Tyne Crossings

Year:1849 - 2001

Duration:152 years

Cost:Unknown

Country: Newcastle, UK

What did this project achieve?

Build a bridge or tunnel to cross the river Tyne in north east England

Including rail and footbridges there are 26 bridges over the river Tyne. The bridges between Newcastle and Gateshead are probably the best known.

The river is also crossed by the Tyne tunnel - a 2 lane road tunnel that connects Jarrow with North Shields.

Famous engineer Robert Stephenson’s High Level Bridge was the first to span the Tyne Gorge in 1850. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge was the most recent in 2001.

The Tyne Bridge built in 1928 is probably the most iconic. It’s known worldwide as a symbol of Tyneside.

Although the bridges and tunnel were built many years apart by different engineers they can be loosely viewed as a single project because they all have similar goals. They all aim to move people and goods quickly in a region which has been one of the UK's industrial centres for hundreds of years.

Difference the crossings have made

The High Level Bridge was a vital link in the railway network of its day. It meant there could now be a continuous and faster service between London, Berwick and Edinburgh. The Tyne Bridge eased traffic congestion on existing routes across the river when it opened in 1928.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge is a key part of the Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside regeneration project. A cycle and footbridge, thousands of people cross it every day.

The Tyne tunnel is actually 2 tunnels. The first opened in 1967 letting traffic bypass the congested city centres of Newcastle and Gateshead. As it became busier over the decades – peak hour delays of 30 minutes were common – a second tunnel was added in 2011 to smooth traffic flows at rush hour.

How the work was done

Ground conditions were a major challenge during construction of the High Bridge. Stephenson wrote in his journal that foundations were difficult to sink at high tide as the sand was too hard. Most of this work was done at low tide as a result. The bridge was made of cast iron to keep costs down.

The Tyne Bridge is similar in design to the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia which opened 4 years later. The Cornish granite towers of the Tyne Bridge were intended as 5 storey warehouses but the inner floors were never finished.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge was lifted into place over the river by one of the world’s largest floating cranes. 6 hydraulic rams can tilt the bridge back to let tall ships pass. Its shape and movement have earnt it the nickname ‘the Blinking Eye’.

The onshore sections of the 2011 Tyne tunnel were built using the cut and cover method. This meant workers dug a trench, built the sides and then roofed it over. Under-river sections were prefabricated, floated out, and dropped into a trench. The sections were then covered with rocks.

“​‌

Every aspect of the bridge, from conception and detail through to execution, is simple and incredibly elegant.

Jeffrey Bell

Chair of the RIBA judging panel

Fascinating facts

The river Tyne appears in many popular songs. They include ‘Fog on the Tyne’ by Lindisfarne, ‘Driving in my Car’ by Madness, and ‘Southbound Again’ by Dire Straits.

The ‘Tyne river god’ is one of 9 carvings on London’s Somerset House representing Britain’s rivers. The god has a plaited beard, symbolising the uniting of south and north Tyne.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge won the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award in 2002.

People who made it happen

  • Robert Stephenson, early ICE president, designed and built the High Level Bridge.
  • Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan, the first woman ICE member, helped design the Tyne Bridge.
  • John Johnson and Peter Curran, both ICE members, were on the Gateshead Millennium team.
  • Paul Fenwick, ICE member, was part of the team for the 2011 Tyne tunnel.

More about this project

Explore more civil engineering projects

I want to become a civil engineer.

See how your studies lead to a civil engineering career

The job you end up with in civil engineering is likely to link back to what you studied at school, college or university. Here you can see your options at any age.

At school

Up to 16 years

School / college

16-19 years

College / university

18 years +

Change career

Any age