Calendar created from archive pictures of Tyne Bridge construction

Donated photographs capturing the building of the Tyne Bridge will go on display as a calendar. Tony Henderson looks at the story behind the images

Tyne Bridge calendar picture
Tyne Bridge calendar picture
Photographs from the collection of one of the key figures behind the building of the Tyne Bridge will now be seen by thousands as part of a 2015 calendar. 

The calendar has been created by Tyne Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM).

The pictures, together with personal effects and family documents, were donated to TWAM.

 

They belonged to Jame Geddie, who died in 1944.

His early career in civil and bridge engineering took him to South Africa, Argentina and the Middle East and to Greece with the army in the First World War.

And in 1925 he was chief assistant engineer on the construction of the Tyne Bridge.

One of the photographs of the building of the Tyne Bridge
One of the photographs of the building of the Tyne Bridge
 

“It is likely that he worked closely with photographers on their visits to the bridge, suggesting many of the view points and organising assistance to get the cameras and tripods in place,” said John Clayson, keeper of science and industry at TWAM.

The images used in the calendar were taken by the employees of James Bacon and Sons, a photography business based in Northumberland Street in Newcastle, where Marks & Spencers store now stands.

It later moved to larger premises on the corner of Ridley Place.

“We don’t know the names of the photographers who scaled the lofty heights of the Tyne Bridge to join the engineers and the steel erectors,” said John.

“We can only wonder at their versatility - one day perhaps in the studio, arranging a portrait for a family album, the next exposed on high girders above the river, balancing cumbersome camera and tripod to capture another breathtaking image, as one of the world’s most recognisable structures appeared in the landscape of Tyneside.”

It was in August 1927 that the first sections of steelwork rose over Hillgate Quay, Gateshead.

Most of the girders were part of a temporary cradle used to support the first three sections of the main arch.

When it had done its job in Gateshead the cradle was taken down and shipped over to the Newcastle side to be used again.

So the progress of the Gateshead half of the arch was eight weeks ahead during most of the construction period.

In February 1928 the arch was nearly complete as the final section of one of the top ribs was lowered into place 200ft above the Tyne.

James Geddie (left) with constructors' agent James Ruck
James Geddie (left) with constructors' agent James Ruck
 

The assembly of the arch took place during the autumn and winter of 1927-28. Steel erectors, riveters and crane drivers perch on the 20-ton capacity crane which had lifted most sections of the Gateshead half of the bridge into place.

James Geddie was their manager and it is likely that he arranged a photograph to mark their role in the completion of the arch.

The bridge was opened in October 1928 by King George V, accompanied by Queen Mary, while a Moth aeroplane flew low over the bridge.”

“Thus the RAF began the tradition of flypasts maintained so spectacularly today by the Red Arrows,” said John.

The calendar is £9.99, from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums shops including Discovery Museum, the Great North Museum and the Laing Art Gallery, and also online at www.twmuseums.org.uk/shop .

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