The Old Bridge – Construction History

Damage by the Lighter “Diamond” 20 February 1896
Damage by the Lighter “Diamond”
20 February 1896

The Victorian cast iron bridge opened with great fanfare in 1856 had a short life. Only fifty years after its completion, it was already in need of refurbishment. The construction of railway bridges immediately downriver of the roadway bridge by The East Kent Railway in the 1850s and The South Eastern Railway Company in the 1880s had rendered the swing bridge redundant. When the public utility companies then petitioned to carry their pipes and sewer and cables across the swing bridge, the Bridge Wardens granted licences to the Rochester, Chatham & Strood Gaslight Company in 1896, the Rochester Corporation in 1897, and the National Telephone Company in 1899. As a result, the swing bridge, which in the end had never been opened, was permanently closed and the winding gear removed. Several spectacular collisions had also damaged the cast iron arches below the bridge. The quinquennial inspection of April 1909 showed numerous fractured floor plates, damaged ribs, and missing or defective bolts. The time had clearly arrived for major renovation.

In April 1910, after considering several designs put forward by bridge engineer John Robson, the Wardens and Assistants of Rochester Bridge approved plans to reconstruct the bridge by raising the roadway and suspending it from bowstring trusses above instead of supporting it on arches below. After an expenditure of £95,887 the bridge was once again declared open for traffic on 14 May 1914. The reconstructed bridge, known today as the Old Bridge, has three arched steel truss spans and a plate girder approach span with ramps at each end. The Strood Approach at the western end is constructed over brick arches. The carriageway, originally built for two tramway tracks and third lane for overtaking traffic, is 7.93 metres wide. Today, it carries the two lanes of westward-bound traffic from Rochester to Strood.