Forth rail bridge under construction, caisson

Forth Road bridge under construction

This image is taken from Philip Phillips's magnificent contemporary volume, which documented stages in the construction of this remarkable bridge from May 1885 onwards in a series of superb photographs with accompanying text, and put the bridge into its engineering context by including photographs and text to illustrate other major bridges round the world.

The original plans for a rail bridge, to span the one and a half mile wide Firth of Forth between North and South Queensferry where the Firth of Forth narrows considerably, were made by Sir Thomas Bouch. Though initially adopted in 1873, they were later cancelled due to public worries following the disastrous collapse of his nearby Tay Bridge in 1879. Instead, the design of Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, two civil engineers, was adopted as being a safer and stronger alternative. Work commenced in 1883 and was completed when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) knocked in the final rivet in 1890 and declared the bridge open.

The Forth Rail Bridge was the first major bridge in the world to be built entirely of steel, and cost some three and a half million pounds and 57 lives. It remains one of the most iconic bridges ever built and involved a supreme feat of engineering. Consisting of three huge double cantilevers, two main spans, and two delicate-looking approach spans on both the Fife and Lothian sides of the Firth of Forth, its builders made use of natural island features in the Firth of Forth to add strength to its foundation.

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