4th September 1964

Queen Elizabeth II opens the Forth Road Bridge

The Forth Road bridge was something of a wonder when it was first constructed. It had taken six years to complete and cost £20m. It was the fourth largest bridge in the world, the longest suspension bridge outside the United States, and the longest bridge not only in Britain, but Europe, stretching 2.5km (1.5 miles) from South Queensferry, Edinburgh, to North Queensferry, Fife.

The 13,000-tonne traffic deck sits 44m (145ft) above the water, supported by a pair of cables, which had been woven in place using 11,600 individual wires. In total, there are 30,800 miles of cable, including the main spans and the supports that come down from them, held aloft by 150m tall towers constructed using steel just an inch (25mm) thick.

Before the bridge

There had been a boat crossing between Edinburgh and Fife for more than 800 years by the time plans for the bridge were finalised. By then, several boats were plying the waters simultaneously, and a more efficient alternative needed to be found. The only other option was to take a train across the Forth Rail Bridge, but this was not an option for cars. Plans for a tunnel were abandoned, and the road bridge was built instead. Work began in 1958 and was completed in 1964.

Forth Road Bridge opening

Upon opening the bridge, as reported in that day’s Liverpool Echo, the queen reminded spectators that “there had probably been a sea passage near this point since the dawn of history, but the ferry [which ran its last service that day] owes its name to my ancestor Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, who crossed the Forth many times on her journeys between Edinburgh and Dunfermline and this is commemorated by the title of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Queensferry”.

Several Royal Navy boats were in attendance, two of which collided while leaving. The following day’s Daily Mirror reported that “the ships, the cruiser Lion and the frigate Lowestoft were leaving the area after being present at the ceremony. Both were slightly damaged at the bows above the waterline”. The day itself had been foggy and, said the paper, “the new £20,000,000 road bridge and the nearby 70-year-old rail bridge were almost invisible as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh drove up for the ceremony on the south side.”

The Queen crosses the bridge

Once the Queen had declared the bridge open her motorcade drove across it. “At the toll entrance, the police car [that was leading the motorcade] gave way to allow the Royal car to be first through. It was waved past by Bridge Patrolman Sam Taggart… but no toll was charged,” said that day’s Coventry Evening Telegraph.

Tolls were collected from later that evening, with a crossing costing 2s 6d. In 2008, Scotland scrapped all tolls on road bridges. By then, the fee for crossing the Forth Bridge had risen to £1.
Exactly 53 years later, the Queen was once again on the Firth of Forth, to open the Queensferry Crossing, which had been completed the previous month.



Other events that occured in September

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.