Thursday, 11 February 2010

Birchenough Bridge

Memories of the building of of Birchenough Bridge

Inner Page of Cover


IT has given me great pleasure to be asked to contribute a foreword to this booklet which is being issued as a Souvenir of the opening of the Birchenough Bridge. Sir Henry Birchenough is well known to all Rhodesians as one whose unremitting sympathy with the progress of our country and whose invaluable assistance, as Chairman of the Beit Trustees, in matters tending to its development, make it most fitting that this great Bridge should bear his name.

Once again we acknowledge the debt we owe to Alfred Beit, the far-seeing provisions of whose Will have made the building of this Bridge possible, a Bridge which will, I am sure, prove of inestimable benefit to the Eastern Districts of the country by bringing them into closer touch with their markets and with the rest of Rhodesia, and will facilitate the flow of tourist traffic to one of the most beautiful and fertile portions of the colony.

Prime Minister

birchenough bridge

THE magnificent bridge spanning the Sabi River, a gift to the Public of Southern Rhodesia from the funds of the Beit Trust has, at the request of the people of Rhodesia, been named " THE BIRCHENOUGH BRIDGE" in recognition of the services given to the country by Sir Henry Birchenough, Bart., G.C.M.G., the Chairman of the Beit Railway Trust and President of the British South Africa Company. Portraits in bronze of Sir Henry Birchenough, by Mr. Sydney Kendrick, and inscription panels in bronze have been inserted in the east and west abutments.

The bridge was built to give the people residing in the eastern districts access across the Sabi River to the central districts of Southern Rhodesia. In addition, the bridge will serve to open up to visitors from the Union of South Africa and elsewhere one of the most beautiful mountain districts in the territory.

The bridge crosses the Sabi River with a single arch which rises to 280 feet above the river, and is 1,080 feet in length, a span which is exceeded by only two other arch spans:—-the great bridge crossing Sydney Harbour, and the Bayonne Bridge over the Kill van Kull Creek, south of New York.

The Birchenough Bridge was designed by Mr. Ralph Freeman, consulting engineer to the Beit Trust, who also designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Beit Bridge over the Limpopo River.

The bridge is the first long-span bridge to be con­structed in the British Empire with modern high tensile steel. With trifling exception, the whole structure is made of Dorman Long & Company's " Chromador" steel—a material possessing a strength 50 per cent, greater than that of the mild steel generally used for bridgework and 20 per cent, stronger than the silicon steel used for Sydney Bridge. The use of this material made it possible to construct the bridge at a moderate cost as a single span. This avoided the necessity for making piers in the river bed which was found to be of a shifting and treacherous character. Even if the river bed had been normally stable, the type of bridge adopted, which was selected by the Trustees after full consideration of possible alternatives, was found to be the least costly.

The roadway has a width of 18 feet and is designed for heavy-type Colonial loading. Footways are formed on either side of the road so as to allow for the uninterrupted passage of two lines of traffic.

The total weight of steel is 1,500 tons and it is note­worthy that this is the same weight as that of the Victoria Falls Bridge designed originally for two lines of light railway traffic, bat of less than half the span of the Birchenough Bridge.

In the combination which the design provides of an exceptional span with light weight and small capital outlay, the arch span is unique in bridge construction.

The bridge was erected by the same process as that used for the Victoria Falls Arch and subsequently for the Sydney arch—by building out the arch in two halves as cantilevers, anchored back to the rock shores by wire ropes. The anchorage ropes used were the actual ropes used for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and are now incorporated in the Birchenough Bridge as the suspenders of the roadway.

Material was delivered to the west bank of the river by road and the rapid and completely successful transport of the heavy and cumbrous pieces of material under conditions of exceptional difficulty, was an achievement for which great credit is due to the Rhodesia Railways Road Transport organisation and to the Roads Department of the Govern­ment of Southern Rhodesia. The steelwork for the east side was carried across the river by a cableway.

Foundations were commenced in April 1934 and were ready for steelwork in November. The arch span was completed on June 17th, 1935, and the concrete roadway was practically complete at the end of September, 1935.

The only work then remaining was unimportant auxiliary construction and painting. The whole of the works were finished so as to enable the bridge to be opened to traffic on December 20th, 1935, the time occupied by the entire construction being 20 months.

The contractors for the supply of steel, manufacture of steelwork, and erection, were Dorman Long & Company, Limited, of Middlesbrough, England, whose previous experience, as the builders of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the arch bridge, of 530 feet span over the Tyne, Newcastle, was of great value.

Bridge Site: Sabi River before work was commenced.
April 1934

East Bank: Excavation work started on the skewback foundations.
May 1934

East Bank.Concrete work commenced at the south-east skewback.
August 1934

Bearings in position ready to be concreted.
September 1934.

