Union Chain Bridge

Virtual celebrations to mark bridge bicentenary

A day of digital celebrations will mark the 200th birthday of the world-famous Union Chain Bridge. 

Sunday, July 26th marks the 200th anniversary of the iconic cross-border bridge opening in 1820 and to celebrate there’ll be a range of online activities sharing the history and heritage of the structure, including the premiere of a specially commissioned film.

The content will be available from around 10am on July 26th on the newly-created Union Chain Bridge project website - unionchainbridge.org and also rolled out throughout the day on the Berwick Museum & Art Gallery Facebook page.

Initially a day of celebrations, including family and community events as well as a symposium involving prestigious international guest speakers, was to have taken place at the bridge to mark the occasion, but the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures mean this isn't  possible - now the anniversary will instead be celebrated in a very 21st century way.

Among the highlights of the day will be a short film, commissioned especially for the bicentenary and produced by professional filmmaker Hayley Repton. The film features recent drone footage of the Bridge, costumed interpreters, and the poem ‘The Union Chain Bridge’ by William Molle narrated by local volunteers.

There’ll also be downloadable activities giving younger audiences the opportunity to make a model Union Chain Bridge, the sharing of a collection of people’s memories of the bridge, while a number of local families in Paxton, Horncliffe and the surrounding area will be receiving a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) kit giveaway to hopefully encourage a new generation of engineers and bridge enthusiasts.

The bicentenary events are the latest celebration for the bridge – which provides a key transport link between Scotland and England and received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2019.

The ambitious funding bid was put together by Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council, Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, following serious concerns about the condition of the world-famous structure.
Both councils have committed match funding totalling £5.7m towards the £10.5m scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.
David Renwick, Director, England, North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The 200th anniversary of the Union Chain Bridge is sure to be a momentous occasion, however it may be celebrated. 

“We’re always glad to see the projects we invest in showcase innovation and creativity, and the Union Chain Bridge project is a great example. Whilst the Bridge is a tangible structure representing connectivity between communities, it’s fantastic that these online activities to celebrate its birthday will bring them together in other exciting ways.”

Northumberland County Councillor Glen Sanderson said: “This will be a great day of celebration for everyone connected with the Union Chain Bridge.

“While we would all have loved to be gathering at the bridge it just hasn’t been possible but I’m sure everyone will enjoy the online activities that are planned.”

Scottish Borders Councillor Gordon Edgar said: “Coronavirus has meant all of us have to change the way we live and work, and the Union Chain Bridge project has embraced technology to ensure we can still celebrate the 200th anniversary of this iconic structure.

“I would encourage everyone – from those who are keen supporters of the bridge to those who do not know anything about the project – to join us online on 26 July.”

Rowan Brown from Museums Northumberland said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to put our technological skills to the test, in a fitting tribute to a globally significant engineering monument. 

“We hope to present the Bridge in a new light, offering multiple routes to engagement for folk of all ages. We are extremely grateful to our funders and our partners for the role they have all played in creating this novel event.”

Robbie Hunter from Friends of the Union Chain Bridge said: “We are celebrating the 200th anniversary of an engineering icon - the opening of this bridge revolutionised bridge building. 

“Its importance has been recognised by the presentation of a plaque by both the Japanese and American Institutions of Civil Engineers, one of less than 100 engineering landmarks to have received such an accolade.”

Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge is the oldest operational chain suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.
As well as conserving the historic structure, the project team has also developed interpretation proposals and a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities. 

This programme is designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical, social and engineering importance and provide learning opportunities to inspire a new generation to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

The project team would love to hear from anyone who’s got a story to share about the bridge. Please get in touch at ucb@museumsnorthumberland.org.uk
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