Trail: Humber Bridge - Hidden Histories

The Humber Bridge is an engineering marvel. Use our archive images to examine the bridge in various states of construction and see it take shape, literally before your eyes as you compare these photographs with the present day scene!

(Always be careful of your surroundings when using the app)

Produced in association with ‘Hidden Histories Of The Humber Bridge’ project, which is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Please note that the trail route requires the use of steps in some areas and may in parts be unsuitable for wheelchairs.

Mission Accomplished

It’s October 1980 in our archive image, and work on the bridge is nearly complete.

The Humber Bridge finally opened to traffic on 24h June 1981 after taking almost 9 years to build (work began in July 1972).  Technical difficulties and poor weather meant it took 4 years longer than originally anticipated, and the final cost of £98 million was £70 million greater than the initial estimated build cost.

However, there can be no doubt that this is a triumph of engineering.  With a centre span of 1410m and a total length of 2220m, the bridge is so long that its design had to accommodate the curvature of the earth, meaning that the north and south towers are 36mm further apart from each other at the top, than at the bottom!

That’s the end of the trail!  You can find out more about the ‘Hidden Histories Of The Humber Bridge’ project at the visitor centre in the Humber Bridge Country Park (please check opening times).

A Long Stretch

It doesn’t take a keen eye to notice that the road deck is absent from this archive image, as it was taken in 1978 before work on this had begun.

You can however, see the impressive cabling, which was completed by British Bridge Builders Ltd.  It needed 11,000 tonnes of wire to construct these supporting cables, which are each made up of 37 strands, and each of those comprise 404 wires.

The diameter of the cable is 700mm and there is enough wire in the bridge to go around the earth almost twice!

Slipping Up

The legs of the two main towers were produced using the slip form technique, by which both legs of the tower were constructed simultaneously, with the operating platform inching upwards as the tower grew in height.

The slip forming of Hessle Tower took 19 weeks, with an average rate of climb of 76.4mm per hour.  The towers are 155.5m high, and in this archive image of 1976, you can see that good progress was being made on the Hessle Tower.

On the south bank, the Barton tower was delayed due to technical difficulties with securing foundations in the river itself, but once work began it took just 10 weeks to construct.

Staying On Track

This archive image was taken between late 1979 and early 1980.  As you can see, the Hessle side span is over land and so to install the deck sections here it was necessary to transport the sections upriver from Priory Yard and bring them ashore using a gantry.

From there, they were moved into the correct position using bogies on rail tracks.

Keeping An Eye On Progress

For obvious reasons, the Humber Bridge is an impressive spectacle for visitors to the banks of the River Humber, but even during its construction it was drawing in the crowds.

Here on 31st December 1974 (New Year’s Eve), the purveyors of tea and ice cream can be seen cashing-in on the large numbers of people gathered along the river bank to see the North Tower being built.

You Make Me Hole

As with any construction, before you build up, you must dig down and excavate your foundations.

This archive image from 10th June 1973 gives a view of the very early excavation of the Hessle Pier, and you can see the cofferdam on the far side of the hole (looks like a black fence/wall) which was erected to keep the river at bay.

(Photograph by Arthur Dennison)

Reach For The Skies

This image form 25th January 1974 shows the Hessle tower at 48m high during construction.  By comparing this with the completed tower in front of you it gives a great perspective of the immensity of the construction.

The total amount of concrete used in the entire building of the bridge was 480,000 tonnes, and from here you can appreciate why so much of it was needed!

Taking Shape

Another look at the Hessle Pier excavations, this time from 10th September 1973, and the first reinforcements for the concrete sections of the two legs are in place, giving an early indication of the towering structure that would follow.

(Photograph by Arthur Dennison)

Bridging The Gap

The suspended deck contains around 16,000 tonnes of steel in total.  It was built in sections, each about 18.1m long, in order to make their fabrication, transport, and installation more manageable.

A typical deck section weighed around 140 tonnes and was hoisted into position from a pontoon on the river, using tackles on the main cables.  Work on this phase began in November 1979 and continued through the winter.  The operation was in full swing by the time this photograph was taken, at some point during late 1979, early 1980.

Going With The Flow

Taking a step back to the early stages of the bridge’s construction on 30th December 1973, this archive image shows the construction of the Hessle Pier (foundation of the North Tower).  It was founded on chalk, 8m below ground level, and made as a reinforced concrete slab.  As you can see, it is situated close to the river, and this meant that water constantly flowed into the excavation through fissures in the chalk and had to be pumped out during construction.

(Photograph by Arthur Dennison)