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Tongland Bridge

Road Bridge (19th Century)

Site Name Tongland Bridge

Classification Road Bridge (19th Century)

Alternative Name(s) River Dee; Tongueland Bridge

Canmore ID 64106

Site Number NX65SE 63

NGR NX 69200 53347

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 Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Kirkcudbright
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Stewartry
  • Former County Kirkcudbrightshire

Archaeology Notes

NX65SE 63 69200 53347

Location formerly cited as NX 6920 5335.

Tongland Bridge [NAT]

OS 1:10,000 map, 1990.

Not to be confused with Tongland Old Bridge (NX 6969 5365), for which see NX65SE 89.

For corresponding former railway viaduct (adjacent to E), see NX65SE 69.


Engineer: Thomas Telford

Alexander Nasmyth? designer - finished 1816


National Gallery of Scotland - 2 drawings of designs by Alexander Nasmyth

(Undated) information in NMRS.

(Location cited as NX 692 533). Tongland Bridge: built in 1804-8, to the design of Telford, this replaced the older bridge (NX65SE 89) upstream. Smiles describes it as 'bold and picturesque', with its wide arch of 112ft [34.1m] span and six pointed arches (three on either side). Tongland is undoubtedly one of Telford's best Scottish bridges, built as it is at a very difficult site posing quite considerable engineering problems.

I Donnachie 1971.

(Location cited as NX 692 533). Tongland Bridge: built 1804-8, engineer Thomas Telford. An interesting structure, with a segmental arch of 112 ft (34.1m) span, flanked on either side by a semicircular 'cutwater', carried up to form a pedestrian refuge, and by three 6ft (1.83m) span pointed flood-relief arches. The parapet is corbelled out, and is castellated, and the voussoirs of the main span are rusticated.

J R Hume 1976.

Built 1804-8 by Thomas Telford.

J Gifford 1996.

Removed from scheduling list (former no. 3037).

Information from Historic Scotland, 5 March 1996.

This bridge carries the A711 public road over the River Dee at the head of its estuary, and a short distance below the power station NX65SE 86.00. The river here forms the boundary between the parishes of Kirkcudbright (to the S) and Tongland (to the N).

The location assigned to this record defines the midpoint of the structure. The available map evidence suggests that it extends from NX c. 69188 53393 to NX c. 69208 53313.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 17 March 2006.


Publication Account (1986)

Because it is shrouded by trees and has a level carnageway with no rise to the crown of the arch, this handsome and well-engineered bridge does not make its special qualities obvious to modem road-users.

Indeed, the fact that it was the fIrst bridge to have weight-saving hollow ribbed spandrels instead of a solid masonry arch is one of its technical accomplishments that remains completely invisible.

On a single arch of 34.1m span, it crosses a steep-sided gorge at the uppermost reach of the Dee estuary where the river has a remarkable tidal rise of 6m and more. The foundations laid in the first building season (1804) were almost immediately washed away, and work recommenced under new contractors in the following year, the bridge finally being completed and opened in 1807/8. Designed by Thomas Telford in association with the celebrated Edmburgh archItect and painter, Alexander Nasmyth, the bridge has a very striking appearance. The arch is flanked by rounded turrets which, together with the corbelled and battlemented parapets, convey a marked castellated effect. To assist the flow of water at high tides, each of the approaches is pierced by three tall and narrow pointed flood-arches.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Dumfries and Galloway’, (1986).

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)

Tongland Bridge now carries the A711 about 60 ft over the Dee near Kirkcudbright. It was projected in 1803 and built from 1804–08 to link the port of Kirkcudbright with Ayrshire, Dumfries and Portpatrick, and its cost of £7710 was financed mainly by the Stewartry’s Commissioners of Supply, with £1100 from public subscription. It comprises a single segmental arch of 112 ft span with a rise of 32 ft, flanked by three narrow pointed Gothic

arches on each side, and is built mainly in rough-faced grey sandstone from Arran on which stone duty was

charged. The interior part of the arch is formed of a red sandstone from Annan.

The bridge was planned and designed by Telford, with a significant input to its external appearance from artist/

architect, Alexander Nasmyth. It was contracted for by country masons Sam and Alex McKean, S. Hyslop and A.

McGuffery in late 1803 and the foundation stone laid in March 1804. But the timber centring to carry a 133 ft arc

of arch-stones 312 ft deep for one of Britain’s largest spans proved beyond the masons’ skills and was demolished by flood water in August 1804.

Telford was called in to remedy matters. The contractors were relieved of their obligation to build the bridge for

what he considered the ‘quite impossible’ price of less than £3000, and Adam Blane was brought in as resident engineer. Under Blane’s direction the arch-ring was completed by day labour, using the centring shown, on 29 August 1805 and the whole bridge by 21 May 1808. The bridge was passable from November 1806.

The bridge is of particular interest as Telford’s earliest large span masonry arch and for his use of hollow spandrels to obviate outward pressure from internal fill, to reduce the weight on the foundations, and to facilitate inspection. Four slabbed-over cavities, wide enough to accommodate a man, run longitudinally. Although Telford did not invent this concept (see 6-16, Perth Bridge), he developed and promoted it for large spans using Tongland as an example in his landmark ‘Bridge’ treatise in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia from 1812. More locally he would have been aware of their use at Gilnockie Bridge (NY 3860 7815) with its handsome 70 ft main span and rise of about 25 ft built in ca.1800 at Hollows adjoining the Carlisle road four miles south of Langholm.

As an admirer of the Gothic style, Telford would have been pleased to include in his plan the turreted and

embattled elevation in rustic-style masonry of Nasmyth’s design. Between the main span and the pointed arch

side spans, semi-circular cutwaters extend as turrets to parapet height, forming pedestrian refuges at road level. The parapet is corbelled out but, as can be seen from the comparison of the photograph and Nasmyth’s drawing, Telford did not adopt Nasmyth’s castellation over the side spans or his eight octagonal towers above stringer level.

The bridge was strengthened in the mid-20th century with the provision of a reinforced concrete slab across the tops of the hollow spandrel walls.

The nextmajor bridge to be erected over the Dee, 112


downstream at Kirkcudbright, was a wrought iron bow truss bridge, with five spans of 71 ft and an opening span of 93 ft, erected in 1868. The engineer was H. J. Wylie and the contractors, Hopkins, Gilkes & Co., Middlesbrough. The bridge plates from its curved approaches can be seen at the entrance to Kirkcudbright Museum.

This bridge was replaced in 1926, retaining the original lamp standards, by the present five-span reinforced

concrete bowstring bridge of similar appearance engineered by Blyth & Blyth and L. G. Mouchel & Partners. It is a slender and notable example of its type from the era when it was fashionable to reproduce confidently traditional bridge types in the new material, even a suspension bridge at Montrose!

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007

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


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