or romance or anything like that. I'd much rather have an old timber framework bridge than a man. When my girlfriends played with dolls, I built my first bridge model. I read books about bridge construction until late in the night and constructed my bridges."
Renate reportedly has a collection of 4,000 books on bridges, and sleeps on a bed shaped like a bridge (just in case anyone is wondering, the Happy Pontist can't boast either of these things). The story is reported elsewhere on the internet with a little more sympathy, and as with anything reported in The Sun, I'd treat some of their claims with an extra-large pinch of salt.

I've tried without success to find a website for this splendid little Brückenmuseum, or contact details for Ms Theissi, but if anyone can assist, let me know.

Updated 12 July: I'm grateful to the reader who has given me links to the Brückenmuseum website, also to other sites with further information.

08 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 2. "Bridges of Britain"

Okay, moving on from E. Jervoise's somewhat bucolic "The Ancient Bridges of the South of England", we jump from 1930 on to 1954.

Of the books that I have on my shelves, I'm skipping past "Road Bridges in Britain", published in 1939, because although it's a splendid book, it's very much by engineers for engineers, compiling material that had appeared in the trade journal "Concrete and Constructional Engineering". It doesn't purport to be a nationwide survey, and with its technical data and engineering drawings it's of little interest to the general reader. It's still an interesting book, so perhaps I'll cover it some other time.

The mid-twentieth century was a period of major technological development in bridge engineering. I'd guess that most new highway bridges being built were now of reinforced concrete. Prestressed concrete had been developed, with both precast and in-situ designs being built in Britain by the 1950s. Electrode-welded steel bridges were also becoming a more popular solution, although riveting persisted until the 1960s in some cases.

"Bridges of Britain" by Eric de Maré, was first published in 1954 (I have the 1975 edition) [amazon.co.uk]. De Maré was an architect, photographer and writer who at one time edited the Architects Journal, and who had a special interest in industrial architecture, including canals and bridges. More than 2,800 of his photographs are available online courtesy of English Heritage.

The bulk of the book is structured chronologically, covering the medieaval, post-Reformation, industrial revolution and modern eras. Each chapter mainly consists of photographs, with little text, but supplemented by period illustrations, including paintings and engravings. An introductory chapter explains the key bridge types and materials, while a final chapter briefly discusses failures and unbuilt designs. The book is completed by a county-by-county gazetteer of significant bridges, which, while not always helpful on a bridge's precise location, gives a clear signal that bridges are better seen than read about.

De Maré acknowledges the influence of the nascent discipline of industrial archaeology, and sets out his book's aim:

"It is offered as informative entertainment to the layman so that when he moves around the country he will not pass the many bridges he crosses in blind and blasé boredom but, by realising what they mean in terms of social history, human endeavour, and formal beauty, he will stop to contemplate them for a moment, and so find pleasure".
An indication of de Maré's sympathy for the functionalist tradition in bridge-building is his suggestion that Britain led the world in bridge design for over a century (from the Iron Bridge in 1779 to the Forth Railway Bridge in 1889) - this is not a book befuddled by the supposed virtues of ancient craftsmen, but one that recognises that modern engineering has played a key role in creating spectacular or aesthetically satisfying bridges.

De Maré saw virtue not in antique charm, but in the modernist ethic: "At their best, bridges can be seen as symbols of architectural purity in which firm construction, function, and pleasing form are combined".

I can only presume that this book found an audience - the publisher, Batsford, were also marketing more general architectural books, as well as titles like "Science and the Home: 500 Years of Technical Advance". That would indicate a public (or at least that slice of the public who were fairweather pontists) with an appreciation not just for the dusty tales of Jervoise, but for the engineering achievements of the Victorians. L.T.C. Rolt's very popular biographies of Brunel and Telford were published in 1957 and 1958, suggesting that de Maré's book was just one contribution to a growing interest in industrial heritage.

De Maré's interest in bridges extends well beyond the Victorian era, acknowledging the continental greats like Maillart and Freyssinet, and showing a keen appreciation of modern designs like the Kingsgate and Swanscombe footbridges. Here, I suspect he was ahead of his time. If that wasn't the case for these bridges, then it must surely have been for his inclusion of the Almondsbury Interchange and Tinsley Viaduct.

