William Armstrong, Magician of the North was shortlisted for the Portico Prize for Literature and the H. W. Fisher Best First Biography Prize. The book has had eighteen 5-star reviews on Amazon. Also available from Waterstones and Booksetc.


Dreams of Nature: the creation of Jesmond Dene

Henrietta Heald will speak at the Heaton History Group on Wednesday, 25 March 2015, about William Armstrong and the making of Jesmond Dene. Doors open at 7pm. Reserve your tickets now.


Robson Green at Cragside

In the first episode of his new series of Tales from Northumberland, Robson Green visits Cragside and inaugurates the newly installed Archimedes Screw.


Armstrong Whitworth & Co. and the Great War

As part of the series World War One At Home, Radio Newcastle acknowledges the crucial role played by the Tyneside firm.


The Admirable Speech

See the video clip (left) for Chris Connel's dramatic re-enactment of Sir William Armstrong's presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science.


Len Deighton on Armstrong
Banqueting hall reaches 150
Swan and the light bulb
Thomas Sopwith's diary
The life of Anne Armstrong
Monster gun revealed


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Portillo visits Armstrong's Swing Bridge


TV personality Michael Portillo joins author Henrietta Heald on the south bank of the Tyne. (Photo: Port of Tyne)

Great railway journey brings Michael Portillo to Newcastle

The hugely popular BBC television series Great British Railway Journeys, presented by Michael Portillo, has visited Newcastle upon Tyne for the first time in five years. The subject of interest on this occasion was William Armstrong, the Victorian inventor, engineer and industrialist who built the Swing Bridge across the Tyne. The Armstrong programme was first broadcast on BBC2 on Friday, 23 January 2015. It demonstrated that the hydraulically operated Swing Bridge still works perfectly more than 140 years after its creation.

Constructed in the 1870s to replace a low-arched stone bridge, the Swing Bridge was designed to revolve on its axis to allow the largest ships of the time to pass through and steam upriver. The foundation work was carried out by the Tyne Commissioners, and the wrought-iron superstructure and hydraulic operating machinery were both supplied by Armstrong's Elswick Works. It gave Armstrong a gateway to the sea – the prelude to opening a shipyard at Elswick.

Occupying virtually the same site as the bridge built in AD120 by the Roman emperor Hadrian, the 560-foot-long Swing Bridge has three piers of solid masonry set into cast-iron cylinders sunk to a depth of 45 feet below low-water mark and filled with concrete. Its two central openings are spanned by the twin parts of the superstructure that swing round the central pier. Each of these openings provides a clear passage of 104 feet. Opened and closed with apparent ease by means of hydraulic power, its movable section is 281 feet long and weighs more than 1,450 tons.

Although it is rarely opened today, the Swing Bridge is still carefully maintained by Port of Tyne. It had its busiest ever year in 1924, being opened more than 6,000 times. By the early 21st century the number of openings had exceeded one quarter of a million. The Swing Bridge also proved a fitting companion to Stephenson’s High Level Bridge of 1850, slightly to the west, which was high enough above the waterline to allow large ships to pass underneath it.


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