The two recent photographs were taken by Colin Price; the Library of Congress image was downloaded, and its caption added, by George P. Landow. Commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer/source and (2) link your document to this URL or cite the Victorian Web in a print document. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Saltash Bridge, Plymouth, England

Saltash or Royal Albert Bridge, Plymouth, England. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Completed 1859. This railway bridge carries the Cornish Main Line over the River Tamar from Plymouth in Devon to Saltash in Cornwall. With its combination of wrought iron tubular arches and suspension chains, David Blockley describes it Brunel's "final masterpiece" (58), giving its statistics: the two main spans are 139m. long, for instance, and there are seventeen shorter spans in the approaches. Of the many more details available, one of the most impressive, in a local newspaper, is that fifteen of the total of nineteen spans "are wider than the widest arches of Westminster Bridge" ("The Cornwall Railway Saltash Bridge").

Left: Photochrom print showing the approach spans on one bank. Detroit, Michigan: Detroit Publishing Company, 1905 [Source: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsc-08788.] Right: Another view of the bridge, again showing Brunel's name and the date of completion over the portal, as a memorial to him, since he died only a few months after the opening.

Putting up the great tubular arches of the superstructure, each with an estimated weight of over a thousand tons each, was a challenging operation which drew immense crowds — William Heath Robinson would make capital of later. As described in the Morning Chronicle of 2 September 1857, the first arch was successfully put in place in the presence of Brunel himself, in the company of other important personages. Another report, in the Daily News of the following day, tells of steamers, flags, kiosks and marquees, and a crowd of an estimated 100,000 spectators. Less than a year later, the Manchester Times of 17 July 1858 gives a detailed account of how the second was raised: again success was greeted with cheers from the many spectators who "studded the banks on both sides, and occupied all kinds of boats and shipping on the Tamar." But this time Brunel himself had been "detained on the continent by illness." He would die a few months later.

The bridge, shown on the right here in an early photograph, was important not just as a remarkable feat of engineering, especially for its time, but for the link it provided. As the Mayor of Saltash said to Prince Albert, on the grand occasion of the opening, it made his borough the main point of entry into Cornwall. Prince Albert replied with remarks in the same vein: "It has given me much pleasure to attend here this day at the opening of the bridge which it to connect the important county of Cornwall with the rest of the kingdom" ("The Opening of the Albert Viaduct at Saltash").

Related Material


Blockley, David. Bridges: The Science and Art of the World's Most Inspiring Structures. Paperback ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

"The Cornwall Railway Saltash Bridge." The Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet, and General Advertiser 14 January 1859: 3. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II. Web. 15 March 2016.

Library of Congress site. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Viewed 9 February 2009.

"The Opening of the Albert Viaduct at Saltash." Daily News. 4 May 1859. 19c. British Newspapers (Gale). Web. 15 March 2016.

"The Royal Albert Bridge." Manchester Times. 17 July 1858. 19c. British Newspapers (Gale). Web. 15 March 2016.

"The Royal Albert Bridge." The Morning Chronicle. 2 September 1857. 19c. British Newspapers (Gale). Web. 15 March 2016.

"The Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash." Daily News. September 1857: 3. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II. Web. 15 March 2016.

Pictures and commentary added 15 March 2016