• The Bridges Project

    • (0) Comments by Forging Links 28 February 2011

    The Bridges project is looking at bridges around the world that were made in Sandwell.  The Community History and Archives Service holds a number of books of photographs that were made up by the Metropolitan Carriage Works and Patent Shaft and Axeltree.  These were both record books and sales catalogues, which showed works under construction and in place.

    Our plan is to publish a book tracing the bridges and showing how they link Sandwell to the rest of the world both in space and time.  We are looking for photos of bridges that were made in Sandwell in their final place of construction;  the Bridge below, photographed here in Varanasi (formerly Benares), was made in Sandwell, and factory workers from Sandwell travelled to construct it on site.

    The prototype of the book is now ready and available to view in Sandwell Libraries.

    Look on the interactive map above for web-based images of how the bridges look now.

    Do you know anyone who lives near any of these bridges and structures now?  Would you be able to get a picture of how they look now, for inclusion in the book?  The prototype of the book is available to look at in Sandwell Libraries from the first week in June.

    The Bridge over the Ganges at Varanasi, and at the Wednesbury Works – the bridge now has a very different superstructure, which we’d like to find out about.

    Transporter Bridge at Rio Riachuelo, Buenos Aires.  It’s still there  http://en.structurae.de/structures/data/index.cfm?id=s0004936 and is a major landmark on the Riachuelo River, which flows into the River Plata.  The area is known as La Boca (the mouth) and is the home of Boca Juniors football club.

    Deptford Creek, London

    Deptford Creek now, the bridge photographed from the other side I think (south rather than the wharf on the north, which is currently inaccessible).  The housing and railings have changed, but the bridge is the same, and much in use.

    The Jumna Bridge, now the Yamuna Bridge, Allahabad, India

    Blackfriars Bridge, London, about a hundred years ago, and as it is now

    A swing bridge, made for Lagos, Nigeria

    Brighton Station

    Irrawady Viaduct, Myanmar

    Rio Riachuelo Lift Bridge in the works and in place.  It is no longer in use, but is still there and in good condition, located off Av. Don Pedro de Mendoza, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

    Van Stadens Gorge Bridge, S Africa – still in use as part of a narrow-gauge railway

    Ibigawa Bridge, near Hozumi Station, Gifu Prefecture, Japan – still in use and an ‘important cultural asset’ according to one website

    London Road Station, Nottingham

    Meldon Viaduct, still there.

    Stourport Bridge, still there

    The Colenso and Frere Bridge, Natal, destroyed in the Boer War and rebuilt

    A bridge for the Kusuru Railway in Japan

    A bridge for the Kansei Railway in China

    Merthyr Road Railway Bridge in Cardiff

    A bridge for the Mitsui & Co Railway, Korea

    A bridge for the Tientsin Pukow Railway, China

    Galton Bridge, Smethwick, made by the Horseley Bridge and Engineering Company in 1829

    A bridge for the Oudh and Rohilkund Railway

    The Assam Road Bridge over the Dhansiri River, built in 1904.  Now I think called ‘the Old Dhansiri Bridge’, in Dimapur, India.

    A swing bridge, presumably to replace the Somerset Ferry, Bermuda.  It looks as though the river silted up, and the bridge has been taken down and replaced by a roadway and what claims to be the smallest drawbridge in the world.

    Of course, not all of these bridges may be there any more, and for some of them we do not have any images.  For example bridges made by the Horseley Bridge and Engineering Company, mentioned below, which are mostly in Britain.  We would also like to be able to post images of these bridges on the website, and to include them on the book.

    All archive photographs courtesy of Sandwell Community History and Archives Service.


    Peter Knowles has sent the following article, from his correspondence tracing the history of one of the Patent Shaft bridges in Brazil.  Note the stirring words at the end.

    The Century Bridge

    To end the year 2008, walking along the waterfront in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, I came upon a fact of great relevance. I noted, with great admiration, that iron bridge had completed one hundred years in perfect condition. Don’t know if, during this period, he received the appropriate conservation tract. I think not. I think the excellent quality of this “masterpiece” is that makes resist time. Its columns lifted from Riverbed, perfectly aligned with accuracy, were built with granite blocks “gold honey”, composing as a jewel. Signaled already in those times the region’s economic vocation for the exploration of one of our riches: the Granites in its soil and subsoil. Its structure of iron with vertical and diagonal columns in addition to its equilibrium bows at the top, everything installed, impress by millimeters accuracy. It’ s a show!

