|Surrey Basin bascule bridge by Rob Noble|
|Image from Wikipedia - I love it! Every|
time I see it, I think that the little car on
the right is going to fall straight in!
Starting at a time when engineering in this particular branch of the science was entirely undeveloped and there was little upon which to base our designs, except theory and unbounded faith, we have now the satisfaction of having proven both our theories and our faith, the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge being today universally known as the standard of excellence in bascule bridge design, after a period in modern structural engineering in which the development of the bascule bridge has been one of the noteworthy features.
It is a basic principle of all great inventions that necessity is the stimulus, and a brief outline of how history repeated itself and necessity brought out the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge is interesting. The Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad of Chicago had practically completed all of its other construction without solving the serious problem of earning its tracks over the Chicago River where the limited right of way between the swing bridges at Jackson Boulevard and Van Buren Street precluded the use of a horizontally moving bridge of the required span length, time and money were expended freely in consultation with the most eminent engineers in the country and various solution were suggested, each, however, developing limitations that made them impractical. Vertically moving bridges in all of the varieties as then known even to a reproduction of the new Tower bridge across the Thames in London were proposed but none was satisfactory in meeting all of the requirements. The management called in William Scherzer of Chicago, a consulting engineer specializing in structural design, and it was his ingenious but practical suggestion that both solved the problem for the railroad and to the science of movable bridge engineering its most important development. It is the irony of fate, too, that death from over-work in concentrating on this very matter should have robbed William Scherzer of the satisfaction of seeing the completion of the structure to which he had given so much of his time and thought, but credit will be given to his name wherever the history of movable bridge engineering shall be written.
|Surrey Basin bascule bridge in the 1950s and |
2004. From Rankin's Walk A, p.24
In London, as in other parts of the UK, the 1930s are known as a period of economic depression, followed immediately by the Second World War. The majority of people working in and around Rotherhithe in the 1930s were working-class families, dock and river workers, struggling with the economic conditions, but there was a brief book in the timber trade and Rotherhithe was one of the principal timber handling dock systems at that time. In response, the Port of London Authority (PLA) did much to upgrade the docks at this time to improve their prospects, including open-sided timber sheds (principally for the newly desirable plywood), a new general cargo warehouse of 75,000sq ft, and two small timber ponds were amalgamated to form Quebec Dock. The two bascule bridges were part of this programme of improvement.
|Surrey Basin bascule bridge|
|Greenland Dock bascule bridge|
It is strange to think that only twenty years later the last ship was leaving Greenland Dock, and that the last wharves closed in the 1980s, but even when the bridges were erected the writing was firmly on the wall. Stuart Rankin calls the post-war period "a false dawn." The bascule bridges, so vast and confident, are an admirable monument to both engineering excellence and a complex economic and social past.
|The Shadwell Basin bascule bridge, which is |
no longer operational. (Shadwell Wikipedia page)
I had the devil's own time finding information about these bridges, so in addition to those credited in the text and captions, my thanks to the following books and sites for information to start me off:
Stuart Rankin, Rotherhithe History Walk A (Southwark Council 2005)
F. Mary Wilson, Between Bridgers (no publisher, late 1960s)
Stuart Rankin, A Short History of the Surrey Commercial Docks, Rotherhithe Local History Paper 6, 1999.
The Adam Hunter pages on www.engineering-timelines.com
Historic Bridges www.historicbridges.org
Photos of other European and American bascule bridges are on Wikipedia: