Yarmouth suspension bridge

Yarmouth suspension bridge spanned the River Bure at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk from 1829 until its collapse in 1845. The bridge was widened in 1832, which had not been anticipated by the original design. On 2 May 1845 the bridge collapsed under load from a crowd who had gathered to watch a circus stunt on the river. Some 79 people, mainly children, were killed. An investigation found fault with the design and workmanship of the bridge. The site of the disaster is marked by a modern-day memorial.

Yarmouth suspension bridge
Yarmouth disaster winter.jpg
Depiction of the 1845 bridge collapse by an eye witness
Yarmouth suspension bridge is located in England
Yarmouth suspension bridge
Coordinates52°36′44″N 1°43′23″E / 52.612253°N 1.723030°E / 52.612253; 1.723030
CarriesYarmouth-Acle road
CrossesRiver Bure
OwnerCory family
Characteristics
Width14 feet 9 inches (4.50 m)
Longest span86 feet (26 m)
No. of spans1
History
ArchitectJoseph John Scoles
Constructed byGidney Goddard
Opened23 April 1829
Collapsed2 May 1845

BridgeEdit

An act of parliament was passed in 1827 for the construction of a bridge over the River Bure at Great Yarmouth. The Cory family paid for the bridge which was to replace a ferry and provide easier access from the town to marshland, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and a bowling green owned by the family. The investment would be recouped by a toll on those crossing.[1] The architect for the bridge was Joseph John Scoles of London.[1][2] He designed a suspension bridge with two towers and a clear span of 63 feet (19 m). The span was later increased on site to 86 feet (26 m) and the suspension chains increased in length accordingly but it is not thought that Scoles was consulted on this matter (it would be considered usual to increase the height of the towers to match the lengthened chains).[3]

The bridge was supported by a suspension chain at both edges of the deck, each chain being formed from two sets of eyebars which had been made by a local blacksmith.[3][4] The 14-foot-9-inch (4.50 m) wide deck, which was slightly arched, carried a central single carriageway of 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m) width and two footways each 4 feet (1.2 m) in width.[3][4] The deck was attached to the suspension chains by vertical iron rods.[4] The towers were constructed on piled foundations on either bank and were 92 feet (28 m) apart measured centre to centre.[4][5] The bridge was constructed by Gidney Goddard and supervised by Mr Green, a local surveyor.[1]

The bridge opened for public use on 23 April 1829. Scoles attended the opening, which was the first time he had attended the site.[1] In 1832 the road from Yarmouth to Acle was routed over the bridge. This had not originally been intended and, to provide sufficient width for two carriages to pass each other, the bridge was widened by hanging the footways from the sides of the deck.[4]

Disaster of 2 May 1845Edit

 
Cooke's Circus poster advertising Nelson's stunt

Cooke's Circus was in Great Yarmouth and as part of a promotion it was advertised that a clown, named Arthur Nelson, would sail up the River Bure in a washtub pulled by four geese on 2 May 1845.[6][7] The trick, first devised by Dicky Usher in 1809, was achieved by having the tub attached to a rowboat by an underwater line.[8][9] A large crowd assembled in the vicinity from around 5 pm to view the feat which started with the flood tide.[6] Several thousand people viewed the clown from the river banks and at least 300 in a crowd 4–5 deep on the southern footway of the bridge.[3][5][7]

At this time one of the eyebars in the southern suspension chain failed; this was witnessed by members of the crowd but no action seems to have been taken to evacuate the bridge as a result. The second eyebar in that portion of the chain took up the full load for around five minutes before it too failed.[5] The south side of the deck fell into the river, though the north end remained suspended by the surviving chain, and the majority of the crowd were tipped into the water.[5][6] Children, who formed much of the front rank of the crowd, were crushed against the parapet railing by those behind them.[6] One child was saved from being swept away by her mother holding onto her with her teeth.[6]

Boats soon arrived on the scene to rescue the victims.[10] The wounded and dead were taken to nearby houses and pubs (including the Norwich Arms, the Admiral Collingwood and the Swan). The Union House hotel supplied blankets for the wounded and Lacons Brewery made quantities of hot water available for hot baths to revive the survivors.[6] Some 75 bodies were recovered on the day of the accident, though some remained trapped in the wreckage of the bridge – one man was rescued alive some time later after being freed with the use of a crowbar.[6] In all 79 people were killed in the disaster, of whom 59 were children.[7] Most of the dead were under 13 years of age and the youngest victim was two years old.[11]

