After the announcement of the Forth Road Bridge closure and eventual re-opening, the Map team became curious about the history of the bridge planning, the alternative plans and what it may have looked like. This led to a rummage around the archives for road plans and any other related maps. So what did we find?
It was interesting to find out that the Queensferry Passage, through the Forth of Firth, has long been an important pilgrimage route. In the 11th century, Margaret (Queen Consort of Malcolm III) established a regular ferry passage for pilgrims to St Andrews.
This route soon became very popular for all travellers heading to the North of Scotland. An 1811 report outlining the volume of traffic stated that within one year- 83,000 people crossed the Forth sometimes risking their lives. This report with its shocking statistics pointed out that a bridge was needed and consequently the Forth Rail Bridge was built. However, with increased use of motor transport –it became clearer than an alternative solution was required.
Prior to the official opening of the Forth Road Bridge on 4th September 1964, travellers would take ferries (often called paddle ferries) to reach North Queensferry. The route is shown on this 1898 1 inch OS map (http://maps.nls.uk/view/74488700)
However, a lot of people wanted to drive and before the completion of the Kincardine Bridge (1936), the only road-based route was through the Old Bridge in Stirling. This meant that journeys of over 40 miles were fairly common as highlighted in James Knox’s Map of the Basin of the Forth (http://maps.nls.uk/view/74401105).
It will come as no surprise that there was a huge lobbying campaign during the 1920s and 1930s to build a road bridge. Even after the completion of the Kincardine Bridge in 1936 (approximately 15 miles away)- there was still a demand for a new road bridge. One proposal (shown below) suggested building the bridge closer to the rail bridge and combining the approaches.
After WWII, the Government formed the Forth Road Bridge Joint Board to manage the planning and building of the new bridge. One of the plans was to build a tunnel under the estuary (sometimes referred to as the Maunsell Scheme), this was proposed in 1955. The tunnel would run closely to the Forth Rail Bridge However, this idea was quickly abandoned as it was too expensive and ambitious.
In 1958, a plan for the current suspension bridge was accepted. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was the head architect for the bridge and its approaches were designed by several engineers (Freeman, Fox & Partners and Messrs Mott, Hay & Anderson). The construction was completed by three major firms creating the ACD consortium. The map below shows the planned construction.
The bridge building began in 1960 drawing in crowds eager to watch the project. Using an inventive technique of boring anchorages into the rock on either side of the bridges towers – the cable spinning could start. Using cable spinning, each wire is laid by spinning wheels that move continously across the bridge. The bridge took six years to complete and sadly seven lives were lost during its construction.
The bridge was officially opened on 4th September 1964 by HM the Queen. The Forth Road Bridge is built from 39,000 tonnes of steel and 125,00 cubic metres of concrete. It spans over 2.5 kilometres and when first opened, it was the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in Europe.
Following an inspection in 2008, the cables were reported to have lost around 8% to 10% of their original tensile strength. The bridge was expected to carry 30,000 vehicles a day but it often exceeds this number. Currently, it carries roughly 65,000 vehicles according to the Scottish Government. This has led to the excessive wear and tear of the bridge’s structure. Consequently, the new Queensferry Crossing has been implemented. The new crossing can be seen below on this extract from OpenStreetMap.
Below is an artist’s impression of the new bridge from Transport Scotland. It provides an interesting bird’s eye view of the bridges.
When you look over the history of the Forth Road Bridge, there were several different options that were proposed. This always leaves me wandering how different would the journey across the Forth be if another proposal was chosen?