The best of England’s magnificent bridges span the ages; standing strong, connecting communities and creating vital access across our waterways.
Here we take a look at seven of England’s finest bridges, and what makes them special:
1. Humber Bridge, Hull, Grade I listed
At 1,410 metres long, the Humber Bridge was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world when it was built in 1981, a record it maintained for 16 years. It remains in the top ten longest spans worldwide and is the longest that you can walk across.
The bridge is supported by massive cables – almost enough cable to go round the earth twice. Despite its enormous size and strength, the Humber Bridge has an elegance that is in harmony with the landscape. The sandy concrete towers and muted deck, echo the colours of the reeds, grass, pebbles and sand of the shores and muddy brown of the Humber it crosses.
2. Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol. Grade I listed
Spanning the Avon Gorge in Bristol, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is famously known to be based on a design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. However, little is reported about the contribution by a woman who was one of the foremost engineering, inventing and designing minds of the Georgian era.
Sarah Guppy was a prolific inventor, patenting a design for safe foundations for bridges ‘whereby the danger of being washed away by floods is avoided.’ This patent for piling foundations came into being in 1811 and formed the blueprint for the iconic bridge that Brunel would design 19 years later.
Before the bridge was completed in the 1850s, intrepid passengers could cross the gorge in a basket slung from an iron bar. It has been the location of the first bungee jump in 1979 and the last ever Concorde flypast in 2003.
3. Severn Bridge, Gloucestershire, Grade I listed
A physical embodiment of the near 500 year union between England and Wales, the 1966 Severn River Crossing is granted the highest level of protection by listing. It was the first bridge in the world to use the revolutionary concept of a streamlined deck and inclined hangers, and an early example of a fully welded steel deck. The structure is a symbol of the industrial heritage of South Wales which it is the gateway to, and where some of the country’s wealth was quite literally forged, providing infrastructure for the whole British Empire.
Before the bridge opened in 1966, people waited in their cars for the jeopardous trip on the car ferry in Aust, to avoid a 60 mile round trip to Gloucester. A promotional image for Martin Scorsese’s film No Direction Home, about the life of Bob Dylan, features an image of Dylan standing in front of the ferry terminal in May 1966, not long before it closed for good. The Severn bridge can be seen almost complete in the background.
4. Tees Transporter Bridge, Grade II* listed
The Tees Transporter or Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge has become a landmark that embodies the town it which it stands. It was the largest bridge of its kind when it was finished in 1922 and remains the longest existing transporter bridge in the world at 851 feet long.
The bridge is one of only six known operational transporter bridges remaining in the world, three of which are in Britain. During World War II the superstructure of the bridge was hit by a bomb but despite this, the gondola and The Transporter Bridge are still running in perfect order.
5. Iron Bridge, Telford, Shropshire, Grade I listed
The Iron Bridge in Shropshire is a symbol of the dawn of the industrialised age – the world’s first bridge made from cast iron.
It was built by Abraham Darby III to join the towns of Coalbrookdale and Broseley across the River Severn. The Darby family had produced iron goods like cooking pots and tram rails for some time, and perfected the technique of smelting iron with coke, allowing for cheaper production.
The bridge itself was cast at Darby’s ironworks in Coalbrookdale, a venture that would put Abraham Darby III in debt for the rest of his life. The bridge was opened to traffic in 1781 and was in use until 1934. It now stands as a monument to the industrial revolution.
6. Tyne Bridge, Tyneside, Grade II listed
The defining symbol of Tyneside, the Tyne Bridge was the biggest single-span bridge in the UK when it was opened by George V in 1928. The structure was built using shipbuilding techniques with rivets and panels welded together. It was a mammoth task and the workmen risked their lives to construct the crossing – working up to 200 feet above the river without safety harnesses or ropes. Despite the dangers of the job, only one worker died during construction.
The bridge and nearby structures are used as a nesting site by a colony of around 700 pairs of black-legged kittiwakes, the furthest inland in the world.
7. Tower Bridge, London, Grade I listed
One of the most recognisable bridges in the world, Tower Bridge takes 61 seconds to open, which it does around 1,000 times a year. When it was built in 1886, it was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge (a bridge with a section which can be raised and lowered using counterweights) ever completed.
Originally, the hydraulics used to open the bridge were powered by steam, then in 1976 they were replaced by ones powered by electricity and oil.
- News Story: Listing of Humber Bridge and Philip Larkin’s House mark celebrations of Hull’s heritage
- A book on the history of Hull can be purchased here.
- Explore the history of Kingston upon Hull with our free Walk History app.