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Royal Albert Railway Bridge Saltash Cornwall
by Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Royal Albert Railway Bridge - Saltash - Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Fine lithograph showing the ground breaking railway bridge by Isambard Kingdom Brunel which joined Devon to Cornwall.

Condition: Good bold imprint, nice colour, laid down, trimmed and close top margin, professional repair to top 10mm (tape damage), minor spotting.
Elegantly framed in a gilt frame and ivory mount with watercolour lines.


Title: Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash Cornwall
Medium: Coloured Lithograph circa 1860 Image Size: 267 x 470mm, 10.5 x 18.5 "
Order No. 7133 Price: SOLD Paper Size: 324 x 583mm, 12.75 x 21.25 "
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Royal Albert Bridge - Saltash Cornwall
In 1846 the Cornwall Railway Act received Royal Assent and one of the stipulations was that the ferry at Saltash should be replaced by a railway bridge thus linking Cornwall to the rest of the UK by rail.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed as chief designer and engineer. His challenge was to build a bridge to span the River Tamar which at this point is some 1100 ft wide. At first he intended to construct a single span bridge of 850 ft but the constraints imposed by the Admiralty ruled this out. These demanded the deck of the bridge be 100 feet above high tide and that the river remain fully operational to the Navy at all times.

His second plan was for a bridge with 2 spans of 300ft and 2 spans of 200ft, but after investigation it was found that there was no suitable bedrock on which to build the 3 piers.

Finally he decided that the bridge should have a single pier mid stream which would support 2 spans of 139m (455ft). The railway would then have to be supported by a further 10 approach spans on the Cornwall side and 7 on the Devon side. There was however nowhere to secure the tension chains, so Brunel had to design a bridge with self supporting trusses. His solution was oval shaped arched trusses that rest on top of the piers. In order to prevent the piers from being pushed outwards, chains were hung and 11 girders were used to connect the trusses to the chains. The deck was then suspended from the braced chains at 22 points.

It was originally intended to carry a two way track but the Cornwall Railway Company had insufficient funds – the reduction to a single track saved £100,000. After the first contractor went bankrupt, Brunel decided to take on the contract himself.

During the construction of the London Tunnel, his father Marc Brunel had used a form of diving bell with compressed air. Brunel adapted this for work on his bridge. He built a cylinder 85ft deep and 37ft in diameter. This was floated into the middle of the river and sunk. The water was pumped out and the top sealed. Compressed air was then pumped into the cylinder to allow up to 40 men to work within the tube. First they had to excavate 12 ft of mud followed by 3 ft of rock before a suitable foundation was located. Work then began to build the central tower of brick.

On July 4th 1853 the foundation for the first of the Cornish piers was laid by the Mayor of Saltash Mr W Rundle in Silver Street. The central pier was capped in 1856 and work then began to erect the four octagonal columns which were to hold the deck.

On September 1st 1857, watched by some 20,000 spectators, the first truss was floated out into the centre of the river supported by two barges. It took two hours, five navy vessels and 500 men to manoeuvre them through 45 degrees, where as the tide turned they then sank into position on to the piers. The truss was gradually raised at a rate of 6 feet a week using hydraulic jacks until on 1st July 1858 it reached its final height 100 feet above the water.

On July 10th 1858 the second span for the Devon side was floated out into the river. Word had spread about this amazing feat of engineering and special trains were laid on to bring spectators from London. Brunel by this time was too ill to attend.

The first test train, a South Devon Locomotive, crossed the bridge on 11th April 1859. His Royal Highness Prince Albert officially opened the bridge on 2nd May 1859. After visiting Coombe viaduct (at that time constructed of wood) he returned to Saltash station and walked back across the bridge to Devon to declare the bridge officially open.

Brunel did not attend the opening due to ill health. He finally crossed his bridge on an open wagon two days later. He died on 5th September 1859.

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Guaranteed original antique prints, we do not sell modern reproductions.

John Newman and Co.
London firm of engravers. lithographers and publishers of topographical views after their own designs and those of their contemporaries.

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Royal Albert Bridge - Saltash Cornwall - Antique lithograph by John Newman and Co.

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