Six-figure sum to be spent conserving Leith's historic Victoria Swing Bridge

A major investment is to be made to save Leith’s world-renowned Victoria Swing Bridge, it has been announced.

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Forth Ports revealed plans to conserve the Category A listed structure and carry out full restoration works.

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The move follows public outcry at the poor state of the structure, which was built in 1874 and once provided a useful link between the docklands either side of the mouth of the Water of Leith. Now in a derelict state, the swing bridge was added to the Buildings at Risk register in 2018.

A vision of how the Victoria Swing Bridge could look

However, Forth Ports propose to full restore the bridge to its former glory, conserving it for the future and creating a useable space for the local community.

The private six figure investment will see the span, which is the largest counterweighted swing bridge in Scotland, fully repaired, with a phased programme of specialist works which will protect its character and form.

Forth Ports’ plans are outlined in a Listed Building Consent application which has been lodged with Edinburgh City Council for approval.

The proposed repair programme is to be carried out in phases and includes the full refurbishment of the northern and southern walkways; re-decking the central carriage way; replacement of the decked turning circle areas and a full repair and repaint of metalwork on the bridge

The Victoria Swing Bridge is in urgent need of attention

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Charles Hammond, Group Chief Executive at Forth Ports, said: “The Victoria Swing Bridge is a well kent sight in Leith and it is an important and rare surviving example of our heritage.

"The plans we have submitted to the council have been well thought through and will ensure that the repairs are appropriate for the conservation of this important landmark.

“We want to also create a useable space for the local community and we hope that once the bridge has been restored, people will be able to enjoy this historic space.”

The Victoria Swing Bridge was designed by Alexander Rendel and opened in 1874 to provide an efficient road and railway route for the port following the completion of construction of Albert Dock in 1869. The bridge was originally B listed but was upgraded to an A listing in 2014. It is constructed of riveted wrought iron, timber and steel and originally carried a double rail track along its central deck, providing access for both trains and road vehicles) and features pedestrian walkways on either side.

Following receipt of Listed Building Consent from the council, Phase I – the refurbishment of the north and south pedestrian walkways – is expected to be undertaken this year, with the remaining work anticipated being undertaken in 2022. Pedestrian access to the bridge for the local community will be maintained for the duration of the works.

The construction of the Albert Dock (1862-1869) and Edinburgh Dock (1874-1881) to the east end of Leith Harbour made it necessary to provide an efficient road and railway route between docks and led to the construction of the Victoria Swing Bridge from 1871 to 1874. It was designed by Rendel, with alterations by Peter Whyte in 1896, and includes a pump house to the north. Rendel and Robertson Engineers also worked on both the east side docks throughout this period. The contractors for the foundations were McDonald & Grant and, for the bridge, Skerne Iron Works

The bridge is constructed of riveted wrought-iron, timber and steel and carried a double rail track along its central deck whilst also providing vehicular access across its timber deck and pedestrian walkways to each side. Its girders, with an overall length of 212 ft and clear span of 120 ft, are made of wrought iron and the clear roadway width is 24 ft. The gross weight is 620 tons, including 60 tons of timber and 240 tons of kentledge counterweight which was, but is no longer, lifted and easily turned by means of hydraulic rams operated by the hydraulic power station previously located adjacent on the bank of the Alexandra Dry Dock.

Its clear span is said to have been the largest of any swing bridge in the United Kingdom until the opening of Kincardine Bridge in 1937. The bridge remains the largest counterweighted swing bridge North of the border. It was closed to vehicular traffic in the mid-1990s. The timber deck of the bridge was renewed in 2000, on completion of which it was reopened to the public.

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