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Kelso Bridge

Road Bridge (19th Century)

Site Name Kelso Bridge

Classification Road Bridge (19th Century)

Alternative Name(s) River Tweed

Canmore ID 58470

Site Number NT73SW 64.01

NGR NT 72791 33614

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Kelso
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Roxburgh
  • Former County Roxburghshire

Accessing Scotland's Past Project

On 25 October 1797 a violent storm undermined the middle arches of the old Kelso Bridge over the River Tweed, and the weakened structure collapsed the following day. Dismayed by the loss of the bridge, shares were issued to raise funds for a new crossing over the river.

John Rennie of Haddington, who would later work on Waterloo Bridge in London, began work in 1800. His design used five semi-elliptical arches, a revolutionary design based on French practice, and had a level carriageway. The bridge was much admired by the people of Kelso, and in 1838, the minister J A McCulloch wrote approvingly of its modern design. It was built at a cost of #17,800, with #15,000 borrowed from the Government.

To repay the loan, it was deemed necessary to levy a toll on traffic crossing the bridge. By 1854 it was realised that the loan had been easily repaid with over fifty years of tolls. The refusal of the trust managing the bridge to publish any of their accounts led to riots and an assault on the wooden toll gates. Soldiers were summoned from Edinburgh and although order was finally restored none of the leaders of the riot were ever caught. Later in the year, the tolls were finally abandoned. A local tradition maintains that the 'reluctant pennies' of those crossing the bridge wore the groove along the parapet toward the toll-house.

Text prepared by RCAHMS as part of the Accessing Scotland's Past project

Archaeology Notes

NT73SW 64.01 72791 33614

Kelso Bridge [NAT]

OS 1:10,000 map, 1993.

Not to be confused with Kelso, Teviot Bridge, for which see NT73SW 79.

For (predecessor) Old Bridge (apparently at the same location), see NT73SW 64.00.

For adjacent pillbox and tollhouse, see NT73SW 103 and NT73SW 110, respectively.


Architect: John Rennie, 1800-3


Scots Mag. XVI, p303 - 1st stone of existing bridge laid, June 17th 1754

Scottish Record Office

Kelso Bridge: a payment of £40 towards the bridge.

Cash Book.

1802 GD 157/894

(Undated) information in NMRS.

Kelso Bridge was built 1800-1803, engineer John Rennie. Hume notes that it is one of his finest and, in design, was a precursor to Waterloo Bridge in London. The 5-span bridge has the Rennie 'signature' level carriageway, which is generally unusual for a bridge of this date. The cutwaters are rounded below Doric columns which are repeated on the abutments. There is also a dentilated stringcourse which is echoed in the nearby tollhouse (NT73SW 110).

J R Hume 1976.

Kelso Bridge and Toll-house, 1800-3, John Rennie. Level carriageway supported on five elliptical arches, the piers built off rounded cutwaters which carry paired engaged Doric columns. At the W end, cast-iron lamps salvaged from Rennie's London Bridge on its demolition in the 1930's.

Kelso was his first major bridge, replacing that (NT73SW 64.00) of 1754 (swept away in 1797). Sir William Fairbairn, Kelsonian (1789-1874), the mechanical engineer, worked here as a 14-year old, being almost crippled by a falling stone.

C A Strang 1994.

Kelso Bridge. Descheduled.

Information from Historic Scotland, Certificate of Exclusion from Schedule dated 23 February 1996.

This bridge carries the A698 public road across the River Tweed to the S of Kelso.

The location assigned to this record defines the centre of the span. The available map evidence indicates that it extends from NT c. 72825 33655 to NT c. 72735 33550.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 1 February 2006.


Construction (1801 - 1804)

Modification (1921)

Strengthening and repointing

Modification (1981)

Parapets rebuilt

Project (2007)

This project was undertaken to input site information listed in 'Civil engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders' by R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

Publication Account (2007)

This bridge over the Tweed is one of John Rennie’s finest and a precursor to his magnificent Waterloo and New

London Bridge over the Thames. He designed it in 1799 for the local road trustees to replace a six-arch bridge,

built a short way upstream in ca.1755, that had partially collapsed in 1797 because of scour to its shallow

foundations. The bridge, built from 1801 to 1804, has five semielliptical arches of 72 ft span and 10 ft rise that provided a greater waterway than its predecessor. The foundations are all sunk at least 7 ft into bedrock and were built in cofferdams that were pumped dry by a waterwheel in a mill-race on the south bank. The width between the parapets is 24 ft. The contractors were Murray & Lees and the cost was £12 876. The architectural details are correct and bold, with a wide projecting cornice, columns and entablatures

perfectly proportioned, and rusticated cutwaters. The steep rise of the ground at the south end required a highbridge and the choice of a horizontal line of road and parapets to give a symmetrical elevation necessitated an embankment at the north end. A serious accident during construction nearly deprived

the nation of Kelso-born, Sir William Fairbairn. When 14 years old and working as a labourer at the bridge, a

stone he was carrying proved too heavy and his leg sustained a ‘fearful gash’ which threatened to make him

a cripple. Fortunately he recovered to fulfil a destiny which included experimentally developing and making

iron girder bridges, culminating in the 460 ft spans of the Menai tubular bridge by 1850, more than six times

greater than those of Kelso! Masonry re-pointing and some bridge strengthening took place 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 with much new stone being used.

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering Scotland: Lowlands and Borders' with kind permission fromThomas Telford Publishers.

Sbc Note

Visibility: Standing structure or monument.

Information from Scottish Borders Council


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