He wasn't alone in this enthusiasm for the new: Elizabeth Mock's seminal "The Architecture of Bridges" had been published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1949. It was hugely sympathetic to contemporary engineering's contribution to modernism, but I suspect this attitude was largely confined to specialists and gallery-goers, not the generalist audience that de Maré's book was aimed at.

"Bridges of Britain" remains an enjoyable book today. While the text is brief, the photos and historical images are excellent. Several photos pick out interesting details on bridges, or appear as almost abstract exercises in geometry (see for example, two classic images).

The gazetteer features a thoughtful selection of bridges from all periods, although in many cases the information isn't detailed enough to help locate some of the less well known structures. It's still a useful reference today, with its inclusive approach.

In short, it's a splendid book, communicating the author's enthusiasm effectively, subjective in its opinions where it needs to be, and generous in its open-minded attitude to both the old and the new.

06 July 2010

Bridges in Britain: 1. "The Ancient Bridges of the South of England"

I'm going to make a short(ish) series of posts running through some of the books in my collection which are specifically about the bridges of Britain. My first interest is in gazetteers - is there a suitable guidebook for the travelling pontist? I'm also wondering what, if anything, these books might have to say about how bridges have been viewed culturally over the years.

The oldest of the books dates from 1930: "The Ancient Bridges of the South of England" [amazon.co.uk], written by Edwyn Jervoise on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Jervoise has been variously described as an antiquary and an architect, but he was also an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and hence presumably aware of engineering as well as architectural history.

He wrote "The History of the English Bridge", although it never saw print. "The Ancient Bridges of the South of England" was however followed by three more volumes covering the North of England (1931), Mid and Eastern England (1932) and Wales and Western England (1936). In 1938 he co-wrote "Old Devon Bridges" with Charles Henderson.

Jervoise had been asked by SPAB in 1926 to complete a survey of ancient bridges throughout England and Wales, and visited over 5,000 bridges over the course of the following decade (echoing the work of John Leland, whose "Itineraries" Jervoise frequently refers to). The four volumes of "Ancient Bridges", together with the Devon book and another on Cornwall (by Henderson & Coates), present the results of that survey. The South of England book is essentially representative in style and content of all six.

What first strikes me is that the book limits its scope to highway bridges over rivers, and then only those belonging to an age that in 1930 was already very much in the past. The reinforced concrete bridge had been introduced to Britain at Knowlmere Manor in 1903, with several more built until Jervoise's day, with one of the largest in 1928 at Berwick-on-Tweed (the Royal Tweed Bridge). Metal suspension bridges were even longer in the tooth by Jervoise's day. Some forty years after the Forth Rail Bridge had been built, he would have been aware of major new structures such as the Tyne Bridge, opened in 1928.

Few metal bridges are included in his books: the section on the River Thames does include the Hammersmith Bridge, but not the Albert Bridge, nor Tower Bridge, all of them metal highway suspension bridges built in the 19th century. Rail bridges are never mentioned, however historically significant (and at the time, most of the greatest bridges in England and Wales were railway bridges).

The impression is given that Jervoise was obsessed only with the masonry arch bridges of an idyllic, pre-industrial England. It must of course be noted that this was simply the mission given to him by the SPAB. They were concerned at the number of ancient bridges threatened by modern highway construction, and wanted both to record them while they still existed, and also to raise awareness of the need to conserve such structures.

While reading Jervoise's book, I was reminded of "A Book of Bridges" (from 1915) by Walter Shaw Sparrow, who opined:
"About five-and-twenty years ago, when I began in my leisure time to be a pontist, a good old slippered antiquary gave me some hints on what he called 'a discreet fervour in the study of bridges'. I was to choose an English county, perhaps Derbyshire, and for eight or nine years I was to live all day long with the bridges , getting them photographed from many points of view, and recovering bits of their stories from dusty old records and forgotten muniment chests. Then a clay cold book in two volumes was to be written, with a frigid zeal for the accuracy minute data, and with enough glacial footnotes on every page to strike terror into that general reader who does generally read."
That would be a somewhat unfair summary of Jervoise's work (certainly, he's sparing with the footnotes), but it still has some truth to it. "The Ancient Bridges of the South of England" sometimes reads like a stream of consciousness, with facts about bridges deposited one by one but without any overall sense of narrative. Jervoise offers history as an accretion of anecdotes, but is less informative on each bridge's place, if any, in architectural and engineering development.

