Vol 1 – No. 1 – March 1887 – Old Tyne Bridge

As at recent Exhibitions at South Kensington and Edinburgh the ghosts of “Old London” and “Auld Reekie” revisited the glimpses of the moon, so, on Newcastle Town Moor next May, when the Royal Jubilee Exhibition opens, we may expect to find the ” counterfeit presentment” of Old Tyne Bridge spanning the still waters of Lodge’s Reservoir, or what is left of it, as the original did the swirling stream of coaly Tyne in days gone by. It will be a notable and a cheering spectacle in the eyes of those of antiquarian taste, as affording a rare example of what Mackenzie calls the ” improving spirit of the age” diverted from its usual channel of destruction into the opposite one, the revival of old things  It would perhaps have been going too far back to have attempted to show the similitude of the Roman bridge of A.D. 120, which Hadrian threw across the Tyne, and which, as far as we know, though doubtless with many patchings and repairings, seems to have lasted for 1,130 years. But in the reproduction of the edifice which succeeded this and lasted up to 1771, we can look with more sympathising eyes, as being nearer our own epoch, and we may say almost linked to it by memory; for are there not men now living who have known and conversed with those who were familiar with, and perhaps even lived on, Old Tyne Bridge? The original and its copy are, in a certain way, linked together by a curious coincidence; for the one was erected during the reign of the first English monarch who saw the jubilee year of his accession, as the other will be, if all goes well, during the reign of the last who has enjoyed a similar rare experience.  It was in 1250, in the reign of Henry III., that Old Tyne Bridge was built of stone, on the site of its predecessor, which, as recorded by Matthew Paris, was destroyed by fire in 1248. What a wealth of romantic incident and historic association is there not bound up with the story of the old bridge which stretched across the Tyne, and formed part of the high road between North and South for over five hundred years commencing on the eve of the summoning of England’s first representative Parliament, and ending on the eve of the American War of Independence! When we look on its restored form, what pictures could not be conjured up from the dark recesses of the past of the structure and its fortunes and changes, and of the succeeding generations which have in turn passed over it and out of ken, save for the glimpses we catch of them now and again by the faint and uncertain light of the torch of history!  The bridge itself we may see, in our mind’s eye, in process of evolution into a hanging street houses being added and extended, altered and rebuilt, as the years passed on. We may see the massive tower near the centre, with its portcullis and frowning arch, degenerating from a military work into a house of detention for thieves and vagabonds. We may see its lonely hermit in his cell, praying, as enjoined, for the soul of that Newcastle worthy of worthies, old Roger Thornton. We may see the gateway built at the south end, where was once a drawbridge, and the rising of the magazine gate at the north end, where was set up by loyal hands and pulled down by the Parliamentarians the statue of King James I., and where, after the Restoration, was placed the statue of the Merry Monarch now to be seen in our Guildhall. We may see, too, on occasion, spectacles gruesome enough in all conscience, evidences of barbarous ages at one time the severed right arm of Scotland’s betrayed champion, Sir William Wallace, displayed upon the battlement of the Bridge Tower : at another, and that as late as the reign of Elizabeth, the head of Edward Waterson, a seminary priest who suffered in Newcastle, elevated on a spike on the same place ; many a time and oft such common sights as the heads of a few Tynedale mosstroopers bleaching there in the wind and rain ” for the encouragement of the others.” But we may see a more cheering sight the gorgeous pageant of the nuptial procession of Margaret of England, daughter of Henry VII., pass over the bridge on its way north, where the fair princess was to wed the King of Scots who afterwards fell on Flodden Field. We may, still in imagination, hear the doleful scream of that poor servant maid of Dr. James Oliphant, who, one mid day in 1764, leaped from her master’s cellar window, to find her death in the deep waters of the Tyne. (The four-storey house of Dr. Oliphant stood over the southernmost arch of the bridge the cellar, so called, hanging below the arch, its floor very little above the level of the stream.) We may see the changing crowds passing and re-passing along the narrow roadway of the bridge, with the timbered houses towering high above and almost meeting overhead. We may see them stopping, perhaps, to cheapen the goods in the shops milliners’, mercers’, hardwaremen’s, booksellers’, cheesemongers’ which line the bridge on either side. We may see, perchance, the fire which destroyed the shop of “upright, downright, honest” Martin Bryson, bookseller, and friend of Allan Ramsay. And, last scene of all, we may see the destruction of the whole quaint fabric in 1771.  On Saturday morning, the 16th of November in that year, the bridge stood perfect, presenting the aspect we see in the copy of an etching by T. M. Richardson, sen., made from an ideal sketch by his son George. At night, the river, swollen by the recent rains in the west country, rose to an extraordinary height, and, as darkness fell, was heard rushing with fierce violence through the arches, so that the bridge quivered and shook in an alarming way. Before daybreak next morning Old Tyne Bridge was no more. The story of its fall, of the tragic fate of some of its dwellers, and of the exciting adventures of others fortunate enough to escape, has often been told. The other view we give, which is taken from a plate in Brand’s “History of Newcastle,” will convey some idea of the ruins as they appeared a few days after the catastrophe.  Soon a sturdy successor arose from the ruins the Tyne Bridge which most of us remember well, and which was replaced in 1876 by the present Swing Bridge.

Tyne Bridge After The Flood

Old Tyne Bridge

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