Once it crossed the River Mersey, but now it has gone

WIDNES IN CHESHIRE is across the River Mersey from the town of Runcorn. In the past, both places were important industrial centres. Currently, they are linked by two impressive road bridges (the Mersey Gateway, opened in 2017; and the Silver Jubilee Bridge, opened in 1961 and given its present name in 1977) and a Victorian railway viaduct. The Silver Jubilee Bridge (‘SJB’) begins cross in the Mersey from Widnes near to St Mary’s church and the Victoria Gardens.

A few feet downstream from the SJB, there is what looks like a short jetty projecting a little way over the Mersey. On one side of this, there a small building with two separate slate roofs. The wide jetty-like structure looks disused. And so, it is. The structure is all that remains on the Widnes riverbank of the Widnes–Runcorn Transporter Bridge. Until 1905, when it was constructed, the only bridge across the Mersey at Widnes was the railway bridge (variously named as The Runcorn Railway Bridge, Ethelfleda Bridge, and Britannia Bridge), which was opened in 1868.

Between 1901 and 1905, when it was opened, the transporter bridge was under construction. It was the first of its kind in Britain. At each end of the bridge there was a 180 feet high steel tower. Suspended from them and spanning the length between them was a 1000-foot-long girder along which ran a continuous loop of cable. A transporter car was attached to the cable. The loop of cable was wound around a wheel attached to a winch on an engine housed in a building: the one which can be seen on the jetty-like structure at Widnes. As the wheel rotated, the cable moved, and the car attached to it moved across the river and high above it. The crossing took about 2 ½ minutes in favourable weather.

When it was built, the transporter bridge was cheaper to construct than a conventional bridge such as the one that replaced it in 1961 (i.e., the SJB). The transporter bridge, which was deemed inadequate for modern traffic volumes, was closed on the day that the SJB was opened, and it was demolished soon after. All that remains in Widnes is what can be seen at the end of Mersey Road next to the start of the SJB and Victoria Gardens. Although we did not visit Runcorn, I have read that the approach to the transporter bridge can be seen on that side of the river.

When we came across the remains of the transporter bridge, we had no idea what we were looking at. We asked several young people nearby, and they were unsure of its purpose. Older people whom we met in the nearby friendly pub (The Mersey), whose garden provides not only a pleasant place to drink but also a fine view of the SJB and the railway viaduct, were able to inform us about the bridge which is no more.