Forth Bridge, Tay Bridge and Tower Bridge, are the three most famous steel structures built by Sir William Arrol & Company Ltd. and are celebrated internationally. But the company also built many lesser-known structures, which although perhaps not such significant feats of engineering, were still important in the development of the Scottish railway network. I wanted to find out about other Arrol bridges and where better to start than in Glasgow, where the company was based. Bridges, structural steel work, and mechanical engineering productions, published by the Company in 1909, lists the principal bridges they built between being established in 1872 and 1907. It lists 18 Glasgow city centre railway bridges and when I set about plotting them on the map a very simple walking route emerged.
The more I researched, however, the less simple it became. Over the last 100 years some street names had changed and alterations had been made to the railway lines and road layouts making it difficult to know which of the remaining bridges could be attributed to Arrol. Using the National Library of Scotland’s online georeferenced overlay maps I was able to follow the railway lines and compare the exact position of the original bridges from old maps with an overlay of current satellite images. Using these and the observations I made during a preliminary walk of the route I managed to work out which Arrol bridges, or traces of them, could still be seen.
The walk starts at Central Station and follows the route of what was the Caledonian Railway line heading south across the River Clyde. At Salkend Street the Caledonian line is crossed by the Glasgow & South Western Railway’s Union Line and from there the walk jumps track to follow that line towards the Gorbals and then back north across the river. In total the circular route is less than 3 miles long and will take about 1-2 hours to complete, depending on how long you stop at each bridge.
Central Station was built by the Caledonian Railway in 1879 to extend the existing railway from the terminus at Bridge Street Station and provide a more convenient city location north of the River Clyde. However, by 1890 the 8 platforms of the station were struggling to cope with the volume of passengers and so the station was expanded between 1901-1905 to provide 13 platforms. The establishment of the station and expansion meant that new railway bridges were required to cross the river and streets below and many of these were built by Sir William Arrol & Co. Leaving the Argyle Street/ Hope Street exit from Central Station you pass by the ornate glass panelled walls of the Hielanman’s Umbrella which supports the platforms above Argyle Street. The bridge is so called because it was used as a meeting place for the gaelic-speaking highlanders who moved to Glasgow in the 19th century in search of work and provided shelter from the wet weather. Although it is not an Arrol bridge its nickname is very apt as my preliminary walk was carried out on a very showery day and I had to take full advantage of numerous bridges as umbrellas.
- Walking down Oswald Street towards the river, the first Arrol bridge we come to, is the next bridge along the line, over Midland Street. It was built by Sir William Arrol & Co. in 1901, over what was originally known as Ann Street, as part of the expansion of Central Station. It is a simple single span bridge of 46 feet in length.
- Continuing down Oswald Street we arrive at the Broomielaw with the Caledonian Railway Bridge on the left. This is the second Caledonian Bridge and was built next to the first bridge to carry a 9 track railway across the river and 2 adjacent roads into the station. It was designed by Donald A. Matheson, chief engineer of the Caledonian Railway and built by Sir William Arrol & Co. between 1899-1905.
The side view of the bridge, with elegant curved brackets supporting a lattice-work parapet, belies the heavy network of massive steel girders and criss-crossing supports that you see when you pass underneath the bridge, along the Clyde Walkway. The steel superstructure is supported at each roadside by 6 cylindrical piers and in the river by 2 wide rectangular arched piers and despite the noise from traffic and trains above has a stillness and cloister-like atmosphere when viewing the piers across the river from underneath.
On the other side you can will see the remains of the original 4 track railway bridge, designed by Blyth and Cunningham engineers and built by Sir William Arrol & Co. between 1876-1878. The track and girders were removed in 1967 and all that remains of it today are the supporting paired piers linked by cast iron arches. You can study these in more detail as you walk across Glasgow Bridge over the River Clyde. In celebration of Glasgow European City of Culture in 1990 the sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay created an artwork of the piers inscribing the words “ALL GREATNESS STANDS FIRM IN THE STORM”, in English and Greek, into the granite piers.
- Continuing straight along Bridge Street look to the right at the next road junction where you will see the Kingston Street Bridge. Built by Sir William Arrol & Co. in 1906 for the expansion of the Caledonian line. Although not as elegant as the Caledonian Bridge, it has some similar features, like the curved brackets which support the parapet of steel plates topped with lattice-work.
4&5. While walking along Bridge Street towards Nelson Street note the blonde sandstone building with 4 archways flanked by doorways, what was the second Bridge Street Station built in 1890. The next two bridges along the line, at Nelson Street and Wallace Street, also built by Sir William Arrol & Co. in 1906, are of the same design as Kingston Street Bridge. Walk underneath Nelson Bridge to study the girderwork spanning the street and then turn left onto Commerce Street to get to Wallace Street.
