History of Gateshead Bridges

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The first bridge linking Gateshead and Newcastle was built by the Romans in about AD 120 on the site of the present Swing Bridge. It was destroyed. by fire in 1248 after eleven centuries of use. A new stone bridge was completed in 1250, the cost being shared between the city of Newcastle and the Bishopric of Durham. Each owned part of the bridge, the bishop of Durham owning the southern third. The boundary was marked by two stones, ‘St. Cuthbert’s stones’, and later by one blue stone. There was a stone tower and wooden drawbridge at the Gateshead end and shops and houses on both sides. The drawbridge was replaced in 1770.

As the result of the great flood a new bridge had to be built over the River Tyne. The new GEORGIAN BRIDGE, had nine arches and was opened on the 30th April, 1781. In 1810 it was widened to allow room for wheeled traffic but it was very low. Keels were the largest boats which could pass upstream and plans for a high level bridge had to be discussed. This bridge was demolished in 1868 prior to the building of the present Swing Bridge on the site.


Several sites were mentioned for the HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE, Redheugh, Rabbit Banks and Greenesfield. The main supporters of a high level bridge were the railway companies who saw such a bridge as opening a new direct route to the North.

The idea was given the royal agreement and on the 31st July, 1845 work began on the bridge that had been designed by George Stephenson. The first train crossed in 1848 and the ironwork was com pleted on 28th April, 1849. It was tested by a special train in August and Queen Victoria formally opened the bridge on the 28th September. The lower roadway was not completed until the 5th February, 1850.


By that time the Tyne Bridge was becoming unsafe and in 1866 it was decided. to demolish it. Another temporary bridge was built while this was done and the SWING BRIDGE was built in 1876. This was the largest swing bridge in the world at the time and to ok eight years to complete. It was designed. and built by Armstrong, Whitworth & Company and came into use in June, 1876. There were no tolls on this bridge and for many years it was more popular than the High Level Bridge.

In the 1860s the idea of a high level bridge from Redheugh was discussed again. The North Eastern Railway could not be persuaded to help finance a second road/rail bridge and so a road only plan was accepted.. The REDHEUGH BRIDGE was opened on the 1st June, 1871 but it required frequent repair.

The next bridge to be completed. was the KING EDWARD BRIDGE. This was the last bridge on Tyneside to be built by huge gangs of migrant laborers. This was built for and paid entirely by the North Eastern Railway to lead directly into the west end of Newcastle Central Station. The bridge was opened by King Edward VII on the 10th July, 1906 and fully opened for traffic on the 1st October of the same year.

Discussions began in 1893 for a further road bridge across the Tyne from Gateshead to Newcastle. The effect of the building of what became the NEW TYNE BRIDGE was dramatic. Much of Bridge Street, Church Street and the east side of Bottle Bank were demolished between 1925 and 1926 for the bridge piers and approaches. Much of what had remained of eighteenth century Gateshead disappeared. Work on the. bridge began in August 1923 and was opened on the 10th October, 1928 by King George V. The Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia was to be modeled on the Tyne Bridge.