Tales of the Tees – Newport Bridge


Newport Bridge

The number of boat using the River Tees grew throughout the 19th Century and into the 20th. These boats also became larger and larger since the river had been altered so effectively by the Mandate and Portrack cuts. Although business grew rapidly at Middlesbrough. Stockton still built ships and remained a thriving port in its own right. But there was a problem.

By the 1920’s petrol vehicle usage had skyrocketed and crossings of the Tees were few and far between that could cope with a car. The Transporter was the only real crossing in the Middlesbrough area and that had limited capacity. It was decided that a new bridge needed to be built at Newport but it had to allow tall boats, often with masts or funnels, beneath it. The idea of another Transporter was discounted, the town wanted a road bridge. But how do you build a road bridge high enough to clear the tallest ships? 


In 1934 the Newport Bridge opened. It was innovative and the largest of its kind in the world. The solution was simple. The road continued from one bank to the other at the normal height of the land (pretty much). However, when a boat needed to pass along the river, the road was closed and lifted 37m above the water below. Yes, 2700 tonnes (about the weight of 2500 cars) was simply lifted up, the boat passed through, then gently lowered for the traffic to continue. It was a remarkable feat of engineering and just two electric motors did the hard work. 

As river traffic gradually declined at Stockton, ship building and trade as a port also declined. By 1979 the last ship yard closed in the town. Larger boats non longer travelled upriver. As a result, the decision was made to fix the Newport Bridge in place forever, maintaining a moving bridge cost a lot of money. So for the last time in 1990 the bridge, watched by cheering crowds, lifted for the last time. You can see the video on this page. 

Other resources

The history of the Newport Bridge

The last lift

Original design plan for the bridge

All you ever needed to know about the bridge narrated by an 8 year old local girl

Drone footage of the bridge in its current colours

Map of the area just after the bridge was built – links to multiple other maps on Old Maps Online

Want to try to build the mechanism? Use the basic idea in the video and recreate with LEGO!