As I was driving through Newport this weekend on an errand my journey took me past the Newport Transporter Bridge. This is not an unusual occurrence in itself, however on this occasion the tide was in and seemed to be pretty high. I just had to stop and take some photos with my iPhone – didn’t expect to ned the camera for the errand I was running. I’ve passed by here many times over the years, but rarely with the river so full, and the light just right. There are only 2 other transporter bridges left in the UK, and only 7 worldwide.
During the late 19th century Newport was developing rapidly due to the increased export of coal and steel. The main bridge across the Usk was further up-river near the town centre, but the growth of the docks and the Orb Steelworks at Lysaght called for another crossing lower down river to make easier for workers.
The main problem however was the very high tidal range making it impossible to build a bridge high enough to allow ships to continue to pass upriver. Other alternatives were considered, including a tunnel and a lifting bridge. But these were eventually discounted in favour for the construction of an iron transporter bridge. In 1900 Parliamentary sanction was obtained to go ahead with the building of the bridge.
At the turn of the century transporter bridges were fashionable, and a number had been built in France at Rouen, Rochefort and Nantes by the French engineer M.F. Arnodin. In 1902 a number of counsellors from Newport went to Rouen to inspect the transporter bridge there and were obviously impressed enough to commission the building of the Newport Bridge. It’s fitting really that such a colossal iron structure should be build in Newport, steel was once the mainstay of Newport’s economy. Though that is now all gone. The bridge was inaugurated on the 12th September 1906.
The bridge is built to withstand a maximum wind speed of 110 m.p.h. and has been tested with a load of 120 tons — although the breaking strain of the cables by which the platform is suspended from the travelling car high overhead on the stiffening girder is 550 tons. The towers, 242 ft. high, are 645 ft. apart and the height of the stiffening girder, which actually spans the river, is 177 ft. The travelling platform is 33 ft. long and 40 ft. wide, forming a carriageway of 28 ft. and two 6 ft. footways.
The bridge no longer workers everyday, but is open at weekends during the Spring and Summer periods. It’s main purpose has been supplanted by a new bridge built nearby. When Number One Daughter was smaller, and various cousins came to visit we would travel backwards and forwards across the Usk. It was free for foot passengers then!
There is a voluntary society that works hard to promote and maintain the bridge, Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge, though the bridge is owned by Newport City Council.