Forgotten pioneer’s Forth crossing dream realised after 200 years

Perspective_600It was to prove a bridge too far for engineers 200 years ago … but now a little-known Scot’s vision of a Forth crossing is set to become reality.

Plans drawn by engineer and surveyor James Anderson in 1818 – which look remarkably similar to the Queensferry Crossing that opens tomorrow (Wednesday) – have come to light in a University of Edinburgh archive.

Anderson’s proposal for a “Bridge of Chains proposed to be thrown over the Frith [sic] of Forth” was discovered by University geographer Bruce Gittings while researching his Gazetteer for Scotland – a project to record every settlement and landmark in Scotland.

The remarkable plans for a roadway linking North and South Queensferry were proposed 72 years before completion of the iconic Forth Bridge.

Perspective_pieceBoth Anderson’s design and the new Queensferry Crossing are suspension road bridges, with their supports extending as straight lines from the towers, in both cases resembling the sails of an immense yacht.

Edinburgh-born Anderson’s scheme has the roadway supported by chain cables, forged from iron bars, very similar to Thomas Telford’s bridge across the Menai Strait in North Wales.

Anderson, who was friendly with Telford, suggested that the success of Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge, begun in 1819, was a good reason that his own design should be built.

Anderson proudly suggested his bridge would “facilitate the communication between the southern and northern divisions of Scotland”. At the time, the cost was between £175,000 and £200,000, which would equate to around £840 million today.

James Anderson was born in the Old Town of Edinburgh, the son of a textile worker. He died at his home in the city in 1861 and is buried in Old Calton Burial Ground.

The Gazetteer for Scotland, www.scottish-places.info, was the first description of Scotland to be published online in 1995 and remains the largest, with more than 25,000 entries. According to Gittings, maintaining this remarkable geographical, historical and educational resource is, as used to be said of painting the 1890 Forth Bridge, a never ending process.

Bruce Gittings, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “It is great to be able to add the Queensferry Crossing to the Gazetteer, and important to remember Anderson’s pioneering work.

“His design was beyond the engineering capabilities of the time, as evidenced by the collapse of the Tay Bridge in a storm in 1879 and of the Chain Pier at Trinity in Edinburgh – on which Anderson also worked – in 1898.”

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A little bit of GIS History

An interesting bit of GIS history came to light from a photograph one of the former students brought along to the MSC87 reunion at the end of July, which has taken a little detective work to decode!

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Tom Waugh (blue t-shirt), Richard Healey (red pullover), David Rhind (blue jacket) and Vanessa Lawrence (blue and purple dress), with students Lorraine Chu and Chris Nailer (lhs) and Melissa Phillips (rhs)

It shows the end-of-year student party in the old MSc Room (now completely changed as part of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation), and includes Richard Healey and the late Tom Waugh, who were the principal ‘movers’ behind the programme at that time, together with Professor David Rhind then of Birkbeck College, who was the External Examiner for the Edinburgh course, and a young Vanessa Lawrence, then Geography Publisher for Longman. All four were working together with Professor Terry Coppock (also of Edinburgh) planning the ‘Big Book’ of GIS, the first edition of which was published four years later in 1991.  First Rhind and later  Lawrence both went on to become Director General of the Ordnance Survey in the UK.

GIS 30-Year Reunion

The weekend of the 29th July saw a reunion of the GIS class of 1987. who stood for a photography on the steps at Drummond Street, adopting the same poses of a similar photography taken thirty years previously.

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Chris Nailer (front), Jane D’Souza, Melissa Craig, Lorraine Chu, Karen Westwood, Alex Bell (middle) and Paul Dowie, Mike Adam, Stuart Gillies and Bruce Gittings.

Bruce Gittings hosted a visit to the Institute of Geography (still known by many as “the department”) and toured the group round familiar and less familiar aspects of the building.  Three of the group had been geography undergraduates prior to taking the GIS MSc, so had spent five years in the building. The Old Library, which is now our principal seminar room, was very much an active library at that time and our newly-refurbished coffee room was the site of the librarian’s office, along with rows of shelves holding journals.

We poured through photographs of the time Bruce was able to pull out the actual dissertations submitted in August 1987 and examples of coursework, together with the student ‘mugshots’ of the time, much to everyone’s embarrassment.

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Melissa Craig and Jane D’Souza contemplate some dissertations

Over dinner, where the group was joined by former Programme Director and Founder Richard Healey, now Professor at the University of Portsmouth, it was fascinating to hear of the careers which had been followed in the intervening years, in consultancy, software development, government, where our students had made a real difference to the development of GIS.

Karen Westwood travelled back from Canada and Mike Adam returned from Germany, while Lorraine Chu flew in from Hong Kong.  Others attending were Alex Bell, Melissa Craig, Paul Dowie, Jane D’Souza, Stuart Gillies and Chris Nailer.