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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May – August 2019

Bicentenary of Union Bridge Foundation

August 1st 2019

Two hundred years ago this week, the Berwick Advertiser reported a unique ceremony at Tweedhill, on the 26th July 1819, when the foundation stone of what was described as “the Iron Bar Bridge of Suspension” was laid by William Molle, WS, of Maines, Chirnside, the chairman of the Berwick and North Durham Turnpike Trustees, in the presence of the Commissioners “and of a vast concourse of people from both sides of the Tweed, who were anxious to behold the commencement of this interesting work”. That was something of an understatement, as the Bridge – formally named “the Union Bridge” at the ceremony – has attracted the attention of engineers and engineering historians across the globe during its 200 year history. The Commissioners had obtained parliamentary authority to build what was to become the Union Bridge, the first modern suspension bridge in the world and the oldest such bridge still open to vehicular traffic, and they commissioned retired naval captain, Samuel Brown, who had pioneered the design and strength of wrought iron rigging and anchor chains, to apply his patents to a revolutionary new design of bridge.

Exactly 200 years later, to the day, the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge commemorated the original event by organising a ceremony at Horncliffe House, last Friday, when a new Stone, specially commissioned from local stonemasons and carvers, Hutton Stone, was unveiled by Friends’ Patron, Brian Whittle, a retired civil engineer specialising in the construction and restoration of suspension bridges.

The original Stone had been anointed with corn, wine and oil, and “the blessing of God invoked on the work”. The new Stone was blessed by Alistair Birkett of the Paxton-based Gateways organisation, who himself crosses the Bridge several times daily. It is expected that it will be installed on or next to the Bridge following its anticipated restoration in 2021.

Friends’ Chairman, Robert Hunter, read congratulatory telegrams and letters received from the Akashi Straits bridge in Japan – currently the world’s longest suspension bridge – and the Menai Bridge, which succeeded the Union Bridge as the longest, on its completion in 1826. And Friends’ Trustee Stephen K Jones, had synchronised a similar event on Friday at Pontypridd in South Wales, to unveil a plaque commemorating the now defunct Newbridge Chainworks of Brown Lenox, which supplied the iron chain for the Union Bridge.

Photographs: Top: The Stone unveiled; LtoR: Alistair Birkett, who blessed it; Patron, Brian Whittle, who unveiled it; Friends’ Chairman, Robert Hunter; and Marcus Paine of Hutton Stone, who supplied and carved the Stone.

The World’s Oldest vehicular Suspension Bridge Celebration

July 23rd 2019

The Union Chain Bridge, the world’s oldest vehicular suspension bridge, crossing the border between England and Scotland over the River Tweed, near Berwick, is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone this Friday (26th July, 2019).

The Friends of the Union Bridge, a charity set up to promote the restoration of the bridge are hosting a ceremony in view of the bridge to mark this occasion, closely following the format of the original ceremony 200 years ago.

The iconic engineering structure was designed by Captain Samuel Brown and when completed in 1820 was the longest suspension bridge in the world until the opening of Thomas Telford’s bridge over the Menai Straits in Wales, in 1826.

A commemorative stone has been cut by the renowned local firm of stone masons, Hutton Stone to mark this occasion and will be unveiled at ceremony overlooking the bridge two hundred years to the day of the original ceremony.
The bridge is jointly owned by Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council. They have been joined by the community group, The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge and Museums Northumberland to submit an ambitious £8m restoration plan to restore the bridge and deliver a dynamic community and education programme over the course of the next few years. To partly finance this an application for £3.5m has been made to the National Lottery Heritage Fund with a decision expected in September.

The Chairman of the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, Robbie Hunter said: ”The 26th July marks an important date for this much loved engineering marvel. When it was built it kick started a revolution in bridge building, not only was it cheaper and quicker to build than a masonry bridge, but importantly it could cross larger spans. It was the longest bridge in the world when completed and there is a direct link between it and such iconic structures as the Menai, Brooklyn, Golden Gate, Humber and the current longest suspension bridge, the phenomenal Akashi bridge (some 15 times longer than the Union Chain Bridge) . It is important not only to this region but internationally that we save this bridge. Its restoration will act as a significant educational tool and economic stimulus to the Borders. To see its demise would be unthinkable and a disaster. We must save it for future generations to enjoy and cherish”

Simultaneously to the unveiling of the stone, a plaque will be unveiled at the site of the Brown Lenox foundry in Pontypridd by Matthew Jones , Chair of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Wales, where the chains were made for the bridge in 1819.The factory was closed in the 1980s and its site is now a Sainsburys supermarket.

