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Kelso Bridge
River Tweed, Kelso, Borders, Scotland, UK
Kelso Bridge
associated engineer
John Rennie snr
date  1801 - 1804
era  Georgian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  NT726336
ICE reference number  HEW 308
photo  © and licensed for reuse under this
One of John Rennie Snr's finest bridges, and a precurser to his Waterloo and New London bridges over the Thames (both now gone). He designed Kelso Bridge in 1799. It crosses the River Tweed, linking Kelso to Maxwellheugh, these days carrying the A699 trunk road.
Rennie (1761-1821) designed the masonry bridge for the local road trustees to replace an existing structure. The previous Kelso Bridge was built c.1755 and had suffered partial collapse during a storm on 26th October 1797 because of scour around its shallow foundations.
The new bridge cost £12,876 and was partly funded by a government loan. It has five semi-elliptical arches of 22m span and 3m rise, providing more navigation room than its predecessor. The width between parapets is 7.3m.
The pier foundations are sunk more than 2m into bedrock. They were constructed behind cofferdams that were pumped dry using a waterwheel in a mill race on the south bank of the river.
The architectural details include a wide projecting cornice, a dentilated string course, well-proportioned engaged Doric columns and entablatures, and rusticated rounded cutwaters.
The steep rise of the ground on the south bank necessitated that the bridge be quite high at the south end. Rennie’s decision to keep road and parapets horizontal to make the bridge elevation symmetrical meant the construction of an embankment at the north end. This was not a common solution at the time — arched roadways were more usual — though it was to become Rennie’s signature alignment.
Bridge engineer Sir William Fairbairn (1789-1874) was born in Kelso and he worked on this bridge as a 14 year old labourer. He sustained a serious leg injury on site, but fortunately made a full recovery and went on to design many iron girder bridges — perhaps the most famous of which is the Britannia Railway Bridge across the Menai Straits (with Robert Stephenson).
To repay the construction loan, the bridge was tolled. This continued until 1854, when riots prompted their abandonment. The tollhouse at the north east end of the bridge is now a private house.
Masonry repointing and some bridge strengthening was undertaken in 1921. A small width increase was proposed in 1956, but the Fine Art Commission objected strongly because the required cantilevering would affect the architecture of the elevations. It was not implemented. In 1981, the parapets were rebuilt, using quite a lot of new stone.
When Rennie’s 1817 Waterloo Bridge was demolished in 1936, two of its lamp standards were installed on the parapet at the south west end of Kelso Bridge. The bridge and its tollhouse have been Category A listed since March 1971.
Contractor: Murray and Lees
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH SLB

Kelso Bridge