Lurking implicitly is the sense that these bridges (most of them minor in importance) are significant solely because of their age, or at least because they represent a continuation of the bridge-building traditions of the middle ages, and further back, the Romans. They must be preserved because they are irreplaceable rather than because of their utility. There's little sense that the author would extend the same concern to the historically important bridges on the railways, which have always had their survival dependent far more on their continued economic value.

There's nothing wrong with that aim, as clearly many of these bridges were (and are still) irreplaceable. But their comforting presence in the rural landscape, couple with a barely-hidden nostalgia for a "better age", should not be the only reason.

As a historical record, Jervoises's books are important documents, still referred to in many later books. They're nearly useless as a guide for the casual bridge tourist, and by harking entirely to a rose-tinted view of the past, give no sense of bridge building as an activity of ongoing significance. Jervoise may have had his hands tied by his brief, but there's far more of importance to Britain's heritage bridges than merely the ivy-covered stonework of the masonry arch span.

04 July 2010

Bridges news roundup

Engineering ethics in the movies: the Bridge over the River Kwai
Thought-provoking discussion of ethics from a blog I had previously overlooked.

Ponte Vecchio, a Bridge That Spans Centuries
Jay Pridmore previews his upcoming book on Florence's finest.

35W bridge suit: Engineering firm felt bridge was 'overstressed'
A short parable on the perils of ignoring critical emails from colleagues. Or on the perils of criticising colleagues by email rather than just speaking to them. Or on the perils of trying to explain engineering judgement to the lay public. Or on the perils of a perceived client pressure to spend no money. You decide. Or if you don't, the courts will.

Krakow Pedestrian Bridge Nears Completion
It's inspired by a leaf, but it looks like a bridge to me.

2010 FIB Outstanding Concrete Structure Awards [PDF]
I missed out on this news from the beginning of June. Three bridges were among the winners of FIB's four-yearly awards: Third Millennium Ebro River Bridge, Zaragoza, Spain; Svratka River Pedestrian Bridge, Brno, Czech Republic; and Wadi Abdoun Bridge, Amman, Jordan. A Special Mention went to Navia Viaduct, Asturias, Spain. At the same time, FIB also awarded their Freyssinet Medal to Jiri Strasky and Nigel Priestley.

Trinity bridge supporters toast capping of arch
Calatrava's US$117m bridge makes progress.

Spanning the gap between art and artful engineering
New Zealand's first specialist bridge architect?

Paris looks for power from turbines beneath the Seine
River currents could be harnessed at four bridges across the capital.

Germany to build motorway through Riesling vineyards
Massive bridge set to win battle against the grapes.

Great progress on Mizen footbridge reconstruction
Great progress, great bridge. Shame they couldn't preserve the original structure.

Cables on new River Foss footbridge ‘may kill wildlife’
Locals seem to confuse the dangers to birds of major cable-stayed bridges with the (lack of) danger of a tiny cable-stayed pedestrian bridge.

‘One-of-a-kind’ foot bridge still an everyday construction site
Self-anchored suspension bridge in San Diego running behind schedule because it was "built 7 percent heavier than called for". Huh?

03 July 2010

Scottish Bridges: 12. Clyde Arc

Continuing west from Kingston Bridge, the next span over the River Clyde is the Clyde Arc (previously known as the Finnieston Bridge). This is the last bridge I visited on my short trip along the river.

The £20.3m highway bridge has a 96m main span, suspended by steel hangers from a steel box-section arch passing diagonally across the bridge deck. The arch is diamond-shaped in cross-section. The bridge was designed by Halcrow, and built by Nuttall with Watson Steel. It opened in 2006.

