Union Chain Bridge: A three-year engineering challenge concludes


One of the world’s oldest suspension bridges has been fully refurbished and rebuilt after nearly three years.  

Credit: Spencer Group.

Construction and engineering company, Spencer Group, has successfully restored the Union Chain Bridge linking England and Scotland, which is more than 200 years old. 

The heritage bridge works specialist, based in Hull, was appointed by Northumberland County Council. 

Funding for the scheme was sought and won from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) after concerns about the condition of the bridge became serious. The full restoration cost £10.5 million. 

Works started in October 2020 and lasted 30 months.  


Credit: Spencer Group.

The Union Chain Bridge spans 449 ft (137m) over the River Tweed from Horncliffe in Northumberland to Fishwick in Berwickshire. 

It was designed by retired naval Captain (later Sir) Samuel Brown, who held patents for the design of the bridge’s chains, although he altered the tower and abutments on the suggestion of Scottish civil engineer, John Rennie. 

When it opened in 1820, it was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world. 

The crossing, which is both a Grade I listed building in England and a Grade A listed building in Scotland, is credited with being a catalyst for bridge innovation.  

It influenced the design of many other famous structures and remains the world’s oldest suspension bridge still carrying traffic.  

Until the 1970s, little maintenance had been carried out. However, the entire deck was replaced in the mid-1970s.  


Credit: Spencer Group.

The programme of essential works carried out by Spencer Group began with the engineers first having to dismantle every bit of the bridge, before the complete refurbishment and rebuild. 

A condition of the heritage project was to ensure modifications were in keeping with the historical significance of the bridge.  

This included restoring, rather than replacing, the suspension chains and using the same type of stone to repair masonry work on the bridge’s two towers. 

Union Chain Bridge is also only accessible to one vehicle at a time due to its restricted width. It previously had a weight restriction of two tonnes but, following the restoration and rebuild, this has been increased to three tonnes. 

Spencer Group also remodelled the English and Scottish approach roads to incorporate parking for visitors. 

A 10-mile detour for local traffic was in place during the programme of works. 


  • National Lottery Heritage Fund  
  • Northumberland County Council 
  • Scottish Borders Council 
  • Museums Northumberland 
  • Friends of the Union Chain Bridge 

“It’s been a privilege and an honour for us to carry out this crucial heritage project to preserve such a historical structure for future generations,” said Joe DiMauro, engineering director for Spencer Bridge Engineering. 

“It’s been a long journey, from the initial planning through to removing the whole structure, refurbishing all the components, and completely rebuilding it. 

“It’s been incredible to have been part of the project from start to finish and it feels like a great achievement now that it’s complete.” 

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