My 15 Forth Bridges Facts is my illustrated homage to Scottish engineering excellence spanning 3 centuries.
In 2017 the Queen came back to Edinburgh to open the Queensferry Crossing – the third of the 3 Forth Bridges.
While there is no end of engineering facts and figures on each of these bridges individually, as an artist I’m more interested in viewing the 3 bridges as a collective and their combined social and economic impact. They are, after all, all nestled together within a 1 mile stretch of the Forth’s shoreline.
So I set out to find the fun and illuminating facts that tell the one story of the 3 Forth Bridges. I also illustrated them together, bound together by the river – or more accurately the Firth – they all span.
1. The first major steel construction in the UK.
2. At 1.5 miles in overall length, it had the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world when opened in 1890; today it still has the second longest span.
3. This oxide-red Scottish icon served to connect 534 miles of uninterrupted train track from Aberdeen all the way down to London. And all these years later, it still does.
4. Such has been the cultural impact and significance of this bridge that in 2015 – on its 125th anniversary – it was granted UNESCO world heritage status placing it alongside such greats as the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis and the Taj Mahal.
5. While the world of transportation has witnessed unimaginable advancements since 1890, the Forth Bridge remains largely unchanged and still carries 190 – 200 trains every day.
Beyond the facts: this wonder of Victorian engineering also served as a stunning showcase of Scotland’s heavy industry prowess to the rest of the world and will no doubt have helped bring orders to Scottish steel mills, ship yards and engineering companies over the coming decades.
6. It is amazing to reflect that prior to the opening of the Forth Road Bridge there had been a ferry service in operation between the two Queensferry towns straddling the Forth from the 11th Century all the way through to 1964.
7. In its final year of operation, this ferry service still only consisted of 4 small ferries plying the 1.5 miles across the Queensferry Passage. Departing every 15 minutes between 6am and 10pm, each ferry was only capable of carrying up to 30 cars each. And if you were to miss the last ferry of the day, the nearest bridge was 15 miles upstream in Kincardine.
8. The Forth Road Bridge upon its opening was the longest suspension bridge in the world outside of the United States and bears a close and elegant resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge on which it was modelled.
9. Soon after opening, the number of vehicles crossing the Forth leapt from 900,000 to 5 million annually. At the time of the Forth Road Bridge’s construction it was forecast the vehicle traffic across the Forth would peak at about 8 million.
10. By 2008, the actual traffic exceeded 21 million annual vehicle crossings.
Beyond the facts: the unexpected level of traffic and the intensive buffeting from frequent Scottish storms quickly began to take their toll on the Forth Road Bridge. If the strong cross winds weren’t restricting or, at times, even stopping the traffic flow, maintenance work frequently was. So, in 2004, engineers were requested to go back to the drawing board and present plans for a new bridge.
But let’s just pause a moment and put things into perspective before being too critical of this bridge’s relatively short tenure. No-one in the late 1950’s could have realistically imagined the growth in both the number and weight of the lorries that now pound our roads. And how would the UK have been able to realise the economic opportunities afforded through the North Sea oilfields and associated industries without the role played by the Forth Road Bridge?
I think it is great news that solutions to the corrosive problems besetting the steel suspension cables have been found and that this bridge will be reopened for exclusive use by pedestrians and buses.
11. 53 years to the day after the opening of the Forth Road Bridge, on September 4th 2017 the Queen returned to open the third (and final?) bridge in this story.
12. On the northern bank of the River Forth, the 3 Forth bridges are all built within 1 mile of each other.
13. The Queensferry Crossing is the longest 3 tower cable-stayed bridge in the world. Incorporating new construction technologies and wind shielding features to safeguard both the bridge and the vehicles it carries.
14. This new bridge has been designed to last 120 years whilst facilitating a faster and smoother crossing of the Forth.
15. Mike Glover, the bridge’s chief engineer, said the wind screens meant the chances of this bridge being closed by high winds were very remote. “If you can get to the bridge, you will cross it,”
Beyond the facts: too early to tell just what this new bridge’s legacy will be but fingers crossed it will play a lasting, productive and forthright role in Scotland’s future.
As a Scottish artist, I draw inspiration from what’s around me and these 3 magnificent Forth bridges all built within 1 short mile of each other formed the basis of a recent series of illustrations.
I hope you too are inspired or even moved (literally and/or figuratively) by these beautiful examples of Scottish brain and brawn power!
Thank you, as always, for your support and encouragement.