Britain can rightly be proud of being home to a huge number of spectacular and architecturally impressive structures and landmarks, but many aren’t actually known by name.

That is largely the case for the Millennium Bridge in Newcastle, which when mentioned by name isn’t immediately recognized by much of the British population. However if shown a picture of it, almost everyone will recognize it as the striking bridge crossing the River Tyne which featured for many years on the back of our one pound coin.

As well as having an impressive and attractive enough appearance to grace British currency, the Millennium Bridge also has a fascinating back story to its design and delivery. The story begins with a design competition and ends with a truly eye-catching British landmark.

The background and design of the Millennium Bridge

The story of Newcastle’s Millennium Bridge begins back in 1996 when Gateshead Council launched a competition to find a bridge that would link developments on both sides of the River Tyne, and also complement the existing six bridges crossing the river.

The council reportedly received more than 150 entries to that competition, but the winner was the design submitted by Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Gifford & Partners. That design came to be known colloquially as the ‘blinking eye bridge’ due to the similarity of appearance which the bridge holds to an eye as it blinks when it tilts to allow ships to pass.

The design was roundly praised from start to finish and eventually led to a raft of accolades and awards. Wilkinson Eyre won the 2002 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize, Gifford & Partners won the 2003 IStructE Supreme Award, and the structure itself won the Outstanding Structure Award from International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE) in 2005.

The construction and mechanics of the Millennium Bridge

As well as having an interesting back story when it comes to its design and appearance, the construction and mechanics of this British landmark are also notable.

The sections of the bridge were fabricated separately by Watson Steel in Bolton before they were transported to Gateshead to be welded together at the AMEC works in Wallsend. After being painted with a weather resistant paint, the entire bridge was then ready for its final journey.

This journey lasted for six miles along the course of the River Tyne, during which time the bridge was carried by the Hercules II floating crane, the largest such vehicle in the whole of Europe. The finished bridge was lowered into position in November of 2000 and underwent its first ‘tilt’ in front of an estimated crowd of 36,000 people in June of 2001.

This tilt, and all of those which have followed it, is the means by which the bridge allows passage of small ships along the river, and is undertaken by six 45 cm (18 in) diameter hydraulic rams (three on each side, each powered by a 55 kW electric motor) which rotate the bridge back on large bearings.

All that was left then, was for the bridge to have its official opening. This occurred on the 7th May 2002, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who were in the region as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations.

The Millennium Bridge is a spectacular landmark in a thriving city.