Memorial will honour forgotten dead of the Forth Bridge project

THE human cost of constructing the Forth Bridge may have been almost double original estimates, according to local experts who are planning a memorial to those who died.

More than 5,000 workers risked their lives for paltry wages during the seven-year construction of the famous rail crossing, which opened in 1890 as one of the world's greatest engineering achievements.

Official figures put the number of men killed during the project at 57, but over a century later, historians believe the true figure is likely to be more than 100.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Len Saunders, of the Forth Bridge Memorial Arts Trust and chairman of the Queensferry History Group, said: "There was huge concern at the time over the number of deaths, and there was a reluctance to attribute deaths directly to the bridge work.

"Our research, with the help of genealogists, shows that the real figure was 66. On top of that, there were an additional nine killed during the laying of the approach railways, five others lost during associated construction, six more who died of medical complications and then a further ten whose cases are still being investigated.

"There was a diver who died of the bends after working on the bridge supports whose death was not included in the original 57. Others were crippled for life and died of terrible injuries."

Mr Saunders said the revised toll of 96 was likely to climb higher as more research was carried out - possibly doubling the original figure.

The trust is hoping to secure up to 100,000 from the Scottish Arts Council for a permanent memorial to the dead men, who have been largely ignored until recently.

South Queensferry councillor George Grubb said: "There are plans in motion to secure the services of an artist-in-residence for a permanent memorial to the bridge workers.

"It will be a project involving the whole community."

Mr Saunders added that the memorial would be "a great work of art" in honour of the iconic status of the bridge.

"It could be that the memorial is located on either side of the Forth, there are so many options," he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The memorial project has the backing of the community councils in North and South Queensferry as well as local heritage and arts trusts.

Despite the deaths, the rail bridge lost proportionately fewer workers through accidents than the adjacent road bridge project, on which seven of 360 employees died during the construction, in 1958-64.

When it was completed in 1890, the rail bridge was the largest in the world, built from 54,000 tonnes of steel, and containing 6.5 million rivets. The whole project cost 3.2 million.

And although most admired it, the artist and designer William Morris called it "the supremest specimen of all ugliness".