The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge are also marking this historic occasion by furthering connections with the surviving bridges who have at one time held the title of the longest suspension bridge in the world. It is hoped that this will foster friendship, fellowship and mutual recognition between this select group of bridges and promote better understanding and appreciation of how these structures have changed the lives for the better of millions of people around the world.

The first communication has already been received from the Japan Society of Civil Engineers. Dr Yukihiro Tsukada, Executive Director of JSCE has written:

‘On behalf of the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, we would like to express our sincere congratulations on the occasion of the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Union Chain Bridge by the unveiling of a memorial stone tablet on the 26th July 2019 , two hundred years after the first stone was laid.

The history of the modern suspension bridge including the Akashi Bridge in Japan, the longest suspension bridge in the world, has been built on the accumulation of past technology such as the development of iron material and design and construction technology.

The Union Chain Bridge has outstanding historical value in demonstrating the history of the development of suspension bridges in the world and is worthy to be conserved and strengthened for the future. We hope that its value is widely recognized by society and that the planned restoration works will soon get under way.’

Lottery Bid Submitted

May 2019

The second stage of the Project Partners’ bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) for a grant towards the cost of completely restoring the Union Bridge was submitted at the end of May and a decision is expected to be made in September. This is an exciting but anxious time for everyone concerned, not only with the preparation of the bid, but for the future of this iconic example of engineering innovation. The Partners’ (Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council, the Woodhorn Charitable Trust and the Friends) first stage bid attracted a grant of £360,000 to enable them to work up the bid for the second and crucial stage.

Unique Cross-Border Co-operation

The restoration project is unique in several ways. As the Union Bridge spans the England/ Scotland border, it is owned by English and Scottish local authorities (Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council) and the responsibility for its maintenance is shared between the two, although for practical purposes, Northumberland County Council carries out most of the maintenance work on behalf of both authorities. Planning consents for the restoration works had to be obtained in England and Scotland and English Heritage and Historic Scotland have been closely involved in all aspects of the restoration plans.

As the River Tweed is tidal under the Bridge (and as far inland as Norham) the maritime agencies of both countries have had an input and as the Lower Tweed Estuary is not only a Site of Special Scientific Interest but also a Special Area of Conservation, both Natural England and SEPA, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, have been involved in the planning stages. We also understand that this is the first cross-border project to be considered by the NLHF or its predecessor, the Heritage Lottery Fund.

See our April 2019 Newsletter for a fascinating guide to the proposed restoration works.

Foundation Stone Bicentenary

On July 26th 1819, exactly one year to the day before the Bridge was officially opened, William Molle, the Chairman of the Berwick and North Durham Turnpike Trustees, who had obtained Parliamentary approval for the construction of the Bridge, laid its foundation stone somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the Bridge. We are unsure exactly where the stone was laid because, as Gordon Miller tells us in his book Samuel Brown and Union Chain Bridge, it is now lost and there is no clear guidance as to where the ceremony took place. However, the Friends are arranging to mark the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone by unveiling their own stone on the 26th July 2019, exactly two hundred years after the first stone was laid. Because it is hoped that restoration works will start early next year, the new stone will not be placed in a permanent position but will – we hope! – be safely stored until completion of the works so that, unlike its predecessor, it will remind future generations of the Bridge’s heritage and of the laying of the first stone for many years to come. The Friends are very grateful to their corporate sponsors, Hutton Stone Ltd for their generous assistance in providing the new stone and for fitting it into their tight production schedule. The ceremony will take place at the Bridge on Friday July 26th 2019 at 11.30am

Heritage Open Days

Again this year, the Friends will participate in the Berwick area Heritage Open Days scheme by setting up an information stall at the English side of the Bridge on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th July, from 11am to 3pm. Visitors to the Bridge will be able to obtain first-hand information on the restoration proposals and there will be a range of Bridge-related merchandise on sale in aid of Friends’ funds.

The 2019 Two Nations Run and Family Fun Run

The fourth annual Two Nations Run, organised by the Friends, and crossing the Bridge twice over its 7km course, will take place this year on Sunday July 28th at 11am. Organised with the kind support of The Paxton Trust and Norham Running Club, the 7km (approx.) run starts at Paxton House car park at 11am and follows a varied course along the riverside, country lanes and farmland on both sides of the Tweed, through England and Scotland and crosses the Bridge on its outward and return legs. A shorter 1.8km (approx.) run starts a few minutes later and follows a delightful route through the woods and glades of the Paxton estate – it’s an ideal fun run for all the family. In a beautiful setting and within 50metres of the Paxton House Stables Tea Room – what could be a better way to spend a summer Sunday morning! Registration is from 10am. Also see the Two Nations Run page on this website.

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