Seeking a place in history for an historic Borders landmark

The Union Chain Bridge across the Tweed that links England and Scotland.
The Union Chain Bridge across the Tweed that links England and Scotland.

A bridge that spans the River Tweed, linking Scotland and England, has been nominated for a list of the 100 most important historic places in England.

The Union Chain Bridge crosses between Ladykirk on the Scottish side and Horncliffe on the English side of the river.

It is the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles but it has suffered from neglect for many years.

Now, the Friends of Chain Bridge are hopeful that its place in the nation’s engineering history can be secured and the bridge will be restored to its former glory.

Membership of the Friends of Chain Bridge continues to grow and currently the charitable group has more than 600 members, mainly drawn from local communities on both sides of the bridge.

There is also a significant membership elsewhere in England, Scotland and Wales as well as in Japan, the USA, Norway and Australia.

Robbie Hunter, chairman of the Friends group, said: “Inclusion on the Historic England 100 list would go a long way to enable the bridge to be fully recognised for what it is, one of the most important engineering structures in the UK.

“It has had a big impact on the development of suspension bridges around the world.”

Historic England is looking to create a list of 100 places, buildings and historical sites that tell the story of England and its impact on the world and the Union Chain Bridge has been added to the list of entries to that esteemed roll call.

Councillor Glen Sanderson, cabinet member for the environment and local services with Northumberland County Council, said: “It’s fantastic that such an iconic structure has been nominated for inclusion on this prestigious list.

“So much joint work has gone on behind the scenes on both sides of the border to submit our HLF funding bid and this nomination is another example of how important the bridge is.”

The list is divided into ten categories (see panel, far right, for more details).

Built by Captain Samuel Brown in 1820, the Union Chain Bridge is heading towards its 200th birthday and it is hoped that the 2020 celebrations will include the completion of a £7.3 million renovation programme.

Joint responsibility for the structure lies with councils on both sides of the border – Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council.

Together with the Friends, they have put together a Heritage Lottery Fund bid to repair the bridge in the expectation that, over the coming years, it will deliver cultural, heritage and community benefits.

Robbie added: “We should hear next month if the first round HLF bid has been successful. I am hopeful we are nearing the end of our journey to save this beautiful bridge.”

Gordon Edgar, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, agreed, saying: “I’m pleased that the Union Chain Bridge has been nominated for Historic England’s 100 most important places, buildings and historical sites.

“Alongside our colleagues at Northumberland County Council and the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, we believe this bridge is of huge historical significance.

“Inclusion on this list would provide further weight to our hopes of maintaining the structure for years to come.

“A successful HLF bid would also see the bridge deliver a series of cultural, heritage and community benefits for the local area.”

The first round HLF bid focuses on conserving and raising awareness of the internationally significant structure, providing learning opportunities for young people inspired by its innovative engineering and developing meaningful cross-border heritage projects and partnerships.

If the project passes the HLF first round, with a decision due at the end of March, it will move into a one year development phase ahead of a second round submission.

There have been delays to the application process, however, and Friends of Union Chain Bridge are concerned that the target to complete the works in advance of the bridge’s bicentenary in July 2020 is now unlikely to be met.

That aside, the bridge’s place in the history of world engineering is undeniable.

And it surely deserves to be considered for the list of 100 most important historic places in England.