Friday, 23 September 2011

Web of Iron Exhibition Celebrates all Chain Bridges

A new, permanent and very comprehensive exhibition has been put on display at the Chain Bridge Honey Farm Visitor Centre. It is called ‘Web of Iron: Celebrating the Chain Bridge’ and has been produced by Stephen K. Jones of the Institution of Civil Engineers South Wales.

The exhibition describes the early development of chain suspension bridges, with particular focus on the innovations of Scotsman Thomas Telford and the London-born engineer Captain Sir Samuel Brown RN.

Capt Samuel Brown was the designer of the Union Chain Bridge which is located just 250 metres from the honey farm and after which the honey farm is named. Today it survives as the oldest chain suspension bridge in the world. But, as this fascinating exhibition describes, there were many other bridges designed and constructed during the nineteenth century which were to rival Brown’s creation.

On reading the exhibition and examining the etchings and photographs, one gets the impression of a fervour for suspension bridge building during the 1800s. We are told that this came about because of innovations in the production of chains, pioneered by Samuel Brown as an alternative for hempen rigging for ships. It is interesting to learn how many bridges and piers were built, but then failed, and how some were proposed but never happened. We are told that Brunel never saw the completion of his Clifton suspension bridge and that at one time a chain bridge was proposed over the Firth of Forth.

What comes across most compellingly is how chain suspension bridges and piers provided beauty in the landscape, so much so that they were depicted by the Victorian artists Naysmith, Tuner and Constable. For the engineers who designed them, the emphasis on grace and beauty seemed to equal the need for strength and durability.

The honey farm is grateful to Steve Jones for producing the exhibition and for bringing it here to the honey farm. We are also grateful to the sponsors of the exhibition which are The Institution of Civil Engineers North East, Berwick History Society, Horncliffe Parish Council and Berwick Rotary Club.

Admission to the exhibition is free, and once you have learnt about chain bridges you can then walk or drive over one!