Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Tamar Bridge with special weekend of activities and events
A huge thank you to everyone who joined us at the Bridging the Tamar Learning and Visitor Centre over the weekend to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Tamar Bridge.
It was fantastic to be able to share this very special milestone in the history of the iconic structure with a wide range of stakeholders – these included South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray, the Lord Mayor of Plymouth and the Mayor of Saltash and their Consorts, representatives of Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council, Tamar Crossings staff and volunteers, and the groups and organisations involved with the anniversary project.
This really was a weekend to remember and it included many different activities :
• the opportunity to walk underneath and within the structure of the bridge
• climbing to the top of the Plymouth tower for four ‘lucky’ ballot-winners
• the unveiling of a new exhibition of photos and images in the Visitor Centre
• mounting a series of panels on the pedestrian/cycle path telling the stories of the people who helped to build or lived close to the bridge 60 years ago
• a special drive across the bridge by a number of vintage and classic cars that would have been on the road in 1961
• the laying of a wreath to commemorate the seven people who tragically lost their lives during construction
The anniversary provided a great opportunity to reflect on 60 years of history of this iconic bridge.
From the days when Cornwall County Council and Plymouth City Council had the resolve to get the bridge built in the first place, the ingenuity and skill of the designers and the commitment of the workforce in building the structure, right through to the maintenance and the improvement projects we have done over the years, celebrating this milestone encouraged us to look back on this very special day.
As part of the preparations for the anniversary, the Bridging the Tamar team invited members of the public to share their stories and photos about the bridge.
The bridge connects the two communities of Saltash and Plymouth and it has got a lot of fond memories for a lot of people.
We have worked closely with Fotonow to bring out some of those fascinating stories from people who worked on the bridge, or have memories of it being built. We have also worked with young people to create new artwork which is now installed as panels on the South Cantilever bridge. This looks back at the history of the bridge as well as looking forward to the future.
Some of the images and the stories shared with the team have never been seen or heard in public before. These include the story of a stilt walker – Leo Wellington – who walked across the bridge just after it opened. While, sadly, there are no photos of Leo walking across the bridge, the team have been sent newspaper cuttings about Leo who was a well known children’s entertainer in the local area. Leo’s story now been added to the Bridging the Tamar archive.
Researching the oral histories has also enabled the team to uncover new connections between people whose relatives had worked on the construction of the bridge.
During the weekend I managed to introduce a former worker to the daughter of a another former worker who actually worked together while they were building the bridge
One of those attending the 60th anniversary event was 91-year-old Gerald Ashton who helped to build the Tamar Bridge. Accompanied by his son Gary, Gerald presented the Bridging the Tamar team with the hard hat he wore more than 60 years ago.
Staff wanting to work on the construction of the bridge needed to live within 10 minutes of the site so they could be called in out of hours if required. Having moved to Ernesettle to meet this requirement Gerald began working on installing the 60 foot bolts and the suspension cables on the towers, before being put in charge of the decompression chamber set up to support the divers who were responsible for constructing the pillars on the river bed.
Neither role was easy – installing the cables meant being at the top of the giant towers (without the harnesses and other safety equipment provided for today’s engineers ), while managing the decompression chamber meant having to deal with impatient divers wanting to be released from the chamber so they could catch last orders at the local pub. There were no radios or walkie talkies in those says -the crews communicated using red and green flags.
I did not mind being at the top of the towers, but it was more difficult for my wife.
On one occasion I had told her I was not working on the towers but unfortunately a local news crew were doing a story about the construction of the bridge and she saw pictures of me working at the top of the tower. She was heavily pregnant at the time and needless to say she was not very happy.
There was a great sense of camaraderie among the men working on the bridge – with everyone looking out for each other. Gerald was often found cooking fry-ups for colleagues -having first gone to one of the local shops in Saltash to buy the bacon and eggs !
There were also some challenging times – one man fell from the top of the tower into the water below and was taken to hospital suffering from concussion while on another occasion a cable block got loose and landed on the footpath just behind a young woman pushing a pram.
That was very close, Bridges can be dangerous old jobs.
Gerald was also on duty in April 1961 when five workers tragically lost their lives when their boat was caught in a whirlpool current and sank. Gerald had been due to get on the boat but decided at the last minute to take the ferry across the river.
On Sunday morning Joint Chairs of the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee Councillors Jonathan Drean and Martin Worth led tributes to the five workers from the workboat disaster and the two construction workers who fell to their deaths while working on the bridge, and they laid a wreath at the memorial near the Tamar Crossings offices.
The highlights from the anniversary weekend included a drive across the bridge by a number of classic and vintage cars that would have been on the road in 1961. Organised by David Fry from Tamar Historic Transport Club, the event saw around 15 cars, ranging from a Rolls Royce to a Morris Minor, travelling in convoy from Saltash to the bridge office and back.
The weekend also saw the premiere of the five music videos produced by talented local musicians as part of the collaboration between Fotonow and the Bridging the Tamar team.
Saltash singer and songwriter Florence Hope is one of the musicians who was chosen to produce a music video for the project and says she feels very lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to write a song about the Tamar Bridge.
I wanted to personify what the bridge means to people in Cornwall and Devon in my song.
The Tamar Bridge is not just a significant landmark, it is a very important link for all of us which connects Cornwall to Devon and to the rest of the UK.
I also wanted to show the importance of the bridge to young people. Many young people do not really think about Tamar Bridge– it is just a bridge which has been there since they were born. But it has not always been here, and we all need to appreciate the hard work that went into building it 60 years ago. It was not always plain sailing and it is really important for us to listen to the personal stories of the people who were involved in its construction.
Andrew Putt was one of the four people who were chosen by ballot from more than 200 applications to climb to the top of the one of the towers on the bridge.
Explaining that this was something he had always wanted to do, Andrew said it was a once in a lifetime opportunity which he grasped with both hands.
It was much better than I thought it would be, It was a totally amazing experience which I will always remember.
Andrew was joined on his tower top climb, which was led by Tamar Crossings Engineering Manager Richard Cole, by Dy Taylor, Colin Leeds and Alan Matthew.