Library book of the month – April 2016

Each month the ICE Library team brings you a look at a recent addition to its collection. This time we’re delighted to have one of our fellows reviewing a new book about.

The book explores a type of suspension bridge developed by John and Louis Harper.
The book explores a type of suspension bridge developed by John and Louis Harper.

Title: River, railway and ravine: Foot suspension bridges for Empire
Author: Douglas Harper
Year: 2015

This is an intriguing and unusual book combining a family history from the mid-19th century with the technical development of a lightweight suspension bridge developed by John and Louis Harper.

Based on an idea of tensioning wire boundary fences patented by John Harper in 1863, the wire tensioner was used as part of a simple suspension bridge design, which could be assembled quickly on site using a kit of parts supplied by the Harpers' manufacturing company based in Aberdeen.

The system was also an early use of wire rope for such structures. The form of bridge was primarily designed for foot and other light traffic and was ideally suited to remote estates in Scotland where a good reputation was gained. This was later extended around the UK and to inaccessible parts of the Empire as well as footbridges over railways, where the structures rapid installation was a distinct advantage. (A lesson for today?)

The book covers the mechanics of the patented system as well detailing many of the bridges built.

Apart from over 30 bridges in the UK, the system was also used in India, Nepal, Estonia, the Falklands, and South Africa. Sadly only a handful remain today.

The author is a direct descendent of John Harper and it is clear that the book is both an accurate historical record and family labour of love. The author has spent 10 years researching the patented system and sites around the world where the bridges were built.

The book is very well illustrated with a mixture of archive and record photographs and modern photographs of the remaining structures and sites researched and located by the author. The book will appeal to bridge engineers and historians alike.