Union Chain Bridge restoration starts

The restoration of the world-famous 200-year-old Union Chain Bridge across the River Tweed has taken a big step forward with the appointment of the main works contractor.

Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 10:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 10:50 am
A car crossing the Union Chain Bridge linking Northumberland and Berwickshire
A car crossing the Union Chain Bridge linking Northumberland and Berwickshire

Spencer Group will carry out a major programme of repairs on the oldest traffic carrying chain suspension bridge in the world.

The company specialises in large engineering projects ranging from the design and build of green power stations, work across the UK rail network and construction and maintenance of complex suspension bridges.

The bridge, which has provided a key transport link between Fishwick in Berwickshire and Horncliffe in Northumberland for two centuries, received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2019.

Covid-19 meant the main works contract was delayed, but with restrictions now being relaxed, Spencer Group can start on site next month, with social distancing and additional hygiene measures being followed.

The successful bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund included a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities which will also take place to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance, and aims to boost tourism along the River Tweed corridor.

The ambitious funding bid was put together by Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council, Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, following serious concerns about the condition of the listed structure.

Both councils have committed match funding totalling £5.7m towards the £10.5m scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.

Gary Thornton, managing director of Spencer Group, said: “We’re delighted and honoured to have been selected to carry out such an important project and to have been given the responsibility to restore this precious structure for future generations.

“We appreciate fully the historical significance of the Union Chain Bridge and will be dedicated to giving it a new lease of life, while being meticulous in our work to retain its heritage.”

Scottish Borders councillor Gordon Edgar added: “This is another hugely positive step forward for such an important project.

“We’re now looking forward to work starting as the next chapter in the Union Chain Bridge’s unique history gets underway.”

Robbie Hunter from Friends of the Union Chain Bridge said: “I am delighted that Spencer Group have been announced as the principal contractor for the restoration of the Union Chain Bridge.

“It is wonderful news that the works will start, as we prepare to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the bridge on July 26.

“This is the culmination of eight years of lobbying by the Friends to ensure that the world’s oldest vehicular suspension bridge and a much loved local landmark was not lost.

“I would like to thank all those involved in the project to date including Northumbernald County Council, Scottish Borders Council and Museums Northumberland for all their hard work, particularly recently during these challenging times.”

Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge which spans 449 feet is the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.

As well as completely restoring the historic structure, the project team has also developed interpretation proposals and a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities.

This programme is designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance and provide learning opportunities to inspire a new generation to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

To join Friends of the Union Chain Bridge visit www.unionbridgefriends.com/become-a-friend.