4th March 1890

The Forth Bridge is opened

The Forth Bridge has become an iconic symbol of Scotland and been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction began in 1882 and was completed in time for its opening on 4 March eight years later, after a series of tests to verify that it could support the weight of a pair of fully loaded trains. At 2467m (8094ft), the bridge, which makes landfall at North Queensferry and South Queensferry, was the world’s longest single cantilever bridge for almost three decades. The Quebec Bridge, across Canada’s St Lawrence River, took its crown in 1919.

Forth Rail Bridge at Queensferry, north of Edinburgh
Forth Rail Bridge at Queensferry, north of Edinburgh

Scottish engineering

The job of designing the crossing went to engineers John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, while Scottish engineer James Carswell designed its brick approaches. However, at one point it was by no means certain that the Forth Bridge would be built at all, as there was early talk of digging tunnels to replace the ferry service that crossed the river.

The bridge was officially opened by the Prince of Wales on 4 March 1890, after he had screwed in the last rivet at the centre of the northern girder. “The boom in which the rivet was placed was on the East side of the Bridge,” reported the Dundee Advertiser, the following day. “The rivet was silver-plated. On alighting on a temporary platform close to the saloon in which His Royal Highness travelled, the Prince of Wales immediately applied a silver key to the riveting apparatus. Immediately thereupon the rivet was sent home by hydraulic pressure, the Bridge was completed, and cheers were raised by the privileged few on the Bridge and by the passengers in the Royal train.”

The rivet was not only silver plated, but inscribed, too, with the words “Last rivet, driven in by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, 4th March 1890.”

Bad weather

Unfortunately for the prince and his witnesses, the weather was poor, with drizzle, and winds that were strong enough to knock people off their feet. “It must be admitted that it was well tested on the day of its opening,” commented the Morning Post. “People with a reminiscence of the Tay Bridge calamity in their minds might be pardoned if they entertained some doubt as to the stability of the new bridge.” The prince remarked in a speech later that day that his was the eight-millionth rivet driven into the bridge. The Tay Bridge had collapsed during a violent storm in 1879.

The bridge was expected to provide an economic boost for businesses located north of Edinburgh, as it helped shorten railway journey times. The Morning Post of 5 March 1890 reported that London to Perth would be reduced to nine- and three-quarter hours, London to Dundee to ten and a half, and London to Aberdeen to twelve and a quarter.

Queen Elizabeth II opened the neighbouring Forth Road Bridge in 1964.



Other events that occured in March

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