4th March 1890 - Opening of the Forth Rail Bridge

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4th March 1890 - Opening of the Forth Rail Bridge

​The Forth Bridge ‘marks the triumph of science and engineering skill over obstacles of no ordinary kind.'

So said the Prince of Wales upon officially opening the Forth Rail Bridge on 4th March 1890. Built by Sir William Arrol and Co and completed in 1890, the Forth Rail Bridge is one of Scotland’s most famous landmarks. William Arrol, born in Renfrewshire in 1839 trained as a blacksmith and by 1872 had established his own business at Dalmarnock Iron Works, eventually becoming one of the most successful railway contractors of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Forth Bridge took seven years to complete and at its peak approximately 4,600 workers were employed in its construction. At the time, it was the largest steel bridge in the world.

The Prince of Wales screwed the last rivet on 4th March and the bridge was opened and remains open to this day. In July 2015, UNESCO designated the bridge as a World Heritage Site on 5 July recognising it as ‘an extraordinary and impressive milestone in bridge design and construction during the period when railways came to dominate long-distance land travel.’ After completing the Forth Bridge, William Arrol and Co went on to construct other bridges of note such as the Tower Bridge in London and Caledonian Railway Bridge over the Clyde. The company also had international reach and built bridges in Australia and Egypt.

Glasgow City Archives holds the records for William Arrol and Co including minutes, plans, contract books and photograph albums. The collection can be viewed in the Archives searchroom on level 5 of the Mitchell Library.


Construction Photograph (Ref: THL294)

Photograph of the bridge under construction as seen from the West. Photograph from The Forth Bridge in its Various Stages of Construction and Compared with The Most Notable Bridges of the World by Philip Phillips.


Glasgow Herald Sketch Bridge (Ref: T-CN57/32)

​Proposed sketch of the bridge as completed published in the Glasgow Herald, Monday September 30th 1889. Glasgow City Archives holds a collection of newspaper cuttings regarding the Forth Rail Bridge.


Correspondence of J. Parker Smith (Ref: TD1/163)

Letter from William Arrol, Dalmarnock Iron Works, Bridgeton, to James Parker Smith about proportion of wages to total cost of Tay and Forth Bridges. Sir William Arrol remarks that labour costs totalled 90% of the budget for the Forth Rail Bridge.


Workers during construction (Ref: TD208/1/2)

​Workers photographed on 19 May 1885 next to a 30 ton mooring block during the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge. Glasgow City Archives holds photograph albums showcasing the construction of the bridge.


Interior Photograph (Ref: TD208/1/3)

​Photograph showing a Forth Bridge worker in the interior of the girder on 10 July 1885. Glasgow City Archives holds photograph albums showcasing the construction of the bridge.


Sir William Arrol ​(Ref: TD208/78/2)

Portrait photograph of Sir William Arrol presented to him on the occasion of his retirement after 50 years of service. Beyond his civil engineering and bridge building career, Arrol was also elected as the Liberal Unionist MP for South Ayrshire at the 1895 general election and served until 1906. He was knighted in 1890. He died on 20 February 1913 but William Arrol and Co continued well into the 1960s before being acquired by Clark Chapman, engineering firm.

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