30th October 1880

Tay Bridge designer dies of anxiety

Sir Thomas Bouch designed the original Tay Railway Bridge, which was remarkable for having fewer supports than had been called for in the original design. Once completed, the design was efficient and elegant, and Bouch received a knighthood in recognition of his work.

However, not much more than 18 months after its opening, the bridge collapsed in high winds, as a train was passing over it. The disaster killed an estimated 75 passengers and crew, although the exact figure is unknown. Blame for the collapse fell squarely on Bouch himself, and he died within a few months, aged just 58, of the anxiety it brought on.

“Anxious study”

On 1 November 1880, two days after his death, the Dundee Courier explained that “since 1851 his mind had been more or less occupied in endeavouring to solve the problem of how the two Tay and Forth ferries in the North British Railway system could be spanned by bridges; and after many years close and anxious study he at last produced the design of the Tay Bridge, which, after exceeding six years in building, was publicly opened to traffic on the 31st May 1878.”

“Sir Thomas has latterly been in failing health, brought about, it is believed, by anxiety arising from the disaster to the Tay Bridge,” reported the Greenock Advertiser of 1 November 1880. “He had a good deal to do with the engineering work of a large number of tramway systems in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and other places. Sir Thomas was engineer of Redheuge Bridge, Newcastle, and prepared plans for a railway bridge across the Forth. The honour of a knighthood was conferred on him last year at Windsor.”

The Tay Bridge, Dundee
The second Tay Bridge, Dundee, built to replace the bridge that collapsed

Forth Bridge plans scrapped

Following the collapse of the Tay Bridge, his plans for the Forth Railway Bridge were set aside. He also designed Edinburgh’s Portobello Pier, but this had rusted so badly by 1917 that it had to be demolished.

“A notice was posted on Portobello Pier yesterday morning stating that it was closed and that trespassers would be prosecuted,” wrote the Daily Record of 11 August 1917. “It seems the Ministry of Munitions will not sanction the use of timber to effect repairs as it is not a work of national importance.”



Other events that occured in October

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