The Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge has been a symbol of the area since it was opened in 1911. There are only two other Transporter Bridges still in existence in Britain. These bridges are at Newport (Gwent), opened 1906 and Warrington, opened 1916.
The Middlesbrough Transporter is a total of 851 feet (259.3 metres) in length which makes it the longest of those remaining in the world. Its cantilever construction has three main bridge spans that give it its unique appearance. The bridge is, effectively, two almost independent structures joined at the centre of the River Tees. Each half of the bridge has an 'anchor' span of 140 feet (42.6 metres) and then cantilevers across the river some 285 feet (86.8 metres) from the tower leg to meet its twin from the opposite bank. The passenger gondola is suspended by steel cables and runs on a wheel and rail system approximately 160 feet (48.7 metres) above the River Tees. Whilst Middlesbrough's Transporter is the largest operational Transporter Bridge the largest bridge ever of this type is recorded as 1000 feet (304.7 metres) in length, built over the River Mersey near Widnes. That bridge closed in 1961 and has, sadly, now been demolished.
There have been at least twenty Transporter Bridges constructed around the world of which only eleven still exist and a lesser number again are still in regular use. The first bridge, near Bilbao, Spain, opened in 1893. All the bridges were constructed in the twenty-three years between 1893 and 1916 and of the nine demolished structures an average life of thirty-six years was achieved.
The Middlesbrough bridge is fully operational and provides a regular quarter-hourly service between Middlesbrough and Port Clarence for 18 hours a day. This service is interrupted from time to time for routine maintenance works and occasionally because of high winds with some lengthier closures for major refurbishment. It remains the largest of the Transporter Bridges operating worldwide, and provides a valuable public transport service, crossing the river in two minutes.
In December 1993, the bridge was awarded the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' highest honour, The Heritage Plaque, for engineering excellence, in recognition of the Council's efforts in keeping the bridge in good working order. Its historical importance was also recognised in 1985 by its listing as a Grade II* Listed Building and its prominence as a local landmark was further enhanced in 1993 by the installation of flood lights that operate during the winter months.
In April 1996 local government reorganisation transferred the ownership of the bridge to Middlesbrough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council with Middlesbrough Council responsible for the day-to-day running and maintenance of the Bridge.
In recent years despite all the efforts of the cast of Auf Wiedersehen Pet, the bridge still remains the focal point of the River Tees. The TV show, which became an instant hit, showed the Transporter Bridge being disassembled and sent to Arizona in America. The people behind the programme obviously did a very good job on the computers as many Teessiders thought their beloved bridge was on its way across the Atlantic. However we won't be saying 'Auf Wiedersehen' to our bridge for a few more years yet.
Middlesbrough Dock Clocktower
Successive dock clocktowers have been prominent features of the Middlesbrough scene for most of the town's history. The town was originally developed by a small group of S&D investors, commonly known as the Middlesbrough Owners (a private partnership formally entitled Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate). At first, the S&D shipped coal from riverside drops but by 1840 they were keen to overcome the tidal restrictions of the Tees by building an enclosed dock. Due to limitations on the company's powers, this was carried out by the Middlesbrough Owners, and the dock opened in 1842. (formal opening 12 May) An Act of 1849 enabled the S&D to absorb its various satellite railway companies and also vested in them the ownership of Middlesbrough Dock.
The first dock clocktower was built near the entrance lock in about 1846-7. Designed by the S&D architect, John Middleton, it was a modest, tapering stone tower with an external gallery just below the clock stage. Nearby were a group of cottages and the dock offices.
The burgeoning coal trade and the increasing size of ships meant that Middlesbrough Dock underwent three remodelling and enlargement schemes during its first sixty years. The first (1869-74) entailed the demolition of the dock offices, the latter being replaced by a gothic two-storey building by William Peachey, the NER Darlington Section architect. The second (1878-86) left these buildings unscathed. The third (1897-1902) involved quite drastic changes, including a resiting of the dock entrance further east. A new clocktower and offices were therefore required. At the end of all this, the dock had grown from the 9 acres (3.6 hectares) of 1842 to 25½ (10.3h). No further expansion took place prior to its closure in 1980, when the entrance lock was opened and it became a tidal basin. Partially filled in on the west side, the dock now forms an attractive water feature, overlooked by the second clocktower and the town's football stadium.
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