The Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash – Facts and Figures

by Old Plymouth Society
Published August 2012

The statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel is sited in Huntley gardens, owned by Caradon District Council, Saltash Town Council and Network Rail. The derelict site was brought back to life by the Saltash Waterside Residents Association with the help from a grant from Living Spaces. The opening coincided with the 200th Birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel on 9th April 2006. In the autumn a performance by CB Productions was staged at Huntley Gardens portraying Brunel’s visit to Saltash to view his magnificent Royal Albert Bridge, followed by the fictitious return of his widow after his death to unveil a statue to her late husband. The life-size bronze resin sculpture, crafted by Richard Austin of Sculpture Workshops, Wadebridge and the interpretation boards were funded by a grant from “Awards for All”. Sadly it has been vandalised and Isambard is with out his famous top hat.

Facts and Figures

The Royal Albert Bridge is over 700 yards long, contains 4000 tonnes of iron and rises 100ft above the Tamar. It cost £225,000 to build. It stands today as an outstanding monument to the great engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was born in 1806. The statistics are incredible. The river at the crossing point is 1100 feet wide, and 70 feet deep. The twin spans weighing 1000 tons each, are both 465 feet long. They are supported on a single masonry column, which was built inside a cast iron coffer dam. Begun in 1854, the supporting pier took less than 18 months to complete. This was achieved by building an enormous cylinder which was lowered vertically into the river bed. Inside this was a diving bell for the navvies and builders to work in. 

Tons of silt, sand, mud and oyster shells had to be removed before rock could be found for the foundations. In September 1857, a complex arrangement of pulleys and pontoons had been erected. These were used to haul the first truss into place. Brunel performed the task in front of thousands of onlookers, who were ordered to remain silent because he used a series of flags and numbers to instruct his men how to position the gigantic span complete with its rail. It slid into place in total silence. Then and only then did the silence break, as a Marine band played “See the conquering hero comes”. Brunel was then free to relish the theatricality of the occasion! In July of the following year the second span at Saltash was positioned. In May 1859 it was opened by Prince Albert.

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