National Lottery funding helps secure the future of the Union Bridge

The future of the Union Chain Bridge – the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world –  has been secured.

The Bridge – which has provided a transport link between Scotland and England for 200 years – has received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to allow a major programme of repairs to get underway early next year.

In addition, the successful bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund means a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities will now get underway designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance, and potentially boost local tourism.

The success was celebrated on Wednesday 18 September with a visit to the bridge by His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester.

The funding bid was put together by Northumberland County Council (NCC), Scottish Borders Council (SBC), Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, following serious concerns about the condition of the famous structure.  Both councils have committed match funding totalling £3.4m towards the scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.

Anyone willing to get involved in this exciting project – by pledging your support or becoming a volunteer – can visit

David Renwick, Director, England: North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Not only have National Lottery players secured the future of the iconic structure that is the Union Chain Bridge, but the money they have raised will also strengthen connections between communities in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

“We are delighted that through a programme of ambitious activities, our funding will provide exciting opportunities for people to explore the heritage and stories of the Union Chain Bridge, and hopefully inspire a new generation of engineers from communities on both sides of the Bridge.It is heartening for us to see that two of the cross-border local authorities involved in Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal – Northumberland County Council and the Scottish Borders Council – working together on this wonderful heritage scheme that will improve transport links and connectivity for the area extending across the Scotland-England border, and in turn we hope to see economic growth of the area increase further.”

Councillor Glen Sanderson, Cabinet Member for Environment and Local Services with NCC, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have secured this funding after two years of hard work to get to this point. We submitted an extremely comprehensive second round submission and we knew we were up against strong competition but were quietly confident of a positive result. This bridge is known and loved not just locally, but nationally and internationally and we’ve had support from across the world since we started on this submission.

“The successful bid shows the benefits of close working between ourselves, Museums Northumberland, the Friends of Union Chain Bridge and our colleagues in Scottish Borders Council in creating a unique, exciting and substantial cross-border, cross-council venture.”

Councillor Gordon Edgar, SBC’s Executive Member for Roads and Infrastructure, said: “This is a momentous day in the 200 year history of the Union Chain Bridge.  Not only is the future of the bridge now secured, but our partnership project will now take forward a number of initiatives which will aim to bring numerous culture, heritage and community benefits, and could prove a catalyst for the local tourism industry.

“The support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund has made this possible – without it, we would likely have seen the condition of the bridge decline further.  We will be reaching out to the local communities and schools as part of the public engagement element of the project in the coming months, which will include volunteer recruitment and a new digital presence.  In the meantime, we would appeal to anyone interested in supporting this ambitious and exciting project to get in touch with the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge.”

Robert Hunter, Chairman of the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, said: “We are all thrilled that The National Lottery Heritage Fund has made such a substantial grant to save this much loved and iconic piece of our engineering history. When it was completed in 1820, the Union Chain Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge and it provided the catalyst for huge innovation in bridge design.

“I was reminded of this at our recent ceremony to mark the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone, when we received congratulatory messages from a number of bridges around the world. These included the Clifton and Menai bridges in the UK and the Akashi Bridge in Japan, which is the current the holder of the world’s longest suspension bridge.

“I am enormously grateful to our Friends, NCC, SBC and Museums Northumberland who have worked incredibly hard get to this outcome.  Together with our other funders we are not only going to restore the bridge but deliver a really exciting project of community events, which will allow all of us to be incredibly proud of this great structure.”

Rowan Brown, Chief Executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “We’re delighted that working with our local authority partners and the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge we have been able to secure National Lottery support to preserve and celebrate this incredible heritage monument. We will use it as the catalyst for embedding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and heritage skills across our communities on both sides of the border.”

In March 2018, a development funding bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund by NCC, SBC, Museums Northumberland and Friends of the Union Chain Bridge to completely restore the famous structure, secured a £360,000 development grant. The development work included detailed investigations to assess the condition of every element of the bridge and how best to undertake the conservation and repair works. The project team also developed interpretation proposals and a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities, designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance and provide learning opportunities to inspire a new generation to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These proposals will now become reality after the delivery round application to The Fund – submitted in May 2019 – was successful.


