Discover 18 of Britain’s most famous bridges

Forging connections in rope, timber, stone and steel, the bridges of the UK represent layers of history in innovation and ingenuity. They were a place to parade criminals and protect our towns from invasion, as well as providing ways for us to conduct business and travel far and wide.

They are as much a part of our visual landscape as they are structures of practicality and purpose. In fact, our towns and cities are teeming with examples of these fine feats of engineering. In our latest blog we highlight 18 of Britain’s most famous bridges, learning about the history, culture and people behind them along the way.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge“My first child, my darling,” is how ingenious civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel described his Clifton Suspension Bridge, one of Bristol’s most recognisable landmarks. He was just 24 when he was appointed to design the bridge, but would be in his 50s by the time it was completed in 1864. Its 412m span above the River Avon was the longest of any bridge in the world at the time. Its construction marked a turning point in engineering history, and that history is preserved by its Grade I listed status, charitable trust and public visitor centre.

Tyne Bridge

Tyne BridgeThe iconic arched Tyne Bridge linking Newcastle and Gateshead is a defining symbol of the North East. The bridge was officially opened on 10th October 1928 by King George V, who was the first to cross it in his state landau horse-drawn carriage. Thousands of people lined the streets for the opening ceremony and local children were given the day off school to mark the occasion. Regarded as a prototype for the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was completed four years later, nearly 100 years on and the Grade II listed structure is just as impressive.

Humber Bridge

Humber BridgeA true feat in engineering, The Humber Bridge is evocative of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and, in fact, it’s longer. Spanning 2.22km, by the time it was completed in 1981 the single-span suspension bridge cost £151m. It was worth every penny to drivers who, until then, had to make a detour of up to 128km around the river. It took eight years to build through some of the worst weather conditions but efforts have since been rewarded. The bridge is now Grade I listed and nothing says you’ve arrived in Hull like crossing it.

The Iron Bridge

The Iron BridgeNow within the peaceful valley of Ironbridge Gorge, this area in Telford was once a beating heart of industry. The Iron Bridge, a world-recognised symbol of the Industrial Revolution, was erected over the River Severn in 1779. The bridge marked a turning point in design and contained all the elements that came to define the country’s progress. The use of coke in the smelting of iron was pioneered by Abraham Darby I in the nearby village of Coalbrookdale. His grandson, Abraham Darby III, would use the technique to cast the ironwork for the bridge that still stands today.

Tower Bridge

Built between 1886 and 1894, Tower Bridge’s neo-Gothic towers are a symbol of England itself. A Grade I listed combination of suspension and movable bascule bridge, it allows for vessels more than 9m tall to pass through. Originally powered by steam, stokers would work in shifts 24 hours a day to ensure enough energy was generated to open it. Today the bridge is operated by electricity and opens far less frequently than when London was a busy trading port. Visitors can explore inside the bridge, taking in the iconic city views and the landmark’s rich history.

Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge and Weir on the River AvonA stunning example of Georgian architecture, Pulteney Bridge in Bath is one of just four in the world to have shops across its full span on both sides. It was built by Robert Adam in 1769 and named after Frances Pulteney, the wife of an important landowner of the time. The Grade I listed structure famously appeared in the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables at the scene of Javert’s suicide and today it draws tourists looking for a romantic photo opportunity. Quaint shops and coffee shops line the bridge and regular boat trips depart from it.

Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge

Middlesbrough Transporter BridgeFewer than two dozen transporter bridges were ever built and this 1911 example is the longest existing and one of only three in Britain. The bridge works by carrying people on foot or in vehicles across the bridge on a ‘gondola’ suspended below the structure. In just 90 seconds it can carry 200 people or nine cars between the northern side of the Tees in County Durham and the southern side in Middlesbrough. Although closed for repairs, the imposing steel structure is considered a symbol of Teeside’s engineering heritage and is Grade II listed. A visitor centre opens on weekdays.

The Queensferry Crossing

The Queensferry Crossing in EdinburghA modern monument to innovation and design, the Queensferry Crossing took its place alongside the Forth and Forth Road Bridges in 2017. It was conceived as a modern, long-term solution to crossing the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and Fife. The three tower cable-stayed bridge, the biggest infrastructure project in Scotland for a generation, is the longest of its kind at 2.7km. The bridge used 23,000 miles of cabling – nearly enough to stretch around the entire planet. 35,000 tonnes of concrete, 150,000 tonnes of concrete and 10,000,000 staff hours also went into its construction.

Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs OxfordThe Italian skyway Bridge of Sighs connects parts of a prison and was so called because its windows provided the last views of beautiful Venice for convicts. Students at Oxford likely don’t have as much to sigh about but Hertford Bridge, connecting two Oxford colleges, gained its common name because of its supposed similarities. It is nevertheless a stunning piece of Oxford architecture and a city landmark worth seeing. Built in 1914 and standing opposite the entrance to the Bodleian Library, it was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson – one of the most distinguished architects of his generation.

