On Tuesday, 17 October 2023, a delegation from the Worshipful Company of Engineers visited the Rochester Bridge Trust. This review of the day was published in Swordsman Magazine, the publication that shares the news of the livery company.
The text of the article, which was written by Steve Harrige, can be read here:
We gathered in Rochester High Street for a light lunch, to allow old friendships to be renewed, and new ones made. A short walk-through Rochester High Street brought us to Rochester Bridge Trust’s office, where the welcome from staff was effusive.
The introduction to the visit was given by Sue Threader, a Livery Member, the Bridge Clerk and Chief Executive for the Rochester Bridge Trust (RBT). Her knowledge was encyclopaedic, her delivery was very funny and her enthusiasm infectious.
She started by explaining the Romans’ need to bridge the first river they came across having landed in UK, the fact that the bridge rapidly gave rise to the construction of the fort and the Cathedral. It all seemed so logical. From the original crossing (less than ideal with a 10-foot-wide deck and no parapets, risky, particularly in the dark, for a 500-foot-long bridge over quite a wild river), the bridge designs evolved, this location being so key to the Brits that even the collapse of the Roman Empire was not enough to cause the bridge structure to fall into disrepair. The importance of the bridge was such that it was well-funded by benefactors from a wide area of southeast England, a situation that still exists.
There are currently four crossings of the Medway River, all a little downstream from the original Roman site. The rail bridge is owned and maintained by Network Rail, two road bridges (one dating from 1856 and the other newer, opened in 1970). Some of the most famous civil engineers in Britain had worked on Rochester Bridge including John Rennie, Thomas Telford and Sue’s personal engineering hero, Sir William Cubitt, who had been the first in the world to develop and use pneumatic caissons in the construction of his cast-iron bridge in the middle of the 19th century.
The last bridge is a service-carrying bridge, the advantage of it being that works on the services crossing the river have no effect on the road bridge decks, which have no longitudinal seams in the asphalt and are a bridge maintenance dream.
The two road and the service bridges are in the care of RBT, who are in the happy situation where funding is not the problem experienced by so many bridge owner. RBT’s approach to bridge maintenance of ‘do it once, do it right, do it now’ is a great place to be.
From the introduction we headed out in three groups to view all four of the bridges, walking along the pavements and through the service bridge. The structures are indeed in fine condition, paintwork perfect, mechanical elements carefully detailed and well-maintained.
Sue made it clear that RBT has adequate funds to take a philanthropic view to other facets of the community, including education and research in civil engineering, craft skills and agriculture. The charity also gives grants for these areas of work as well as restoration of historic structures in Kent; environmental protection; and for safe and active use of the River Medway. We were encouraged to take away copies of a free book of bridge building activities for younger children which RBT has produced.
Sue was particularly proud that the Trust has achieved a Net Zero Carbon footprint for bridge maintenance, with emissions driven down to the absolute minimum and the small remainder being offset in a new woodland plantation which RBT had created for the purpose.
Another project where this small charity has exercised one of its core values of Leadership is the recently established Phil Tindall Memorial Prize for Mentoring. With more working from home likely to be detrimental to the development of engineers entering civil engineering, the Trust wants to highlight and celebrate the importance of mentoring. The prize was first awarded at this year’s Company Awards Ceremony and Sue expressed her thanks to the Company for the support it had given to the initiative.