High Level Bridge restoration wins high praise

THE £40m operation to rescue one of the Tyne’s classic bridges has been named as one of Europe’s top heritage achievements.

high level bridge

THE £40m operation to rescue one of the Tyne’s classic bridges has been named as one of Europe’s top heritage achievements.

The seven years of work which went into in the restoration of the High Level Bridge has been recognised with a Grand Prize in the European Union Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra awards 2009.

It is the only award of this kind in England this year.

Of 28 European projects which won awards at the weekend ceremony in Sicily, only seven were given the Grand Prize accolade. The prestigious prize also brings a cash award of 10,000 euros.

The Grade I-listed bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson, was opened in September 1849 by Queen Victoria in front of 60,000 spectators.

The award judges said they were “enormously impressed” by the level of engineering professionalism shown in the project, from original research into the fatigue performance of the cast iron in the bridge to the restoration of the original lamp standards.

The granting of a Grand Prize represents the importance the jury attached to the retention in day-to-day use of such heritage structures. Iain Coucher, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “This award is a fabulous recognition of the detailed and complex work which went into the High Level Bridge project.

“It’s a unique structure and our engineers had to develop new techniques to protect the bridge whilst respecting its Grade I listing.

“The fact that Europa Nostra has recognised this achievement is an excellent reflection on all of those who worked so hard to make the project a success.”

The awards scheme, jointly organised by the European Commission and Europa Nostra, the pan-European Federation for cultural heritage, celebrates outstanding initiatives within the European cultural heritage sector and highlights exceptional restoration and conservation, research and education achievements, as well as heritage conservation.

Linda Green, Gateshead Council cabinet member for culture, said: “I am delighted that the complex task of restoring one of Tyneside’s major cultural icons has received the recognition it deserves.

“Restoring the High Level Bridge proved to be a much more difficult process than originally thought, and for a while there was a chance that the bridge might never open to the public again.”

Newcastle City Council leader John Shipley said: “The High Level Bridge is not only a vital public transport route linking the centres of Newcastle and Gateshead but also the finest example of a cast iron bridge in the world and as such a treasured historic attraction. It is a living tribute to world-class engineering and we are very proud of it.”

The historic importance of the bridge and the amount of road and rail traffic using it each day meant a sensitive approach to the repair project was needed by May Gurney, the infrastructure services company contracted by Network Rail.

Years of work

CONTRACTORS May Gurney were involved in emergency repairs on the bridge in 2001, with the span eventually closing in February 2005 and re-opening in June last year.

The bridge was closed after an inspection of the cross girders which carry the road deck revealed major corrosion problems.

The road deck 25 metres above the Tyne was completely replaced with 610 tonnes of new steel and 200,000 wooden blocks.

Repairs included “stitching” cracks in the cast iron by using carbon steel keys. It was originally painted in a stone colour but was quickly affected by Tyneside’s smokey atmosphere and in 1859 it was painted black, then later in grey. The new beige colour of the bridge was based on that shown in a painting by 19th-Century Tyneside artist John Wilson Carmichael.

The original colour was chosen because the builders wanted to create the impression that the whole bridge was constructed of sandstone and not cast iron.

A mixture of iron from six foundries was used in the bridge, including that from works in Ridsdale, Northumberland.


David Whetstone
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