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A Game Of Bridge: Hull To Salford

Phil Griffin uncovers a festival of bridges from east to west

Written by . Published on March 3rd 2014.

A Game Of Bridge: Hull To Salford

BACK IN 1966, moments before a potential government-toppling by-election in Hull North, Prime Minister Harold Wilson got his Minister of Transport, Barbara Castle, to sanction the Humber Bridge.

Trinity is modest Calatrava, but (once it was made to fit) it does the trick. The foot and bicycle bridge opens up Chapel Street to Deansgate, and, as importantly, it became something of a pin-up for modern Manchester 

Construction began in 1972, the bridge opened in 1981. It reduces the road distance between Hull and Grimsby by 50 miles; original cost estimate £28m, cost at completion £98m, accumulated cost, with interest by 2011, £345m. Ho-hum, bridges will empty your pockets before you can cross them.

Humber BridgeHumber Bridge

There’s been a competition afoot to design a new bridge for Salford. A bridge that will span the River Irwell, connecting The Crescent, Chapel Street (the City’s main Civic drag) with The Meadows, seven hectares (17 and a bit acres) of under-used green space that is very nearly Ox-bowed by a tight curve in the river. All part of the over-arching vision for Irwell River Park, which glints more brightly in the Salford eye, than it appears to do in Manchester’s.

So why kick off in Hull? Because between Salford and Hull is a veritable Festival of Bridges, because two of the very best have been designed by architects McDowell + Benedetti, and because Renato Benedetti was Chair of the competition judging panel for the Salford Meadows Bridge.

Driving East on the M62 is one of the UK’s great road journeys, partly because it terminates with views of Humber Bridge. Whatever else may have been Wilson’s motive for bringing it on, his gesture is justified on aesthetic grounds. Very few structures, in landscapes world wide, match in grace and majesty the Humber Bridge. It was, for 16 years, the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world (sustained, incredibly, by 44,000 miles of cable).

You’ve already passed beneath the exhilarating Scammonden Bridge, which carries the B6114 Saddleworth Road across the M62 west of Leeds. You know it. It’s like some great white coat hanger jammed high above the carriageway as it climbs to its highest point. As Wikipedia will confirm, this wonder of the motorway network was the biggest single-span non-suspended bridge in the world when it opened in 1970. One hundred and twenty feet above your head is, to this day, the longest single-arch concrete bridge in the UK, designed by Colonel Stewart Maynard Lovell, Royal Engineers (retired).

Scammonden BridgeScammonden Bridge

At junction 31, take the A655 to Castleford. In a little over two miles, park close to Aire Street and stroll across the Castleford Bridge, the languid inverted S boardwalk that teeters above a weir in the River Aire. Upon this, one hundred and thirty metres of ecologically sourced Brazilian hardwood at a total cost of £3.2m, much of the future for Castleford was invested. As if early millennial pressures and hot fashion for regeneration were not enough (Castleford Bridge commissioned in 2003 completed in 2008), Channel 4 poster boy Kevin McCloud hooved into view and filmed the whole damn thing.

Castleford BridgeCastleford Bridge

Bridges carry expectations. We identify them, list and categorise them, span eons, define, replicate, copy and grade. Ponte Vecchio, surely Prince of Bridges, Rialto, Bridge of Sighs, Tower Bridge, Brooklyn, Golden Gate, Oresund, television drama star. Bridges and bridge-builders get hyped. None more so than architect Santiago Calatrava, whose lawyers are kept at least as busy as his engineers, calculating, combating and countering the tensions produced by $4billion projects (as he is currently running at the PATH – Port Authority Trans-Hudson - station in New York). Envy being the granite characteristic embedded in the hearts of all architects, Rem Koolhaas has sneeringly characterised Calatrava’s prolific bridge-building as…”over every rivulet, a Calatrava”. The Irwell has one. We call it Trinity Bridge, and it was commissioned by Salford Council.

Trinity BridgeTrinity Bridge

Trinity is modest Calatrava, but (once it was made to fit) it does the trick. The foot and bicycle bridge opens up Chapel Street to Deansgate, and, as importantly, it became something of a pin-up for modern Manchester (which doubtless induces paroxysms on the south bank of the Irwell). Castlefield Bridge, white, spikey, Calatravaesque, by engineers Whitby Bird allowed developer Urban Splash to better connect its developments in Hulme to the city, and even to extend the boundaries of Castlefield. The Millennium lift bridge by the Lowry at Salford Quays was joined, in 2012, by Media City Footbridge, designed by UK star bridgers, Wilkinson Eyre. These bridges are pleasingly complementary, and successfully complete a circuit that makes a visitor destination in itself.

