A definitive new history of the Chain Bridge

A new book detailing the history of the Union Chain Bridge and its architect, Samuel Brown, has been published.

Sunday, 31st December 2017, 06:58 am
Updated Friday, 22nd December 2017, 10:01 am
Edward Cawthorn (Friends of the Union Chain Bridge), Kevin Shearer (Printspot) Gordon Miller (author) and David Martin (Martins the Printers) celebrate the launch of Gordon Miller's history of the Union Bridge and its remarkable engineer.

It was a chance meeting in June 1970 between author Gordon Miller and the late Francis Cowe, on Berwick’s Royal Tweed Bridge, which prompted his interest in the bridge.

As an architectural lecturer, in Berwick with his students on a study visit, Gordon was admiring Mouchel’s concrete New Bridge when the Berwick historian suggested to him that he ought to be studying a much more interesting bridge five miles upriver.

Taking that advice, Gordon drove to the England/Scotland border, down a country lane at Tweedhill and was immediately enthralled by what he discovered.

The rest, as they say, is history - and Miller’s new book is the definitive history, not only of the Union Bridge but also of its remarkable designer and engineer, Samuel Brown and of his experimentation with iron ships’ rigging and his pioneering work in the design and construction of iron chain suspension bridges throughout the British Isles.

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This remarkable book, the culmination of many years of research, and running to 300 pages with over 100 photographs, drawings and facsimiles – and with details of over 60 bridges and piers in which Brown was involved or which were inspired by his pioneering entrepreneurial skills, tells an intriguing story.

Some of the designs, like proposed crossings of the Tyne and the Thames, never left the drawing board.

The book’s chapters cover the need for a suspension bridge at the treacherous New Water Ford, and why a last-minute change of location averted certain disaster, Brown’s proposed and final designs, the intricacies and wrangles of contract and construction, the grand opening and the many works of repair.

It is typeset by Printspot, printed by Martins, published by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge and is on sale from Grieve’s in Berwick, price £17.50.

The bridge’s neglect over the past 40 years, since it was handed over somewhat acrimoniously from the defunct Tweed Bridges Trust to the joint care of Northumberland County Council and Borders Regional (now Scottish Borders) Council, is lamented in a perceptive Epilogue to the book written just before a Heritage Lottery Bid was submitted earlier this month.

As something of a bonus to the main work, Stephen K Jones, a Welsh-based engineering historian and an admirer of the Bridge for as long as his co-author, contributes a fascinating last chapter on the history of the Brown Lenox chainworks in Millwall and Newbridge, South Wales, a company formed by Brown and his cousin Samuel Lenox, which became the premier manufacturers of chain cable, supplying merchant fleets and many foreign navies; the chain in the background of the iconic photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, reproduced in the book, was a product of Brown’s chainworks and the ironwork used in the Union Bridge was shipped from Newbridge and brought up the Tweed to the construction site.

In one of two Forewords, Professor Roland Paxton of Heriot Watt University writes: ‘There is no technical triumph in bridge engineering more worthy of appreciation than Union Chain Bridge....and in providing this fascinating story of Brown’s masterpiece in context, the authors are to be congratulated on their wide-ranging dedication to detail from prime sources. It is undoubtedly the definitive history of the Union Bridge to date.’