- Continue along Commerce Street and at the T junction turn left onto Cook Street. By this point the railway line has split with one route heading west and the other continuing south, which our walk will follow. Take the first right onto Salkend Street, running adjacent to the railway line, and walk towards the railway bridge which crosses over the street and Caledonian Railway line. This bridge is very different to those preceding and is an earlier bridge, built in 1870 when the Glasgow & South Western Railway’s (G&SWR) Union Line was first developed. Like the Caledonian line we have been following, the Union Line was expanded in 1899 and Sir William Arrol & Co. built the bridges to carry the new tracks across the road network. After 1966 when passenger services on this line were stopped, two of the tracks went out of use and some of the bridges were removed, including the ones Arrol built at Salkend Street and Eglinton Street. You can still see the stone piers from the Arrol bridges on the north side of the Salkend Street Bridge.
- Looking across the railway line you can just see the curve of the Eglinton Street Bridge. To get to it you first have to continue up Salkend Street to Kilbirnie Street where you turn left underneath the M74. The modern concrete and steel construction of the motorway viaduct, opened in 2011, is an interesting contrast to the 19th Century engineering of Arrol. Follow the railway line down the other side along Eglinton Street until you come to the bridge, where again you will see the stone piers of that would have supported the Arrol bridge.
- Walk down to the Eglinton Street Bridge and turn right before passing underneath it. From here we follow the G&SWR line heading east and all of the bridges that remain along this stretch of line were built in 1899 by Sir William Arrol & Co. At each bridge you can still see traces of where the original bridges were removed. Follow the peaceful pedestrian walkway on the south side of the railway line towards the Abbotsford Place Bridge.
- Continue along the walkway to Salisbury Street and pass underneath the bridge. Note the two levels of the bridge. The lower level carried the railway track and the higher level carried the platform which was reached from Cumberland Street Station, to the east of the bridge. Turning right you can see what remains of the derelict red sandstone station building.
- Continue along Cumberland Street to the next bridge which crosses both Cumberland and Surrey Streets. Note the steel pillars used to provide additional support to the bridge as it traverses the corner junction. From here you get good views of the bridges along the viaduct.
- Continue to follow Cumberland Street under the bridge and turn left onto Gorbals Street, originally called Main Street. Note the similarity between the Cumberland and Gorbals Street bridges with their bow-shaped latticework parapets.
- Follow the pedestrian walkway alongside to the viaducts to the bridge at Cleland Street, originally Greenside Street Bridge. From here you can very clearly see where the 1870 bridge has been removed and the unused tracks are now overgrown with trees. The bricked-up archways underneath the bridge display a permanent exhibition about 3 famous people born in the Gorbals, Hannah Frank, Benny Lynch and Allan Pinkerton. Pause here to study the historic Maclure & Macdonald’s map which shows the route of the 1870 railway line through the Gorbals.
- Continue to follow the viaduct along Cleland Lane which veers to the right along the route of what used to be Rutherglen Road. Unlike the other railway bridges this one has retained its old name and is known as Old Rutherglen Road Bridge.
- Passing underneath the bridge leads onto St. Luke’s Place and turning to the left you will see the next bridge, at Ballater Street.
15. Pass underneath the Ballater Street Bridge and continue straight ahead to Gorbals Street where you turn right and follow the road back to the River Clyde. At the river turn right onto the walkway from where you will see the final railway bridge and one of the most impressive of our walk. This is the Union Railway Bridge which was built in 1897-9 to replace the 1870 2-track bridge. It was designed by William Melville, Engineer to the G&SWR. Sir William Arrol & Co. were contracted to do all the steelwork and Morrison and Mason the foundations and masonry.
The bridge carries the railway line over the River Clyde and the 2 adjacent roads on the south and north banks, which were known as Adelphi Street and East Clyde Street. The section crossing the river is a 5-arched steel structure supported on stone piers with red sandstone half-turrets decorated with crenellations and arrow slits. Each of the latticework steel arches has a decorative cast-iron cornice and parapet. The abutments on each bank are in red sandstone, matching the medieval styled piers, but with much larger full turrets. The single spans of the bridges over the roads are of plain latticework.
The Bridges, structural steel work, and mechanical engineering productions book lists a further 2 bridges built by Sir William Arrol & Co. for this line before it entered St Enoch Railway Station. These were at Dunlop Street and Stockwell Street but, like the Station itself, these were demolished to make way for the St Enoch Shopping Centre and no trace of them remains.
From here you can follow the Clyde Walkway along the river and return towards Central Station and another opportunity to see the Caledonian Bridges from a different angle. Alternatively you can follow the river east through Glasgow Green, as I did, and visit The People’s Palace. This museum has a couple of interesting Arrol items from the Dalmarnock Iron Works on display. One is a marble bust presented to him by his employees in 1888 on completion of the Forth Bridge, the other is a brass plaque from his employees commemorating his death in 1913, both symbols of the high esteem in which he was held.