The Forth Bridge viaduct over Queensferry. Constructed 1882-89. Total length, 1.5 miles. Material: steel, with a total weight of 58,000 tonnes, and masonry piers. Designed by Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker (who was knighted afterwards) with the assistance of Allen Stewart, and other engineers. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, 2009. [This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose.]

After the tragic collapse of the Sir Thomas Bouch's Tay Bridge on 28 December 1879 during a storm, and the consequent loss of life, Bouch lost the commission for the Forth Bridge, and the present design was accepted. The water here reached 220' deep, making it impossible to have many piers: thus "the enormous spans needed and the heights at Queensferry posed problems to the engineers which they solved with a novel and breathtaking design" (Curl 230). This was not the first great steel bridge, as is sometimes claimed. That was the work of James Eads, and was completed in St Louis, over the Mississippi, in 1874 (see Brown 72); nor was it the first cantilever railway bridge, because there was one in Germany (Hassfurt Bridge over the Main River, completed in 1867). But in its combination of material and engineering principle, it was still revolutionary. In particular, "The principle of the cantilever was fully explored in this incomparable work of Victorian engineering" (Curl 230).

For Sheffield-born Sir John Fowler (1817-1898), it was the crowning achievement of a highly successful career. An eminent engineer, he had played an important role in the building of London's first underground railway (the Metropolitan line), and had been elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1865, while he was still in his forties. He had taken Baker as his partner in 1875, and received a knighthood in 1885 for his work in Egypt and the Sudan. Despite an impressive workload (see Chrimes for his numerous achievements, which included the Liverpool Central Station) and the widespread calls on his advice, he was by all accounts a devoted family man; he loved Scotland, where he had had a home in Ross-shire since 1857. He died whilst staying at a seaside hotel in Bournemouth. Mike Chrimes also describes this bridge as "one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian age and one of its most substantial enduring monuments."

Baker (1840-1907) too was highly influential, in 1895 becoming president of the Institution of Civil Engineers in his turn, and (for example) Consulting Engineer for the Aswan Dam (1898-1902).

Other Views and Useful Web Material


Brown, David J. Bridges: Three Thousand Years of Defying Nature. London: Mitchell Beazely, rev. ed. 1996.

Chrimes, Mike. "Fowler, Sir John, first baronet (1817-1898)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 14 July 2009.

Curl, James Stevens. Victorian Architecture. Newton Abbot & London: David & Charles, 1990.

Spear, W. F., revised by Mike Chrimes. "Baker, Sir Benjamin (1840-1907)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 14 July 2009.

Last modified 14 July 2009