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Congratulations to our friends at the Menai Bridge!

Image result for menai suspension bridgeToday, August 10th 2019,  marks the bicentenary of the Menai Bridge, designed by Samuel Brown’s friend and rival Thomas Telford.  When it was completed in 1826, the Menai Bridge – at a length of 1,368feet – succeeded the Union Bridge as the longest single span vehicular bridge.  Our Vale of Glamorgan-based Trustee, Stephen K Jones, represented the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge at the Menai bicentenary commemoration today and conveyed the Friends’ especial Congratulations.   Here’s our comparative chart of the succession of the world’s longest single-span vehicular bridges:

Friends UCB – The Bridge to Scale 0719

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From our Clifton Suspension Bridge friends’ website

Our friends at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust have posted this news item on their website:

On Friday 26 July 2019 the Institution of Civil Engineers Wales Cymru marked the establishment of a famous engineering works; the Brown Lenox Chainworks at Pontypridd, and the bicentenary of start of work on the Union Chain Bridge. The Brown Lenox chainworks supplied the Union Chain Bridge with its ironwork two hundred years ago. The Union Chain Bridge is the oldest surviving vehicular chain bridge in the world and opened on 26th July 1820.

The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge also unveiled a plaque on the 26th July 2019, to commemorate the start of work at Horncliffe near Berwick-upon-Tweed where the bridge crosses from England over the river Tweed to Scotland – England and Scotland united by Welsh iron.

This will be followed shortly by the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone of another famous bridge – Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge on 10th August 2019 by the Menai Bridge Community Heritage Trust. Incidentally the suspension bridge chains here were not supplied by Brown Lenox but by Telford’s favourite contractor; William (Merlin) Hazeldine.

Brown Lenox was a multi-stranded business covering the development of iron chain cables, the early suspension bridge and more, and played an important role in the industrial history of south Wales and beyond. At Pontypridd Brown Lenox began operations in 1818 following the lease by Captain Samuel Brown (1774–1851) of the site the previous year. By November 1817 he had taken possession of the site and following adaptations and building work to an existing nail factory on the site, the Newbridge Chainworks opened – sometime in 1818.

Brown’s first purpose built chainworks was established at Millwall on the Thames and although already established as Samuel Brown & Co., the company name soon changed to reflect the input made by his cousin Samuel Lenox. Led by Samuel Brown and his Welsh born works manager and smith; Philip Thomas, Newbridge manufactured iron chains for the anchoring, mooring and as an experiment, the rigging of ships. The chainworks produced the chain cable for every Royal Navy ship from the 1820s to the First World War and many merchant and passenger ships such as Brunel’s Great Eastern steamship through to the Cunarder QEII. The latter marking the last chain cable order for Pontypridd in 1969.

Newbridge was also being the source of suspension chains for Brown’s chainbridges, Brown being the first to erect iron suspension bridges for vehicular traffic in this country and the Newbridge works produced the majority of chainwork for Brown’s suspension bridges. All chainmaking came to an end in 1969 with a change of ownership and new products. The works gave skilled employment to many in Pontypridd and the locality, part of the site was sold off to in 1987 and the last part of the works closed in 1999 and is now occupied today by Sainsbury’s supermarket.

The chair of ICE Wales Cymru; Matthew Jones, was supported by the Pontypridd Town Mayor; Loretta Thompson, and local Welsh Assembly member; Mick Antoniw. Descendants of the Lenox family, in the shape of Jeremy Lenox, and a famous Victorian engineer; Charles Blacker Vignoles, represented by John Vignoles, were also present on the day.

In 1971 the Institution of Civil Engineers established the Panel for Historical Engineering Works to record our historical engineering heritage and raise awareness of the engineers of the past and their work. One of the ways this is done is to place plaques at locations where the public can be made more aware of the history around them. In the past thirteen years ICE Wales Cymru has placed or supported 28 plaques and information panels throughout Wales – marking important historical engineering sites and commemorating famous engineers such as Trevithick, Brunel and Telford.

Stephen K. Jones 2 August 2019

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