    Strategic, because it was the link between the then federal capital, Rio de Janeiro with our capital, Victoria.  Served also for passenger transport by rail and drained for seaports our riches, such as: coffee, cement, cattle, etc.  Was already back then, an exhibit of a real runner of exports and imports.

    That said, I should like to remind the public administrators who currently taking advantage of what remained of railway structure that cuts our city could install a subway surface, interconnected with bus lines, offering a solution for transit “congested” and the population a transportation efficient and low cost. As you know, rail saves oil, non-renewable raw materials and reduces the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by vehicles in road transport, which both hit nature.

    Cachoeiro would be national reference as it was in other times: one of the first three cities of Brazil to inaugurate the electric energy; the first cement plant in South America with rotary kiln; plant tissues and others.

    On the other hand, highlight that my idea above, should only be put into practice through a draft of which gives the conclusion of objective determining technical-economical- financial. It is advisable, in the case, the use of English, with the largest possible number of steps. This process avoids the possibility of a probable consequence of errors, small or large proportions. As an example of this method used a lot by them, the British, I quote the bridge itself that was manufactured in England in steps and sent to Brazil in various parts to be assembled here.

    There is a plate located in one of the columns of the structure of iron bridge that informs us:

    The high degree of English civilization, its fiber, perseverance, punctuality are from the balance between monarchy and democracy (parliamentarianism) which induce this people have pride and respect for authorities and vice versa. Well educated and healthy are “simple as dove and prudent like the serpent.”  The success of humanity, whether short or long term depends on the education and health care possible. The iron bridge built by the English in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim is a spectacle, today offers us great opportunities. Let’s take advantage of them?

    Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, 05/08/2009.

    Author:  Mauricio Jeronymo Mello de Moraes

    Dc/ARQ. canminera@yahoo.com.br

    The former rail bridge is now a road bridge with a footpath at the side.


    The bridges above were made by Patent Shaft, but we are also now looking at some bridges made by The Horseley Bridge and Engineering Company between 1888 and 1908, mostly in the UK, notably Richmond Bridge (see the plaque photograph on the internet link from the interactive map), Kingston Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge over the Thames, Galton Bridge over the Birmingham Canal at Smethwick (image above),  the Leen Valley extension, Manningtree Viaduct, and ‘over 100 new bridges, including two very large ones at Braunston Gate and Aylestone Road, Leicester’.  Also roofwork for Paddington Station, Nottingham Station, Leicester Station, and the enigmatic but sadly limted information in their brochure that their bridges are “scattered over all parts of the Globe, and are far too numerous to specify in detail.”  But they are/were in Bolivia, Inda, Borneo, South Africa, Nigeria, South America and Japan.

    Pictures please!

    It looks like the Braunstone Gate Bridge is the one known locally as the Bowstring Bridge, but please correct this if it is wrong.  Picture on the map above.  The Bowstring Bridge was demolished in 2009.


    This one, also in Brazil, may be a Patent Shaft Axeltree bridge; we are not sure, and looking for confirmation.

    It is over the River Manhuacu in Aimores – there is a provisional flagpin posted on the map.


    Some stunning photographs coming in now:  see those by Mark Torkington linked into the map at Varanesi, India, which will be in the book – meantime see them on flickr  http://www.flickr.com/photos/youthwith/5529780401/ and http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=356894&nseq=2 ; and these by Norman Yeowell, taken in Japan, near the city of Chitose:

    Closer to home is the canopy of Paddington Station, made by Horseley Bridge and Engineering Co.


    A recent trip to Brighton gave me the chance to photograph this wonderful plaque:

  • Voice 21 and the Archives

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 25 February 2011

    For the second day with the Voice 21 group we went to visit Mo and Richard at Sandwell Community History and Archives Service at Smethwick Library.

    Mo and Richard led the group on a tour of the basement of the archives, showing us what felt like secret passages and telling us all about the spooky experiences they have had and heard of. They showed us hidden rooms and talked about passageways that are locked up and cannot be entered. Including a row of stables for horses.

    We looked at the colliery incident and the different documents that enable us to trace the lives of the men and the boy who were killed.

    One of the group also came across this map that shows the area that all the archives have come from. The archive service looks after over 3 miles of documents and objects, a number that grows every day.

