The Brunel Bridge, otherwise known as The Royal Albert Bridge was built by celebrated English Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, establishing one of the greatest bridges in the world.
In 1846 Cornwall Railway Act received Royal Assent to replace the Saltash Ferry, with a railway bridge linking Cornwall and the rest of the UK. Isambard Brunel decided that the bridge should have a single pier mid stream which would support 2 spans of 139 m (455ft). The railway would then have to be supported by a further 10 approach spans on the Cornwall side and 7 on the Devon side. There was however nowhere to secure the tension chains, so Brunel had to design a bridge with self supporting trusses. His solution was oval shaped arched trusses that rest on top of the piers.
The Royal Albert Bridge (1854 - 1859)
On July 4th 1853 the Mayor of Saltash, Mr W Rundle laid the first foundation of the Cornish piers. The central pier was capped in 1856 and work then began to erect the four octagonal columns which were to hold the deck.
On September 1st 1857 some 20,000 spectators came out to watch as the first truss was floated out into the centre of the river supported by two barges. It took 2 hours, 5 navy vessels and 500 men to manoeuvre them through 45 degrees, where as the tide turned they sank into position on to the piers. The truss was gradually raised at a rate of 6 feet a week using hydraulic jacks until July 1st 1858, where it reached its final height 100 feet above the water.
On July 10th 1858, the second span for the Devonshire side was floated out into the river. With excitement building for the amazing feat of engineering Brunel and his workers had pulled off, special trains were laid on to bring spectators from London. Unfortunately on the day of the Bridge's opening Brunel himself was too ill to attend.
On May 2nd 1859 his Royal Highness Prince Albert officially opened the bridge, where he walked from Saltash Station and walked back across the bridge to Devon to officially declare the bridge open.
Brunel finally crossed his bridge two days after the opening in his own open wagon. He died a few months later on 5th September 1859.
In 2009 the town of Saltash celebrated 150 years since the bridge's opening and while now used as a modern railway line into Cornwall, visitors to the area can still enjoy scenic journeys on the line on steam locomotives.