On this day - 4th Mar 1890: The Forth Bridge opened

Forth rail bridge head-on-panorama josh-von-staudach

The Forth Rail Bridge By Josh von Staudach (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

125 years ago today the Forth Bridge opened its tracks to rail traffic. It transformed the journey from London to the North, known in the day as ‘The Race to the North’ which sounds a bit Game of Thrones I think. Although I suppose that would more likely be Race From the North with hordes of White Walkers chasing you across the bridge girders. I’ve got such cool images in my head now - a White Walker sliding the whole way down the V of the bridge, spear in hand ready to destroy all of Edinburgh. Goosebumps!

Forth Rail Bridge

Train crossing the Forth Rail Bridge - luckily no white walkers in sight!
By Nicobobinus from (Flickr) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)] via Wikimedia Commons

‘The Race to the North’ climaxed in 1895 when the journey from London to Aberdeen was slashed to 8 1/2 hours from the 13 hours it had been before the Forth Bridge was built. 120 years worth of technology  advancement haven’t brought it much faster which shows just what an impact the bridge had. This dramatic difference in speed was of course pretty lucrative but I won’t bore you with tales of turn of the century economic wrangling. 

Forth bridge histo 1

Forth Rail Bridge in 1890
[Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I want to focus on the bridge as a landmark in human engineering. The Forth Rail Bridge has become one of the most iconic structures in Scotland. It’s distinctive silhouette is recognisable world over but as with any addition to a natural landscape the building of the bridge would have been a difficult one. Nowadays we cannot imagine the Forth without it and it has become a huge a part of Scotland but there was a time when it didn’t exist. There was a time when the Forth was just another impassable river and passengers had to be ferried from side to side. In fact Queensferry got its name from that specific purpose after Queen Margaret of Scotland organised a ferry to take pilgrims across the river enabling them to reach Dunfermline Abbey more easily and that was way back in the late 1000’s. This was a remarkable thing then and apparently greatly appreciated by the people of Scotland but it took a further 800 years to build the bridge that now we cannot imagine living without.

Cantilever bridge human model

Demonstrating how the bridge will work
By Unknown photographer for Benjamin Baker. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Along with many other famous landmarks the Forth Bridge was an impressive feat of engineering which marked the great strides achieved by human progress. Throughout history there have been countless pioneers that have pushed humanity forward. We read about them now and are continually amazed and inspired by their visions. Their daring may have terrified generation after generation but if we look back can we imagine our lives without the steps they made? Some have made mistakes it is true and our fears are not totally unfounded. It is impossible to know all of the consequences of the actions taken but forward we still go and eventually I suppose we get used to it. Today we read of scientific advancements and shrink away. How can a three person baby exist? How can people really live on Mars? Why would they want to? But perhaps in a hundred years time this will seem as normal as getting the train from Edinburgh to Dundee. 

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Maintenance on the bridge
By lyng883 from (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Forth Rail Bridge is many things to many people. It is a wondrous piece of engineering to be admired. It is an icon Scotland can be proud of. It is a working bridge which allows swift and easy passage to the north. It is a seemingly endless mass of girders and rivets which require constant maintenance leading to the phrase “painting the Forth Rail Bridge” to describe a never ending task. It has been photographed countless times, appeared in films, been the back drop for firework displays, light shows and postcards. It may continue to serve it’s purpose of supporting trains whizzing up and down the country but it is so much more than a bridge and it deserves a very happy 125th birthday from us all. Happy Birthday!

Forth rail bridge head-on-panorama josh-von-staudach

The Forth Rail Bridge By Josh von Staudach (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


© Isla Robertson 2017