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Editorial (1863-11-06)

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The Bridging of the Friths. Dundee Advertiser, Friday 6 November 1863, p.3 col.2-3 (pdf image)

(Published Nov 6 1863)
An editorial arguing that the time is ripe for the construction of a rail bridge directly linking Dundee to routes south. The editorial recalls a proposal in 1835 for a bridge across the Tay river at Mugdrum “which emanated from the original and highly-speculative mind of Mr Matthew”, but questions “whether Mugdrum is now the best place for the purpose”.

Some years ago, when the through railway system was only about to be introduced in this quarter, Mr Patrick Matthew, of Gourdie Hill, suggested the bridging of the line across the Tay near Mugdrum, and since that time several other gentlemen have renewed the proposal which emanated from the original and highly-speculative mind of Mr Matthew. It may be questioned, however, whether Mugdrum is now the best place for the purpose. It is to be considered whether, since Mugdrum was first named, Dundee has not taken a position of such importance as should materially modify the original plan.

Full text follows. Note that “Frith” is an archaic form of “Firth”.

THE BRIDGING OF THE FRITHS.

In these days when time is distance, the question of bridging both the Frith of Forth and the Frith of Tay is only a question of time, and we apprehend that the period when it will force itself upon the attention of capitalists cannot be very remote. There is something irritating to business men in the existing position of Dundee on the railroad system of Scotland. Most literally our town is on a siding, far away from the main route southwards, while, from its geographical position, it ought to be on the direct route. To reach London from Dundee, or Dundee from London, is the pursuit of progress under difficulties. To reach London we should go south-east as the crow flies, whereas we are whisked away south-west, as if our destination were Ireland, and we do not turn eastwards again until we have got a glimpse of the waters of the Irish Channel. The train is handled like a ship that has to beat southwards against a stiff head-wind, and the first tack is in the direction of America, until the Irish Sea is touched, after which we go round and make for the German Ocean. If this detour were caused by any necessity for catching a trade wind it would be nautically correct, but when made by a railway train it is a provoking anomaly. Let us illustrate the matter by a homely comparison. England spreads into the North Sea eastwards, like the lower portion of a leg of mutton, of which leg Scotland is the narrow upper part near the shank and yet, when we want to reach the Continental side of the leg, which bulges half seas across towards Antwerp, we occupy nearly half the journey in a slanting movement towards the American side of the leg. It is not needful here to mention the cause of this vexatious circumlocution. Figure a couple of gaps awkwardly hewn by some hungry fellow in the upper part of the mutton leg we have imagined, and we have an image of the two gaps made in the land by the two Friths of Forth and Tay. The presence of these arms of the sea interposes two salt water voyages between the traveller and his destination, and the time lost in the performance of these marine passages reconciles passengers so completely to the axiom, “time is distance,” that they are induced to put the proverb in practice, and to substitute distance for time, by going round by Carlisle. Nor is the fault one only felt by in the north. In the densely-populated eastern counties of England, the inhabitants are almost as thoroughly away from the through routes northwards as if they lived in a foreign land. It is easier to get from London to York than from Yarmouth to the same city — a reflection which points to the ultimate bridging of that English frith the Humber, and to the formation of an East Coast thoroughfare, which shall in reality, well as in name, be on the east side of the island.

In the presence of the great things that have been done in tubular and suspension bridges in America and in Wales we can see no serious difficulties in the way of bridging the Tay. The bottom of the river is, like that of the Lawrence, of rock; the hills on the river side are steep — a favourable circumstance; and the present annual cost of the Tay Ferries is so incredibly heavy that it would, we should suppose, go far to pay the interest on the whole sum required for the work. Judging from what we know of the locality, the things most important for the formation of great high-level bridge,— viz , a good foundation, and convenient side elevations, already exist. In the formation of the monster bridge over the St Lawrence, the engineer had to contend with rushing current, with the annual formation of ice of from four to five feet thick, and with the heaping up of that ice into drifting bergs. In the bridging of the Niagara there was no possibility of founding pillars in the river, and therefore the whole distance had to be spanned on the suspension principle: and in some of the high level bridges of the United States the elevation and span are so great that, when we view the stereoscopic pictures of them we are filled with wonder to think that structures which thus stride over valleys, and make a level way in mid-air from hill top to hill top, have not been more heard of on this side of the water. It seems strange that a nation whose lifetime has not as yet equalled that of some of its oldest citizens, should thus have completed architectural works worthy of the ambition of Imperial Rome, and it suggests to us the question why, if the Americans, in their half-cultivated country, have achieved so much, we, in this old and rich and compact little island, should hesitate to throw a bridge over the Tay. That the business begins to press is acknowledged by all who feel the insular position of our eastern towns, and that the requisite work might now be completed far more economically than were the experimental structures will be acknowledged by all engineers.

Some years ago, when the through railway system was only about to be introduced in this quarter, Mr PATRICK MATTHEW, of Gourdie Hill, suggested the bridging of the line across the Tay near Mugdrum, and since that time several other gentlemen have renewed the proposal which emanated from the original and highly-speculative mind of Mr MATTHEW. It may be questioned, however, whether Mugdrum is now the best place for the purpose. It is to be considered whether, since Mugdrum was first named, Dundee has not taken a position of such importance as should materially modify the original plan. It is matter for deliberation whether a firmer bottom — a bottom of solid rock may — may not be found nearer to Dundee, and with that bottom rocky bluffs on each side sufficiently lofty to form natural platforms by means of which to approach the high level bridge at a fitting elevation. Now, at Mugdrum, and indeed all along by the Carse of Gowrie to within a few miles of Perth, the north bank of the river is low, spongy, and flat — unsuited in level and material — whereas at a point a little to the westward of Tayport both banks are lofty and rocky, and the bed of the river between is narrow and hard. Why not, then, bring the railway straight across the Tay from the high ground on the south to the high ground on the north, and at such a height as to allow the largest ships to pass beneath? The place seems to have been made on purpose for a work of this kind. There is coal on the other side of the river which is much wanted in Dundee, but which has more difficulty in getting here than it would if stored in some Northumberland port. There is a passenger trade undeveloped, because unaccommodated; for the interposition of a ferry is fatal to regularity and high speed. It would, indeed, be a short-sighted thing to base any calculation of the profitableness of the proposed bridge on the present restricted traffic in goods and passengers. Once let us get rid of the Ferries, and in a few years some of the busiest railway stations in Scotland will be those on the direct route through Fife. Wherever there is made a rapid and straight communication through a district previously insulated, and out of the way of all such communications, the line creates a trade for itself, and the previously drowsy and almost immoveable population soon learn to spend more and more of their life upon wheels. A high-level tubular or suspension bridge on this side [of] Broughty would complete the access to Edinburgh by way of Queensferry, and with the two in operation, Fife would no longer be the jog-trot timewasting, temper-trying place for travellers it now is; Dundee would cease to be regarded as the great unapproachable; and sailors coming to Dundee from the South would have less occasion to bless their eyes at finding railway voyage to resemble so much in its bends and doubles the doubling of the Cape.

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