Recalling the Tay Bridge disaster

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The chairman Mr Ned Firth welcomed Mairi Shiels to the February 8 meeting of Brechin Probus Club and invited her to speak to the members about the Tay Bridge disaster.

Mairi opened her talk by quoting from the inquiry into the disaster which found that the bridge was badly designed, badly built and badly maintained.

She went on to give some of the pre-bridge history and explained the reasons for the findings of the inquiry.

Prior to the bridge opening the North British Railway Company (NBRC) used the route from Edinburgh, Waverly Station, via Granton to the Forth and then by train ferry on the Leviathan to Burntisland.

The route then ran through Fife to Tayport and then to Broughty Ferry again by train ferry on the Robert Napier and then on to Dundee.

The NBRC were obviously keen to have the proposed Tay Bridge built as this would give them the competitive edge over the Caledonian Railway Company who used the route from Edinburgh to Dundee via Stirling and Perth.

Six hundred men were employed to build the bridge and 20 lost their lives due to accidents.

The men worked long days and were paid 8d per hour. The bridge was started in 1871 and opened in 1878.

The disaster took place on the night of Sunday, December 28, 1879 during a fierce storm with a force 10-11 gale blowing.

The locomotive and all carriages were plummeted into the Tay when the central high girder section collapsed. All on board, commonly believed to be 75 persons, lost their lives.

There were no witnesses to the disaster.

The inquiry found that the design of the bridge did not take into full account the stress on the structure due to pressure of wind, that some of the iron work used was sub-standard and that although there was clear evidence that the central structure had been deteriorating for months before the accident no proper maintenance had been carried out.

Thomas Bouch the main designer was knighted for his work and had moved on to work on the Forth rail bridge.

After the disaster he was removed from this work. Bouch died in 1880, a broken man. The locomotive was salvaged, repaired and remained in service until 1919. It worked under the nickname of “The Diver” and many drivers refused to take it over the new bridge.

This was a very interesting and informative talk and appreciated by all the members.

Bob Berry gave a vote of thanks on behalf of the club.

Interestingly one of Bob’s forebears was a train driver and was scheduled to drive the fated train on the night of the disaster.

Fortunately, for him, he had to re-arrange his schedule and did not drive that night.