Tuesday 18 April 2023

A Grand Day Out in Chester: celebrating 100 years of the new Queens Park Suspension Bridge

This year we celebrate 100 years of one of the most significant landmarks in Chester. We have looked back through newspaper reports and records held at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies to relive the local anticipation and excitement that surrounded the opening of the new Queens Park suspension bridge.

There had been an older bridge in existence since 1852 and it was used as a private bridge that provided a connection between the Queens Park Estate and the city and avoided a longer route round via Handbridge. The decision was made to replace the structure with a new bridge and demolition of the old bridge began in August 1922.

On 18th April 1923, the new Queens Park suspension bridge was officially opened by the Mayor of Chester, the Sheriff and aldermen of the city. Crowds gathered along both banks of the river and the steamers on the river were crowded with people too. One of the headline articles of the Chester Chronicle on 21st April 1923 was ‘great crowd witness unusual event’ and the paper reported that ‘the scene on the bridge was one that made a great impression on all who witnessed it’.

All the City officials were present with the Mayor of Chester, Councillor SR Arthur Hall, presiding over the event. The Sheriff, Chief Constable, City Surveyor and aldermen of the city processed to the bridge from St John School dressed in their formal robes along with the official sword and mace bearers.

The Mayor gave a speech in which he thanked all the people who had contributed to the construction of the bridge. He thanked the City Engineer, Charles Greenwood, who had developed the design for the bridge. At Cheshire Archives we hold a fascinating photograph album belonging to the City Engineer showing improvements and developments in the city. It includes a number of photographs of the early construction of the bridge.

The firm of W H Brockelsby of Birkenhead held the contract for masonry and the groundwork foundations and a separate contractor, David Rowell & Co of London, was appointed to create the steelwork. After the tower foundations had been laid, the sections of steelwork were transported to the site and constructed in situ.

The design of the bridge had been previously reported in the Chester Chronicle on 14th April 1923 - it described the bridge as a ‘wire rope stiffened suspension bridge’. It revealed further statistics on the bridge - a total length of 277 feet (beating the old bridge by twelve feet) and a width of 12 feet (twice the width of the old bridge) and finally a load capacity of 160 tons. Further points of interest in the design were copper ball finials on the towers that were designed to weather to a light green colour over time.

The Mayor stated that the bridge had to have certain conditions of use and they are listed in the minutes of the City Improvement Committee on 13th April 1923 and show how things have changed over the last one hundred years:
  • That no bicycles shall be ridden across the bridge
  • That no barrows, handcarts, or other vehicles other than perambulators and bathchairs, shall be allowed on the bridge
  • That no person shall run about, jump on the bridge, or use the bridge as a diving platform…. or use the bridge in such a manner as to cause unnecessary vibration.
  • That no horses or cattle be allowed on the bridge
The Mayor drew attention in his speech to the heraldic shields fixed to the towers which were symbols of the early history of the city. The coats of arms depict the first seven Norman Earls of Chester along with the arms of the Palatinate of Chester. Cheshire Archives hold the original design drawings of the shields (ref: ZCR 715/1-10) and you may have read a recent blog by our Conservator where she talks about the process of conserving these drawings for future generations to enjoy.

The Sheriff gave a vote of thanks too and said that ‘he hoped it would be appreciated as one of the beauty spots of their wonderful old city of Chester' and ‘would be a credit and source of pride to the citizens of Chester.’

When the speeches had concluded, the Mayor moved forward and ‘formally removed the rope obstruction which crossed the bridge and released the union jack which fluttered from the tower above the ancient heraldic symbols’ and announced, ‘it is my pleasure and honour, and I do hereby declare the bridge open.’

The Mayor and company then walked across the bridge and retraced their steps. Then it was the turn of the public and ‘there was a tremendous rush on to the bridge when the barriers were finally removed and there was great competition as to who should be the first across.’ 

Finally we can leave you with some contemporary sound recordings taken from our Chester Talking Tour which recount the opening of the bridge and the competition to be first across the bridge: Queen's Park Bridge in Living Memory: A Talking Tour of Chester and Stream Queen's Park Bridge - the Grand Opening by Cheshire Archives & Local Studies