When Sunderland’s ‘Tower Bridge’ was the only aluminium bridge in the world

An incredible bridge, the only one of its type on the planet, which spanned Sunderland’s docks was nothing less than an engineering marvel.

It was in use until relatively recently. But only a dwindling number of people can remember it and many Wearsiders don’t realise that it was ever even there.

It was unique because it was made of aluminium, which might sound very peculiar to the layman. It was also a double leaf bascule bridge.

After World War Two the shipping entrance to Sunderland’s docks, more specifically the shipping junction between Hendon Docks and Hudson Docks, needed to be expanded.

A bang average but functional, 60-feet iron road and rail bridge stood there. This was important for freight trains, especially those carrying coal. However, it would have to be dismantled and its replacement needed to be 30 feet longer.

The dock would also have to be deepened to accommodate larger vessels, while the bascule design (which you are now all familiar with) would allow the passage of ships of any height.

The new bridge would have been made of steel, but there was a shortage of the alloy and it was being strictly rationed. Aluminium on the other hand was plentiful.

It seems incredible to us – used to seeing fizzy drinks around the world being casually slurped from cans – that aluminium had previously been regarded as a precious metal. It is the third most common element in the Earth’s crust. But in the 19th century it was worth more than gold.

Then technology made production easier. There was also an aluminium surplus after the war as it was no longer required to build planes, or for any other part of the war effort. By 1946 it was easier for the average Brit to get hold of aluminium than sausages or eggs.

As the metal was so light, as well as plentiful, it would also mean less power was needed to open and close the new bridge.

Late in 1947 the dismantling the old bridge began. Work seems to have progressed remarkably quickly, because the Hendon Dock Junction Bridge was officially opened at noon on Friday, November 26, 1948.

Read more: https://www.sunderlandecho.com/heritage-and-retro/retro/when-sunderlands-tower-bridge-was-the-only-aluminium-bridge-in-the-world-3363096