Menai Suspension Bridge

Menai suspension bridgeSpanning the Menai Strait between the island of Anglesey and mainland Wales, this was the world’s first major suspension bridge completed in 1826. The Grade I listed structure was a feat in engineering necessitated by Ireland’s joining of the Union in 1800. The route from London to Holyhead became an important part of the link between Parliament and Ireland. Prior to the bridge’s construction, crossing the Menai Strait was a hazardous journey with many boats capsizing. Designed by Thomas Telford, the new bridge, as well as his own improvements to roads, reduced commuter time from 36 hours to 27.

Forth Bridge

Forth Bridge in ScotlandOpened in 1890, the Forth Bridge was the first to connect Fife to Edinburgh. As much a symbol of Scotland as kilts or whiskey, 240,000 litres of paint are required for the railway bridge’s distinctive oxide red colour. Its construction connected 534 miles of uninterrupted train track from Aberdeen to London and still carries up to 200 trains a day. It was the world’s first major steel structure and still holds the record as the world’s longest cantilever bridge at 2.4km. As a designated UNESCO World Heritage site since 2015, its importance has now been recognised globally.

Infinity Bridge

Infinity BridgeThe 2009-built Infinity Bridge over the River Tees is strikingly modern and innovative. This stunning feat in engineering highlights how bridges are an important part of our visual landscape as well as a practical piece of infrastructure. The slender and elegant pedestrian footbridge is 240m in length. It links the North Shore development in Stockton-on-Tees with the University of Durham’s Queen’s Campus and the Teesdale Business Park in Thornaby. Two asymmetrical arches reflect on the river below to create a mathematical infinity symbol. LED lights in the handrail add to the effect and change colour as pedestrians cross.

Westminster Bridge

Westminster BridgeThe first Westminster Bridge was constructed in 1750 after much objection from watermen who earned their living ferrying people across the river. By the mid 19th century the bridge leading to the political heart of the city was subsiding and redesigned. The current seven- arched cast iron structure was built by Thomas Page but features Gothic detail by Charles Barry, the architect of the Palace of Westminster. Its green colour echoes the colour of the seats in the House of Commons. It has a long history in pop culture too – appearing in everything from 28 Days Later to 101 Dalmatians.

London Bridge

London BridgeWe all know that London Bridge fell down but in fact it’s happened several times. Multiple timber structures were built there as a crossing between the City of London and Southwark from around 50AD. The first stone bridge was commissioned by King Henry II and contained a chapel dedicated to Thomas Becket following his murder. It included houses and was one of London’s main shopping streets. The heads of criminals executed for high treason would also be displayed there on iron spikes. This structure was replaced in 1831 and the current austerely-designed bridge was built in 1973.

Mathematical Bridge

Mathematical BridgeThere was a popular myth that the Queens’ College Mathematical footbridge in Cambridge was built by Issac Newton, without the use of nuts or bolts. In fact it was designed by William Etheridge and built by James Essex in 1749, 22 years after Newton’s death. Its fame comes from the elegant relationship between the forces involved in the construction of the arch from straight timbers, with very little stress put upon them. At least in engineering terms it is noted as an example of a perfect bridge. It’s certainly one that Newton would have no doubt admired.

Monnow Bridge

Monnow BridgeCrossing the River Monmouth in Wales, this structure dating to 1272 is the only remaining fortified river bridge in Britain. Grade I listed, its stone gate tower aimed to protect Monmouth during the English Civil War and the Chartist uprising. It also served as a goal, munitions store and toll gate for the town. Its survival is owed largely to its reconstruction during the 18th and 19th centuries and, more recently, its pedestrianisation. The bridge has been known to inspire artists including JMW Turner, Henry Gastineau and John Sell Cotman, so be sure to take a sketchbook if you visit.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Gateshead Millennium BridgeThe North East is nothing if not innovative in bridge design. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge was the world’s first tilting bridge meaning it rotates on fixed endpoints rather than lifting for passing vessels. Opened in 2001, it’s the River Tyne’s only foot and cycle bridge and its innovative design is made up of a pair of sleek steel arches. Lighting on the underside of the deck makes for stunning reflections on the slow moving river below. Architect WilkinsonEyre won the 2002 RIBA Stirling Prize for the design, praised by judges as a “truly heroic piece of engineering and construction”.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope BridgeFirst erected by salmon fishermen in 1755, anyone brave enough to cross this footbridge connecting cliff faces will be relieved to know it has since received upgrades. Located in County Antrim, it originally allowed access from the mainland to a lone fisherman’s cottage on the island of Carrickarede. Suspended 30m above the Atlantic, the most recent upgrade was in 2008 and wire rope and sturdy Douglas fir slats now make for a safe passage. Nevertheless, many visitors too daunted by the crossing have had to be removed from the tiny island by boat.