Objects | Engineering


Causey Arch postcard, about 1800

Durham County Record Office, Durham

Bridges, Firsts

1800 – 1899

This is an example of an enduring engineering masterpiece of bridge design.

As the world’s oldest surviving single arch railway bridge, it spans over 100ft, standing 80ft tall. It held the record of the longest single span bridge in the country for 30 years.

It was built in 1725/6, costing £12,000, by stonemason Ralph Wood, for a waggonway to link Tanfield Collieries to the River Tyne. However, tradition reports he was so worried the bridge would collapse that he jumped from it to his death before the bridge was even completed.

The bridge was owned by the Grand Alliance (formed 1726); the most powerful partnership of coal owners in the history of the coal trade, comprising of George Bowes of Gibside, the Liddells of Ravensworth and the Montagus of Newcastle. It created a virtual monopoly of the Durham coal field, the most valuable mineral district in the north of England. Over 900 horse-drawn wagons crossed the arch daily.

Postcard photograph of Causey Arch, Tanfield, from an engraving by I.C. Stadler, from an original watercolour by the Newcastle artist Joseph Atkinson (1776-1816)

On display at Durham County Record Office

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