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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Bridge photos go at auction
Britannia bridge being built
The bridge was built to carry rail freight and passengers
The oldest known surviving pictures of one of the most celebrated bridges of its day have been sold at auction for more than double the estimated price.

Three sepia photographs of the Britannia Bridge were bought by a private buyer from Anglesey for 3,176 - more than double experts' predictions.

They show the bridge, designed by engineer Robert Stephenson, being built in 1849.

The price of the photos was pushed up by fierce telephone bidding which saw the local buyer win the day.

Cataloguer Chris Albury said he was surprised: "The photographs are incredibly rare and possibly unique.

"We didn't really expect them to go to a private collection and thought they would be bought by an engineer or dealer in London or New York.

"But the home team won in the end!"

Robert Stephenson and Britannia
Helped his father George Stephenson form Newcastle's Robert Stephenson & Company, the world's first locomotive builders
Britannia Bridge considered his most remarkable work
The bridge was originally designed as a suspension bridge but after tests the tubes were considered strong enough to take the weight of trains themselves without chains
Sculptor John Thomas made four limestone lions to "guard" the entrances to the bridge
The bridge had to be rebuilt after a serious fire in 1970
Stephenson was an MP from 1847 and was interred in Westminster Abbey after his death in 1859

Britannia bridge was designed to carry the Chester and Holyhead railway across the Menai Strait and became the second bridge to link Anglesey with the mainland.

Mr Albury added: "The photographs are of technical interest because they document and reveal the systematic creation of the bridge."

Engineer Robert Stephenson's design was structurally revolutionary because of its tubular structure.

It consisted of riveted wrought iron plates developed originally for boilers and iron ships.

Stephenson's theory was tested by ironmaster William Fairbairn and mathematician Eaton Hodgkinson before the two 459ft spans were floated out on pontoons and lifted into position by hydraulic jacks.

The pictures show the first tube as it lay when floated into position, ready to be raised by hydraulic pressure.

Although it remains a mystery who took the photographs, a clue has been left by the initials JP in the corner of each picture.

Mr Albury said the best suggestion for the photographer's identity is a J Price of Plas Cadnant mansion in Menai Bridge, whose grounds overlooked both the bridges across the straits.

Britannia bridge today
Britannia bridge now carries the A55 from the mainland to Anglesey

One is dated 13 September, 1849.

Britannia Bridge opened in 1850 and celebrated its 150th birthday in 2000.

Stephenson, who helped his father George build the rocket steam locomotive, also designed the High Level Bridge in Newcastle about the same time.

Mr Albury said there are a few earlier photographs of industrial subjects, such as Fox Talbot's photograph of Hungerford bridge in 1845 but "these do not have the same technical interest in their subjects as do those of the Britannia bridge".


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