InvestigationEdit

The coroner's inquest was held the next day in a local church hall.[6] The British government commissioned a report by James Walker, past-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).[1] Walker found that Scoles' original specification correctly called for high quality iron to be used for the eyebars but failed to specify any testing of the product.[4] He found that the failure occurred in a joint within the eyebars – each of which had been forged from three separate pieces: two eyes and a bar. The scarf joint between the components had been imperfectly welded with the weld covering only one third of the surface area of the joint.[12] Had the welds been carried out correctly it is likely that the rods would not have failed.[13] Walker also noted that the rod portion of the eyebars was made of better quality iron than the eyes and that the second rod to fail had extended by around an inch under the load imposed.[12]

 
Depiction of the collapse in the Illustrated London News

There was further discussion of the report by several leading engineers in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Walker claimed that the decision taken to widen the bridge was a poor one.[13] Though the additional weight imposed (2 long tons 13 cwt; 5,900 lb or 2.7 t) was small compared to the weight of the original deck (17 long tons 14 cwt 3 qr 25 lb; 39,757 lb or 18.033 t) the extra weight, being outside of the original deck area, was carried entirely by one of the chains.[14] It was thought that, had the bridge not been widened, it would have been able to accept the crowd loading.[3] Indeed crowds of 2–3 times as many people had previously been present on the bridge but the loads had been spread more evenly across the two suspension chains.[5]

Leading bridge engineer and future ICE president James Meadows Rendel was of the opinion that such a slender suspension bridge should not have been constructed in a location susceptible to crowd loading. He noted that a similar bridge at Montrose, Angus had collapsed when a crowd formed on it to observe a boat race.[15] Rendel described the Yarmouth bridge as "a mere toy" and that the design was not well conceived.[16] He was of the opinion that a traditional arch bridge should have been constructed instead or otherwise the deck made rigid by use of a truss.[15]

The primary cause of failure was attributed to the welding of the eyebars which was described as defective.[3][16][17] Rendel found them to be of such poor quality that they would have failed under any adequate scheme of testing.[3] Regular maintenance inspections of the bridge may have picked up the issue and one ICE member made the recommendation that public bridges be regularly inspected by a competent engineer.[17]

LegacyEdit

 
Plaque on the Swan

The disaster is described as the "largest recorded loss of life" in Great Yarmouth.[7] It is commemorated by a blue plaque on the former Swan Inn, some 100 yards (91 m) north of the site of the bridge.[11] Lanterns were lit at the site in 2013 to mark the 168th anniversary of the disaster.[18] A permanent memorial costing £5,000 was erected near to the site of the bridge on North Quay Road in September 2013.[7][19] This comprises a 1.4-metre (4 ft 7 in) high granite block carved to resemble an open book. One page shows a depiction of the disaster and the other contains a list of the dead.[7]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 297. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  2. ^ Nicholl, Samuel Joseph (1897). "Scoles, Joseph John". In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 51. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 293. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 298. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 299. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Great Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster" (PDF). Norwich Mercury. 10 May 1845. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Barber, Martin (28 September 2013). "Suspension bridge tragedy memorial". BBC News. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  8. ^ Slout, William L. (1997). Clowns and Cannons: The American Circus During the Civil War. Wildside Press LLC. p. 18. ISBN 9780809513048. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  9. ^ "Barry, Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53835. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. ^ Coates, Liz (10 March 2016). "Legacy and memory event marks Suspension Bridge disaster". Great Yarmouth Mercury. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  11. ^ a b Russell, Sam (16 February 2012). "Plea for memorial to 80 deaths in Yarmouth bridge disaster". Great Yarmouth Mercury. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  12. ^ a b Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 300. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  13. ^ a b Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 301. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  14. ^ Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 302. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  15. ^ a b Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 294. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  16. ^ a b Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 295. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  17. ^ a b Rendel, J M; Phipps, G H; Leslie, J; Newton, C; Mills, G; Field, J; Grissell, T; Walker, J (January 1845). "Discussion: The failure of the bridge at Great Yarmouth". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 4 (1845): 296. doi:10.1680/imotp.1845.24457. ISSN 1753-7843. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  18. ^ "Anniversary of the 1845 Suspension Bridge Disaster". ITV News. 2 May 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  19. ^ Rogers, Lauren (24 March 2013). "Remembering lives lost in Great Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster". Norwich Evening News. Retrieved 22 January 2019.