Descendants of two of the pioneers of the Transporter Bridge are returning to their Teesside roots this weekend to join in the celebrations marking the famous landmark’s centenary.
Hartlepool-based Charles Smith was the true inventor of the transporter bridge 38 years before the iconic structure across the Tees was built, while it was the vision and determination of Alderman Joseph McLauchlan that turned idea into reality.
The proud descendants of Smith and McLauchlan will join 160 VIPs and 200 local schoolchildren at the Transporter’s 100th birthday party at the foot of the bridge on Monday.
While Smith’s great grandson, Axel Charles Andersson-Gylden is travelling from Croydon in Surrey, two members of Joseph’s family have travelled somewhat further.
The 16 McLauchlan ancestors include the former Middlesbrough Mayor’s last surviving grand-daughter, Ruth Wilson-Bigg, aged 89, who has made a five-day journey across seven time zones from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, in western Canada to attend the festivities.
Ruth will be joined by her niece, Joseph’s great granddaughter, Dr Rosemary Clews, who has made the journey from Fredericton, New Brunswick, eastern Canada. Other family members are travelling from different areas of England.
They will attend the carnival, spectacular outdoor show and fireworks finale over the Transporter on Sunday evening before attending an official birthday celebration on Monday, exactly 100 years after Prince Arthur of Connaught officially opened the bridge.
Before making the journey, Rosemary, who grew up in York, said: “I can’t wait to meet relatives I have not seen for decades and to meet for the first time relatives who have only been names to me.
“When I was a child, I was taught to be very proud of my great grandfather. There was a picture of him in his mayoral robes prominently displayed in our living room. I was told that he did wonderful things for the working people of Middlesbrough and he saved lives by having the bridge built.
“When I was small, I was taken to Middlesbrough to look at the bridge and the plaque laid by my great grandfather. I remember being amazed by the size of the bridge. I have not seen it for over half a century.”
Joseph’s great granddaughter Peta Sutherland is bringing with her an engraved silver trowel and ebony mallet used by the former politician and businessman to lay the Transporter’s foundation stone during the building work more than a century ago.
The commemorative tools were passed on to Peta by her grandmother, Lucy Riley, Joseph's daughter and wife of Stockton alderman John Rileyowner of the one thriving business, Riley Boilers.
Peta said: "We are all very proud of Alderman McLauchlan's achievement in persisting with the
dream he had of linking both banks of the Tees with such an amazing feat of engineering, which has now become an iconic emblem of Teesside's proud tradition.”
Charles Smith was manager of Thomas Richardson and Son’s Hartlepool Engine Works in Middleton, close to the town’s harbour, when he drew up detailed plans for the first transporter bridge – or ‘bridge ferry’, as he called it – in 1873. However, Middlesbrough Corporation turned it down in preference to a horse and cart-pulled ferry.
Alderman Joseph McLauchlan brought the idea of erecting a transporter-style bridge across the River Tees back to the discussion table in 1901. Initially ignored, he was a driving force in the political power struggle to win over the doubters until the bridge was finally give the go-ahead in 1907.
Also attending the centenary celebrations is London-based author Freya North, a dedicated Transporter supporter, who based one of her love story novels, Secrets, around the bridge.
The centenary celebrations are being held thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, whose £2.6m grant will also enable renovation, including the installation of a glass lift to the top of the structure, to be carried out over the next three years.