Salford QuaysSalford Quays

Perhaps the Irwell is one of Koolhaas’s “rivulets”, if so appearances belie significance. Listed a Grade 1 structure in both Manchester and Salford, The River Irwell Railway Bridge of 1830, by engineer George Stephenson, is the first example, anywhere in the world, of a passenger and freight line crossing a river. You can read Jonathan Schofield's article about the bridge here. Before the railway Manchester had canals and their archaeology offers another layer of bridges.

The Kitty footbridge Redhill Street on the Rochdale by Great Ancoats Street, that had a gent’s toilet in-built. Store Street aqueduct on the Ashton, the oldest still in use. A big new footbridge, plate-steel with cut outs, a little further up Redhill street, connecting across to Cottonfield Park, and the New Islington moorings. Two more modern bridges that launch in one city and land in the other; at Spinningfield and at Greengate. They work, these bridges, they make connections and consolidate the A’s and B’s of an imperfect world.

Two more modern bridges that launch in one city and land in the other; at Spinningfield and at Greengate. They work, these bridges, they make connections and consolidate the A’s and B’s of an imperfect world.

Scale Lane Bridge, HullScale Lane Bridge, Hull

Onwards, into Hull old town. Down the High Street, past The Black Boy. UK City of Culture 2017, and much in need of the honour. What a place this has been. Home of William Wilberforce, the backdrop to most of Philip Larkin’s adult life. “Give me your arm, old toad…” There is a fine historic cityscape here, at the junction of the Humber and the Hull. And a remarkable new bridge at the end of Scale Lane. Shoving uncomfortable realities to one side – the bridge arrived late, in Hull the recession arrived early, the regeneration it was supposed to promote hasn’t materialised – for a bridge that goes nearly nowhere, it is mighty impressive.

Their Castleford Bridge is a slinky, elegant thing. In Scale Lane Jonathan McDowell and Renato Benedetti have introduced a formidable passenger ferry masquerading as a bridge. If you’ve seen the Torpoint chain ferry in that other heroically blitzed town, Plymouth, you’ll know what I mean. Big, black, oddly shaped, ungainly even.

The River Hull is silted up on the west, Scale Lane side. The tidal and navigable channel is to the east. So the structure is like a comma, a crotchet, a pinball machine flipper, the fat end pitches into the mud on the west “hub” side, and the deck of the bridge is anchored to it, the mechanism flips it around and slightly upwards to kiss the east bank.

And it does so with all aboard. A thousand people can thus span the river at a gentle stride, whilst standing still, and being piped and whistled across by the bridge’s own sound installation of birdsong, engines and bells. It is quite magical, and well worth a viewing here:

Scale Lane Bridge, HullScale Lane Bridge, Hull

On the east bank of the River Hull is a Premier Inn and multi-storey car park. And footpath and cycle route to Terry Farrell’s The Deep. And little else. Except that some development will happen, must happen, or Scale Lane will become a symbol of the pointless. As it is, there is no operator for the inbuilt super structural café and retail space. This is what UK City of Culture 2017 can do for Hull. Get the ideas and the entrepreneurs into the empty spaces and see them prosper. Scale Lane is a place, and a unique bridge. It will work, because it is too good not to.

After the biggest entry list RIBA has had for any such competition (there were 127 schemes, some good, some bad and many frightening), acclaimed designer Tonkin Liu came out on top (below).

River Irwell footbridge by Tonkin Liu and ArupSalford Meadows bridge by Tonkin Liu and Arup

From commissioning of the bridge for Scale Lane to its eventual opening, for various reasons, technical, financial and administrative, was eight years.

Will Salford wait that long? Firstly, they'll have to find the funding. But Salford, it must be said, is getting rather good at bridges.

Follow @PhilGriffinMCR on twitter

This article first appeared on Creative Concern's website On the Platform.

Image Credits

The Humber Bridge by Angie and by Paul Buckingham, Scammonden Bridge by Ian M, Castleford-bridge by 54north, Trinity Bridge by David Dixon and Salford Quays - Media City by Stevo1000 are all licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Scale Lane Bridge by Timothy Soar, permission of use from McDowell & Benedetti.

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William ChithamMarch 3rd 2014.

Bridges, great love them or rather I should say old bridges/bridges designed by engineers. Humber bridge sensational, Scammonden Bridge sensational but how trivial the modern efforts look by comparison. New council "vanity" bridges seem almost invariably dire and that effort by Tonkin Liu looks to be a particularly babyish example. Ironically Stevenson's Irwell bridge will be brutally severed from the station it was built to serve by another feeble modern bridge if Network Rail get their Ordsall chord plan approved at the forthcoming public enquiry.

AnonymousMarch 4th 2014.

a bridge too far imo but good article nevertheless

Steve RomanMarch 4th 2014.

While not a bridge across the river, the Millenium Walkway along the River Goyt at The Torrs in New Mills could be added to this list of wonderful structures.

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