History Group Talks May 2018


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       Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge by Brian Portch

Brian Portch returned for fifth time to give a talk on this occasion on I K Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge.  His previous talk had been on Sir Winston Churchill.
It was a great coincidence that the talk was on the 159th anniversary of the bridge being opened on 2nd May 1859.  The Royal Navy insisted that the spans were high enough for their warships to sail under from Devonport, which is downstream from the bridge, to the armoury which was upstream from the bridge.
The Royal Albert Bridge is a bowstring arch bridge built over the River Saltash between Devon and Cornwall.  It was apt that I K Brunel was the Chief Engineer on the project as his mother was born in Plymouth.  In 1847 the bridge was designed and in 1848 construction was started.  It was born out of the fact that there was a need for a direct train link to London.  In 1838 there was a rail link between Hayle to Redruth for minerals.  Hayle has a big industrial legend and most of the chains for the RAB were made there.  In 1852 the train line went from Penzance to Hayle and then in 1855 Redruth to Truro.  1838 saw the commencement of the London to Bristol line and in 1841 London to Bristol Temple Meads was completed.  1844 saw it extended to Exeter, 1849 to Plymouth.  Finally in 1859 the line extended to Truro and Penzance and finally in 1867 the London to Penzance direct was completed.
Specifications from the bridge: 1100ft wide; 100ft clearance for Naval sailing ships; 4ft span with a diameter of 17ft x 12ft.  The overall length is 2,187ft.  Early chains came from the Clifton Bridge, Rotherhithe and Hungerford bridges in London.  There is 2,650 tons of wrought iron, 1200 of cast iron.  17000yds of masonry and brickwork and 14,000ft of timber.
Charles Meyer were the original contractors then Hudson and Way.  I K Brunel had practised his bowstring arch technique before with one at Windsor and an 1852 GrII one at Chepstow.
Each truss on the RAB weighed 1000 tons and as an oval they were aerodynamically efficient.  Hydralic jacks lifted each truss 3ft at a time.  The Cornwall truss was the first one into position.   Robert Pearson Brereton was I K Brunel's second in command and took over on the death of I K Brunel, who was buried at the family plot at Kensal Green graveyard.
When the bridge was opened a speed limit of 15mph was set and remains so to this day.  At the refurbishment 50,000 new bolts were used and in 1952 the bridge was Grade I listed.
There is a very interesting book all about the Royal Albert Bridge called Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge by John Binding.  There was a museum opened in March this year next to SS Gt Britain called "Being Brunel".
 


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