Forth Railway Bridge, 1888

Roger Hudson describes how the ‘stiffest bridge in the world’ took shape following a railway disaster in 1897.


Parliament cautioned the North British Railway, responsible for the Tay Bridge and now prime mover of the projected Firth of Forth Bridge, that the latter ‘should gain the confidence of the public, and enjoy a reputation of being not only the biggest but also the stiffest bridge in the world’.

That is what its designers, John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, aimed for, using novel techniques and materials, so that the main east coast railway line could continue directly northwards from Edinburgh to Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth and beyond. Unlike Tower Bridge, which followed it four years later, dressed up in Gothic trim to complement the neighbouring Tower of London, it left its structure undisguised. This earns it plaudits nowadays for its ‘truth to materials’, though at the time, William Morris called it ‘the supremist specimen of ugliness’. 

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