    After the tour we had some pizza and went back to the archives to look at some documents from Accles and Pollock and FHL. I think the group enjoyed looking through the documents, seeing the photographs and reading about the things that used to happen when working in the industry. They had lots of questions for Mo. The group were also able to look up old images of the places that they live in, some barely recognisable.

    We talked a bit about how we are going to progress with the project, looking at generating some audio archives for the archive service and creating artwork for the exhibition in the summer. We are going to look into a Vox Pop in the town centre or at a football match and an organised interview session.

    Here are some of the comments from the group:

    ‘I enjoyed listening to the stories that Mo was telling us.’

    ‘I enjoyed the stories, the pizza and visiting the dungeons.’

    ‘We all enjoyed listening about how well the history of the area is being preserved.’

    ‘It was a very fantastic experience, enjoyed learning about the archives and has inspired me to create my own in the near future.’

  • Voice 21 and Luke Perry

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 25 February 2011

    This week I met the second group I’m going to be working with on the project. The group of young people get together to make the Voice 21 magazine.

    We were lucky enough to be shown around Mushroon Green Forge and Solid Swivel by Luke Perry, local industrial artist and metal worker. He was also one of the Experts on the Channel 4 series Titanic.

    We arrived at Mushroom Green where Luke gave a demonstration of traditional chain making

    The group were initially a little reluctant to take part, but eventually a few of us has a go at making our own chain link. Luke told us about the conditions that people would have worked in throughout the demonstration. I found it hard work but a little satisfying to have my own hand made link.

    Luke then walked us to Solid Swivel, his family’s chain making factory. Solid Swivel is the only factory that makes chain in the whole of Europe. After a cup of tea we were taken around the factory and shown some of the ancient machines that are still in use. The machines are so old that they sometimes have to order spare parts from museums!

    This was a really good insight into how the metal bashing industry works and it was amazing to hear that a lot of the techniques used are the same as years ago.

    After our tour Luke made us lunch the ‘old fashioned way’. Workers would put their lunch on a shovel and cook it in the forge. This week Luke demonstrated how you can make cheese on toast and bacon butties using large pieces of metal that have been heated up in the forge. It was a very unique way to cook a bacon butty, though it did taste a bit metallic!

    At the end of the tour the group were able to have a go at doing some welding in the factory and we watched some of the Titanic series. In particular the episode where the team recreated the anchor of the ship that was made in Netherton. The anchor now sits outside the Netherton Library.

    The group had a wonderful day, here are some of the comments that were made:

    ‘Interesting, informative and very enjoyable. I enjoyed the practical elements the most.’

    ‘Today has been really good. I found the welding was the best. It is always good to try something new and explore the history of the local area :) dinner was burnt.’

    ‘We really enjoyed it, it was something different, we are looking forward to tomorrow.’

    ‘I enjoyed learning about the local history of my area and how difficult it was for people in that day. Found it interesting.’

    ‘I enjoyed the experience and found metal work really interesting. I’ve learnt how chains are made.’

    ‘It was a great day. Very informative, something different. Lunch was interesting. Overall had fun.’

    ‘I had fun, my fav. part was making the toast and bacon and then eating.’

  • Video editing at the YMCA

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 22 February 2011

    Today I met the group, armed with all the video footage, photographs and audio that have been collected over the past few weeks. We sat down with two laptops and made a start at going through the footage to put together some videos for the exhibition in the summer.

    One of the group has Photoshop skills as well, so we have a few edited photographs from the archives. It would be great to use these skills to make some artwork for the Sandwell Art Festival.

  • Interviews at Wednesbury Museum & Art Gallery

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 22 February 2011

    Last week we hosted an interview session at Wednesbury Museum & Art Gallery. As we arrived we saw that Mo was there to greet us, it was a great surprise and she had brought some old photos of Smethwick for one of the group.

    We set up our cameras, video cameras a recorders in the back room of the museum and started practicing by interviewing Mo and each other about the local industry and our experiences of the project so far.

    Just as we were finishing off Gerald and Sheila turned up. Gerald used to work as a salesman travelling around the different factories in the area and he has some useful insights into the industry. The group had some interesting questions to ask him.

    Gerald also brought in some tools of his trade, a very old map of the factories in the local area, a lot of which have now been flattened and his A-Z which helped him to navigate the area. He also brought with him a copy of a book that he wrote, the book was to help save some of the skills of the trade that were in danger of being lost.

