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Bridgemaster says crossing was ahead of its time

Published: 27 Oct 2011 08:002 comments

Kincardine Bridge celebrates 75 years

IT was ahead of its time. Those are the words of former bridgemaster George Reid used to describe the Kincardine Bridge.

The official opening of Kincardine Bridge.

The crossing turns 75 this week and for more than 40 of those years Mr Reid was the man in charge of keeping the bridge in good working order.

He was the third bridge master and headed the team after spending many years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

His deputy was Norman Bramham (85) who later kept up the maintenance when Mr Reid retired in the 1980s - the bridge ceased swinging in 1988.

The bridge was opened on 29 October 1936 and at 822m it was the longest swing bridge in Europe.

The crossing included a central span of 111m that privoted 180 degrees on a pier operated from a control room sited on top of the bridge.

Speaking on the bridge's anniversary, Mr Reid said during its busiest period the bridge would turn up to 57 times a month to allow ships to make their way up the Firth of Forth.

Vessels needing to get through would blast their horn six times, then three to warn of their approach, alerting the bridge staff who would begin the complex procedure of swinging the centre of the bridge 90 degrees clockwise and then anti-clockwise.

Every Sunday morning the bridge crew would move the bridge 360 degrees to give an even wear on the huge steel rollers.

Mr Reid, now 87, said, "The workings of the bridge were long before its time. When we first started off it took us 20 minutes to open and shut, but with expertise and getting to know the system, we got that down to 11 minutes."

The decision to build the bridge was a collaborative effort between the three county councils of Stirling, Clackmannan and Fife.

And the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, who was the Fife convener, continued to champion the construction of the bridge long after it was built.

Mr Reid remembered, "Lord Elgin fought for the implementation of the bridge. He was so proud of it he would phone me up when I was on duty, saying he had honourable so and so was here and he wanted to see the bridge swing. He would come down and place a penny on the edge of the control table and the bridge was so well balanced the penny would stay on its edge."

The bridge was also constructed in part due to the congestion caused by the increase in traffic at Stirling bridge.

However the unique ability of the bridge to turn caused its own hold-ups and many an annoyed motorist.

Mr Reid said, "The only motorists that were irate were the ones at the far end of the queue. The ones near the bridge would get out their cars and come along and watch it opening. They would all clap but maybe that was the relief that the bridge was coming back round."

Warning lights and sirens would alert drivers that the bridge was turning, before gates dropped to stop vehicles getting through. However some drivers would still try their luck and nip through despite the warnings.

He said, "One time we had a bus sitting in the centre of the bridge. He had shot through one gate but by the time he reached the other side the second gate was already down. We had to get him to drive into the centre to allow us to turn."

Throughout the years there were few accidents on the bridge and only once did a vehicle crash through the handrails at the side and into the water below - the driver's body washed up a fortnight later.

A few years after Mr Reid retired so too did Mr Bramham and by that time the bridge had ceased turning.

They remain living in the village and are proud of their time maintaining the bridge, which included applying a lick of paint to it every year.

Mr Reid said, "We had a very good team under us and quite a number of the lads were first class."

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  • hazelkaye
    363 posts
    Oct 30, 15:10
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    Indeed! Pity that is no longer opens!

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  • Alex HILL
    Unregistered User
    Nov 5, 08:52
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    I have fond memories of watching ships passing under the bridge. My great uncle Jimmy Mcleod was skipper of a tug that towed barges of dredged up mud from the upper navigational channel of the Forth out to the North Sea. His house was was on a street just below the north approach road to the bridge and when the sirens blew any kids visiting Auntie Maggie would all scarpper up to the bridge to see if Uncle Jimmy was sailing under the bridge. Happy days!

    Recommend?   Yes 1     No 0