East Bank. Skewbacks and bearings completed.
October 1934

East Bank. Erection of temporary ramp at back of skewbacks on which creeper
crane was erected for travelling up on the arch.
November 1934

East Bank. Skewbacks and bearings completed.
October 1934

East Bank. Erection of temporary ramp at
back of skewbacks on which creeper crane
was erected for travelling up on the arch.
November 1934

East Bank. Commencent of erection of steel-work.
December 1934

East Bank. Furst panel completed with crane on top chord.
January 1935

Driving the First Rivet.
22 January, 1935

West Bank. First panel completed.
January 1935

Position of steelwork of arch.
End of February 1935

Position of steelwork of arch.
End of March 1935

West Bank. Position half-arch.
End of April 1935

Position of arch, early in June 1935

Closure of arch, early morning.
17th June 1935

Arch completed.
July 1935

View of arch from west to east. Deck in process of construction.
Middle of July, 1935

West Bank. View of arch from west to east showing completed
steelwork of deck and approach span

View of deck looling east. Placing reinforcement in concrete roadway in the foreground.
August 1935

View of Bridge approaching from Umtali.
August 1935

View of Bridge. North side looking west.
Creeper cranes being dismantled.
August 1935

General View of roadway under construction.
September 1935

General view of completed bridge with approach spans and abutments.
December 1935

Re-compiled by Eddy Norris from the brochure that was made available to ORAFs by
Diarmid Smith. Thank you Diarmid



At 11 February 2010 at 17:26 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Tim Musto Writes:-

Was last there on my 1000cc Suzuki, doing a tour of Chipinga, Chimanimani etc.
Hot as hell from what I recall.....and just sand in the Sabi !!

Brilliant engineering. I bet it will see many more decades, if not centuries.

At 11 February 2010 at 17:29 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Neil Baalbergen

As a matter of interest, in his book "My Life Was A Ranch", DM Somerville describes the difficulties of travel before the bridge was built. He also devotes a couple of pages to the part he played in helping locate the eventual site of the proposed bridge. (DM Somerville won the Umtali North seat in the 1933 elections, representing the Reform Party).

At 12 February 2010 at 07:53 , Blogger Lisa said...

Made a round trip to the Chimanimani form Mutare - missed a turnoff and ended up at Birchenough. Was a very long day - but what a wonderful sight. Hot yes, but magnificent. Tad bit of water in the river - was before Cycolne Eline. Would LOVE to see if there are pics of the river after that cyclone

At 23 February 2010 at 01:59 , Blogger Rozanne said...

I used to go to Birchenough and the Hot Springs when I was training as a nurse, often as a means to getting used to sleeping at night instead of the day after night duty stints. What a breathtaking view that bridge is and at the time it was built an engineering work of art. I daresay its not being maintained the way it should be....which if it is the case will be great tragedy...

At 14 June 2010 at 12:30 , Blogger DK said...

In June '52, an American tourist in the Birchenough Hotel bar bet me £5 I couldn't climb over it. I did, wearing Inkomo Camp army boots which, with steel studs, were not ideal. The Yank paid up and the proceeds were drunk by me and everyone in the bar. I weaved a somewhat erratic course on my AJS5OOcc from there on the strip road to stay with the Bridges family on Devuli Ranch. At the turn off, I encountered miles of sand, fell off and went to sleep until the beer had worn off, telling my hosts I had got lost. Those were the days.

At 13 March 2013 at 15:21 , Blogger Sedias Makarange said...

What a magnificent site for the first time when i went there for a school trip!Though my home is located a couple of miles North,i had never been there.Thanks for the Headmaster of Betera High School,my Dad&My Mom who made the trip successful.Wonderful architecture by his Majesty Sir Ralph Freeman,a blessed hand by sir Henry Birchenough and all those who participated for the project to be a success!May their soul rest in peace and to those who are still surviving God bless you!

At 11 October 2013 at 21:10 , Blogger Peter Charuma said...

Thanks for everyone who contributed towards this mastered structure.Munodadisa and may your soul rest in peace

At 11 October 2013 at 21:21 , Blogger Peter Charuma said...

This structure linked trade between province and districts in our country there by promoting trade domestic and international .Thanks to Sir Birchenough and the rest of his team for putting our country on the map and promoting tourism and I hope this will last for decades if not centuries.

At 5 November 2015 at 16:46 , Blogger Unknown said...

beautiful thing l comment. l am happy its in my country Zimbabwe. have been there once and l enjoyed walking across it. My ancestors played a big part in the construction of this creature l hope they benefited something out of it as it was made during the colonial era

At 6 April 2016 at 05:20 , Blogger John Sorger said...

I wonder how many millions of years of evolution will be required before the stone-age primitives in subaharan Africa will be capable of building such a bridge.

At 22 January 2017 at 21:35 , Blogger Kduri said...

Pamwe vamwe veganda redu ndivo vaishandiswa zvavo pasina muripo

At 22 January 2017 at 21:53 , Blogger Peter Charuma said...

I'm sure the state of the Bridge is not well looked after and with the ongoing flooding of Sabi River if not we'll maintained the worst will come.


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