    Next to be interviewed was Sheila, Sheila worked in the offices of a factory which I found just as interesting as hearing about the life on the factory floor.

    Here are some of the comments from the group:

    ‘I really enjoyed today, I loved meeting Sheila and Gerald, they were lovely and had lots of interesting stories.’
    ‘Sheila and Gerald were a great help for me to understand the history of the area.’
    ‘It was really enjoyable and I gained a lot from history.’
    ‘I really enjoyed today, it was a different experience.’

  • For the foghorn

    • (0) Comments by julian 16 February 2011

    We are now planning the construction of the replica foghorn (see article posted below). All offers of advice and help welcome. This will be a first sample of what will be coming out of it  :  FL website 01

  • March sessions at Smethwick Library

    • (0) Comments by julian 16 February 2011

    Julian’s next open sessions working with the archives will be on 4th March and 15th March, both 1.30 to 5, and both at the Community History and Archive Service at Smethwick Library. We’ll be pushing on with researching the industrial careers of former residents of buildings now occupied by doctors and dentists in Sandwell – with the aim of putting up displays of archive material in their waiting-rooms; and recording material from the archives to be played through the foghorn; and planning the construction of the foghorn. And lots more, including the ideas you bring.

    Yesterday we looked at the engineer’s report on how the engines on the Great Eastern performed during her first voyages in 1861; the general assessment was that they worked rather well.

  • Smethwick Community History and Archives Service

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 14 February 2011

    Last week I took the group from the YMCA to visit Smethwick Community History and Archives Service. Mo, who works at the archives, gave us an introduction to the service and took us on a tour of the archives under Smethwick Library.

    Whilst underground we saw rows and rows of books and documents, moving bookshelves and heard spooky stories about things people have heard and felt whilst working in the basement.

    Mo showed us a map that was made after a disaster at Black Lake Colliery, by looking at the map we could see that there was a small body involved in the disaster. We could use the names on the map, the census and newspaper reports to discover that there was a 10 year old boy who died during the incident. This young boy’s family must have lied about his age as the newspaper report stated he was 12. We also saw an Illuminated Address written by the men who worked in the colliery to the manager, saying that they did not blame him for the death of their co-workers.

    After a bite to eat we then went through some of the archives from Accles and Pollock and talked a bit about what questions we would use to interview people next week.

    Everyone seemed to enjoy the trip and finding out about the history of Sandwell, some of the young people inquired about when they could come back to see more. Some requests have been made for us to visit Black Country History Museum and to go back and see Ian in his workshop.

    Some comments from the workshop were:

    ‘Great opportunity, I’ve seen things like this on TV but never realised I could find out so much locally!!’

    ‘Learnt some new things, would have been better if we could have gone into the tunnels.’

    ‘Was a great eye-opener. Wasn’t sure about the archives being scary but definitely educational. Thanks to Katie and Mo :)

    ‘I enjoyed finding out about the history and looking around.’

    ‘I enjoyed going down the basement and seeing all the archives.’

    ‘Mo was great, she made everything really interesting!’

    ‘I enjoyed the tour and the way she tells the story.’

  • Blacksmith Workshop

    • (0) Comments by Katie Shipley 7 February 2011

    Last week I took a group of young people from West Bromwich YMCA to visit Ian Moran a Blacksmith-Artist based in Cradley Heath. www.metalmoran.co.uk

    Ian gave a short introduction to his work and the history of metal bashing in the area then gave a demonstration of how he works. We saw his sketches and examples of his work and watched him bend and bash a piece of hot metal into swirls and different shapes. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the demonstration was the ingenuity behind the tools that he uses. The anvil can be used to create many different shapes and perform a variety of tasks and hasn’t changed much since it was first used many many years ago.

    After the demonstration we were able to have a go at metal-bashing ourselves, each creating a scroll out of a metal bar. It was much harder than Ian had made it look but we all enjoyed getting hands on experience.

    After the workshop the group were interested to find out more about the history of metal bashing so I hope they enjoy the next workshop at the archives.

    Here are some of the comments the young people made after the workshop:

    ‘Mega fun experience. Haven’t ever done that before. Had a wicked time, really enjoyed it! Hope I can go again and make another shape.’

    ‘I enjoyed the whole of it, meeting the workmen and getting the whole experience and doing it and making it.’

    ‘Good to do something different that we wouldn’t normally do.’

    ‘Fantastic experience! Can’t wait to learn more about my Black Country!’