The Construction of the Forth Railway Bridge 1882 – 1890

Forth Rail Bridge Construction

Never let it be said that Beautiful Railway Bridge is parochial in its appreciation. While the Tay Rail Bridge is indeed one of the wonders of the world, there are other bridges, and the Forth Railway Bridge (pictured above during construction) is a strong contender. Below is a period photograph demonstrating its structural principles.

Forth Bridge Suspension Demonstration

I stole the following poem from a post by Diane McWade on KILTR, a new social media platform with Scottish affiliations. Well worth checking out if you’re Scottish, live there, or feel a connection to the place. Colin Donati‘s poem rings with the sound of the Forth Bridge’s construction. I loved it.

The Construction of the Forth Railway Bridge 1882-1890

Knitting and riveting
pinning and weaving,
knitting and riveting
pinning and weaving,
building the girders out
over the water;

gangers in rivet-teams
sweating at furnaces,
wielding the rivet-tongs,
hammering plates in place,
hanging the arms
of the great cantilever;

decking the space with them
over the water,
complex equations
for cross-beams in tension,
joints in suspension,
engaged with all weathers –

wind blow the bridge-bays
the bridge-bays distort with it,
sun swing from south to west
arms bend away from it
till they’re braced rigid
warping the measure;

the bite of the ice air
through jerkins of leather,
a shower of rain adding
weight to the structure
already supporting
chain, crane and timber

stage, winch and hawser,
furnace and hammer,
the winds of the firth
exerting their pressure
on three growing galleons
sailing the water;

the struts that the jacks lift,
the ties where no pin shears,
the skewbacks through which all loads
pass to the bridge-piers,
building the girders out,
building them further,

the light through the structure
that turns on each girder,
each tubular tower,
the ring of the worker,
macramé of metal,
tracery of shadows.

The man with the camera
slides other plates in place,
times each exposure
then snaps shut the wooden case,
captures the moment,
freezes the hammer.

Colin Donati

And finally, here’s a video of a steam train crossing the bridge.