'Historic moment': Union Chain Bridge between Scotland and England cut for the first time in centuries

A historic 17th century link between Scotland and England has been cut for the first time in centuries.

The next stage of the work is to remove the 12 chains, which are a total of 2000m long, the images show the preparation work going on for this stage which should happen later this month (Photo: Phil Wilkinson).
The next stage of the work is to remove the 12 chains, which are a total of 2000m long, the images show the preparation work going on for this stage which should happen later this month (Photo: Phil Wilkinson).

The Union Chain Bridge which has stood across the River Tweed since 1820 is now undergoing a £10.5m overhaul.

Currently being removed for repair, the full structure will be returned and reopened early next year.

Once completed, it is hoped the bridge can help boost transport and the economy in the surrounding areas.

The current stage of restoration works on the Union Chain Bridge. View from English side look back across to Scottish side of River Tweed (Photo: Phil Wilkinson).

Full restoration of the structure got underway last October and now local services are working to take down the main chains of the bridge.

The 12 chains, which in total are around 2,000 metres long, will be taken down over the course of six weeks.

The current overhaul was prompted by serious concerns about the condition of the structure.

Plans to fully restore the bridge received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2019 and the Fund has pledged to continue their support.

The Union Chain Bridge spans the River Tweed between Horncliffe, Northumberland, England and Fishwick, Borders, Scotland. It was designed by Captain (later Sir) Samuel Brown RN, who held patents for the design of the chains, although Brown altered the tower and abutments on the suggestion of John Rennie (Photo: Phil Wilkinson).

Scottish Borders Council and Northumberland County Council committed funding totalling £5.7m with other fundraising activities continuing by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge.

Residents nearby said that taking away the last section of bridge was an emotional milestone.

Heather Thompson, who lives near the bridge on the north side, said: “We've watched with interest from the Scottish side as we can walk along from Paxton House.

“It feels very momentous, given that we hoped for this restoration for so long and it will be strange when the bridge is gone.”

The Union Chain Bridge cost 7,700 to construct and pre-dates the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Menai Bridge, which are of similar design (Photo: Phil Wilkinson).

Tommy Cockburn, who’s lived in Horncliffe on the English side all his life, said: “As a child growing up in the village we took for granted the peace and quiet of living on the banks of the river Tweed.

“Most Sundays were spent on a family walk to Paxton where you met other families on their walk as there were not many cars at this time.

"With a famous river we also had a special bridge.

“The bridge has been a hidden gem and adds a spectacular view to our countryside. The past 12 months have been a strange and difficult time.

“Our bridge has gone now as the restoration project has begun and it is such a miss not being there.

"The views are not the same and our nearest link to Scotland has gone.”

However, bosses have said this loss is only temporary and the project will improve transport links and the economy for future generations.

David Renwick, director at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “This temporary lack of a physical connection between communities in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders is an important stage in the overall project, which will ultimately strengthen connections, improve transport links and have a positive economic impact on the area.”

Gordon Edgar, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for infrastructure, travel and transport said: “It is a historic moment in the life of this 201-year-old bridge and I’d like to pay tribute once again to all those who have been involved for many years in bringing this project to fruition and to all those funding this restoration which will protect it for many years to come.”

Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge has been the oldest operational chain suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.

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