The design would seem to be directly inspired by the Hulme Arch Bridge in Manchester, as were Bolton's Newport Street Bridge and Edinburgh's Gogarburn Bridge (which I'll feature another time if I can dig out any photos). Essentially, it's irrational, because the arrangement leads to very high lateral bending moments in the arch, which govern the entire design. The attraction is the strong visual identity, especially when the arch is viewed from the side, where the hangers appear to cross in a network pattern.

I was a bit surprised by the sheer massive scale of the Clyde Arc - it's by far the largest span of its type (Hulme is second at 52m, while Newport Street spans only 35m). From a distance it looks almost delicate, but up close it's quite overbearing. I found it simply too gross in scale for the context.

The bridge is probably best known for its unfortunate history since opening. It was closed in January 2008 when a hanger failed (under minimal load) and fell onto the deck, reopening in June 2008 after all the hanger connectors were replaced. There seems little doubt that the cast steel connectors had an inadequate toughness, but since Watson took the hanger supplier Macalloy to court for a £1.8m claim, little further information has been published. As with many modern bridge failures, it's unfortunate that the legal process delays or even prevents the wider engineering community from seeing what lessons are to be learned.

Further information:

02 July 2010

Scottish Bridges: 11. Kingston Bridge

Heading west from the Tradeston Bridge, the next bridge over the Clyde in Glasgow is the Kingston Bridge.

When it opened in 1970, it was reportedly Britain's second longest spanning balanced cantilever hollow box girder prestressed concrete bridge, with a 143m main span. It was beaten only by the Medway Bridge, which had achieved a 152m span in 1963. (Still longer spans came later: the River Orwell Bridge spans 190m, but didn't open until 1982. The 250m span Skye Bridge only opened in 1996.)

Major defects were discovered in the 1980s and 1990s (including the fact that the main span was sagging by 300mm, and one pier was tilting out of plumb). Since then, the bridge has been the recipient of a massive £30m refurbishment programme.

Only the soffit of the central span is illuminated, presumably because of the ability to reflect in the river water. For £300,000, Glasgow City Council got a system of very slowly changing coloured lights, changing steadily through green, blue, yellow, purple etc. The sequencing is supposedly linked to traffic and tide levels, but I couldn't see any particular pattern while I stood and watched.

Lighting only the underside of the bridge does well in distracting from the structure's sheer massiveness (it weighs 52,000 tonnes). I can't help thinking that £300,000 could buy a lot of low-energy lightbulbs for low-income households, however.

Further information:
Updated 7 July 2010: the post previously noted the longer span as of 1970 as being unknown, now changed as I have identified this as the Medway Bridge.

01 July 2010

Scottish Bridges: 10. Tradeston Bridge

I visited the Tradeston Bridge just over a year ago, very shortly after it opened in May 2009, and had a good look around in the day time. More recently, I returned at night.

The design, by Halcrow with Dissing + Weitling, is brutally minimalist, with an extremely slender S-curved deck achieved at the cost of heavy support pylons. There are very few bridges quite like it, although the Valencia Port Swing Bridge perhaps comes closest.

Seen previously on an overcast day, the bridge's battleship grey looked flat and leaden. At night, it looks bright white, and far more attractive.

The handrail lighting is the Rail Light system, and it seems a little overdone, judging by the amount of light spilling into the river. On the night I visited, part of one handrail light was dark, but you'll have difficulty telling where from these photographs.

There's enough light from the handrail that there's no need for feature lighting on the pylons, and these can be seen looming up into the darkness.

Since my previous visit, when climbing the pylons seemed to be all the rage, I've heard no further reports of the bridge attracting unauthorised climbers. Presumably the local CCTV is well monitored. The bridge is still seemingly well used, with quite a few people passing over while I photographed it, close to midnight.

I still very much admire its simplicity, and its starkness, which is especially the case at night. It has a great sense of presence for a bridge on a relatively small scale, and the contrasts between its angular sufaces and curved lines is surprisingly successful. Its iceberg aesthetic is at odds with the rest of Glasgow's bridges, but I like it.

Further information:
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