My new home town of Middlesbrough has been shaped by heavy industry, industries that grew from the natural resources of the region; the iron ore of the Cleveland Hills and the coal from the Durham coalfields made this a natural location for steel working and products fashioned from that steel.
In the River Tees there was a waterway to facilitate the movement of these goods and so around its banks a number of towns flourished, aided by a local invention that further aided distribution; the railway. At Teesport, rail and river meet to facilitate transfers on and off shore, but at the heart of this lies a problem. How to integrate and facilitate road users?
With all that steel about making bridges shouldn’t be a problem and so it proved. Middlesbrough’s Dorman Long made some of the world’s most iconic structures, of which the Sydney Harbour Bridge is most famous, and yet despite this they were responsible for only one of the town’s two unique bridges. They are no ordinary bridges, and the thinking behind their designs is a throwback to times before the car dominated our lives.
Built by Glaswegian engineers, The Tees Transporter Bridge has become symbolic of Middlesbrough. It works like this: there is no road section spanning the river, but instead a cradle works backwards and forwards, suspended from rails so high above the river that the tallest of ships could pass beneath. Only a handful of vehicles may be accommodated on any trip for which there is a small toll. It’s a method which doesn’t encourage high traffic volumes, and I’m surprised to see it still in use, but it is so revered, that when the BBC fictionally dismantled it in a series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet it sparked horror in expats who thought the demise was real.
Further upstream is Dorman Long’s design; The Tees Newport Bridge. Here there is a road section and a lot more traffic passes over it as a result, but to accommodate the need for ships to pass on their way to Stockton, the central section of the road would be raised 121 feet for shipping to pass beneath. At its peak, the bridge would be raised twice a day, though since it was decommissioned in 1990 those who remember those days are declining. Nevertheless the final lift lives on through YouTube.
The methodology for both of these great structures seems anachronistic now, but in the early 20th century they represented the craft and ingenuity of the region. By the end of that century the region was in severe decline as those traditional industries had declined; killed off by a failure to innovate and respond to overseas threats and domestic politics. The solution to crossing the Tees now is symbolic of a region that no longer produces steel and is no longer renowned for these great projects. It’s a concrete flyover.