Monday 7 November 2022

Book Review / Favourite Newcastle Books No.3: 'The Tyne Bridge'

The Tyne Bridge: Icon of North-East England
By Paul Brown
Hurst & Co., London (2022); 253pp + illustrations; £16.99 hardback
or here (discount code available)

It's not often I get my hands on a new book at the moment it is released onto the market. I usually hang around for a bit until I can get it a bit cheaper a few months down the line (I'm mean like that). However, I was both honoured and delighted to be offered a copy of this excellent tome by the publishers ... and I am pleased to say that it instantly jumps into the pantheon of my 'favourite Newcastle books'!

Surprisingly, perhaps, this is the first history book dedicated to the subject matter in question. With the centenary of the bridge's opening fast approaching (in 2028), author Paul Brown wisely stepped in ahead of the game to produce a fabulous tribute to what is perhaps the region's most recognisable landmark. Pleasingly, it is laid out in strictly chronological order in three distinctive sections: the history of the many and various river crossings on and near the site of the Tyne Bridge; the building of the bridge itself; and, finally, a look at its near 100-year existence at the centre of Geordie life.

Brown's book is very much a celebration. It opens and closes in suitably 'mushy' fashion, which will bring a tear to the eye of any proud Tynesider. And there is nothing wrong with this, for it brings forth a passion often missing from local history writing. But the facts are all there, too - an astonishing amount, in fact. If you thought you knew all there was to know about our great bridge and city, then think again: this work contains hundreds of nuggets plucked from the archives, many, many of which you will not have come across before. There is mention of William Wallace's 'unmentionable part' being put on display in the town after his execution (a fact acknowledgeably taken from Dan Jackson's The Northumbrians); interesting links with the nearby 'Monkey Bar' are explored; and then there's the show-off painter who got the sack for his high-rise acrobatics! And there are many more, including a birth on the bridge, and a plan to blow the structure to smithereens! BTW, you'd do well to check out the copious notes in the back of the book for much additional information.

As you would expect, comparisons are made with the great Sydney Harbour Bridge; and likewise the lesser-known, but related, Hell Gate Bridge, New York. There is also a heck of a lot of biographical information about the individuals and characters involved with the bridge's history in one way or another. Not only do we learn of the men and women who took the bridge from the drawing board to reality, but also of the folk who laboured so dangerously to put the giant real-life Meccano set together. And then there is 'Tommy on the Bridge' - and, of course, the three individuals who lost their lives during the construction work.

Brown's writing style offers a nice balance for both the historical novice and experienced readers alike. He does not try to be overly clever with his phraseology (as some writers are prone to be), nor does he try to show off. There are some nice turns of phrase, and his passion is there for all to see in black and white. Brown clearly loves his home patch, and if you do too, then you'd better get yourself a copy of his book.

And £16.99 for a hardback is pretty good value. I suspect that The Tyne Bridge will sell well this Christmas, and deservedly so.


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