Industrial marvel, bought with blood

by Don Franks

While on holiday,I stayed a few days in Scotland with a friend who showed me one of the country’s great working-class achievements. It was a few miles out of central Edinburgh, a huge cantilever bridge across the river Forth.

The Forth Bridge was the first major structure in Britain to be made of steel, forging a continuous East Coast railway route from London to Aberdeen.

Created by engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker and the labour of 5000 other men toiling for 7 years, the job was completed in March 1890.

Length, including the approach viaducts, is over 11/2 miles. The highest part above sea level at high tides, 361 feet. Construction materials included 54000 tons of steel, 64,000 cubic yards of concrete and 6,5000,000 rivets. Cost of materials and labour, 3 million pounds.

It was a still sunny winter day when we drove out there, ideal for visiting tourists and local strollers walking little dogs.

As trains whizzed regularly across its span, the bridge stood majestically calm. In contrast to the years of its making, years of industrial racket, shouting, swearing, and screams of casualties.

The number of those maimed or injured in the bridge construction will never be known,. It was recorded in 1890 that 57 workers were killed on the site. In 2005 the Forth Bridge Memorial Committee decided to erect a monument for those lost, and a team of local historians set out to name all those who died. As of 2009, 73 deaths have been connected with the bridge’s construction, most as a result of falling. Other victims were crushed, drowned, or killed struck by a falling object. Several of these workers were just children, in their very early teens.

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