Iron Bridge

The world’s first large iron bridge was erected across the River Severn in 1779. The second, across the River Wear at Sunderland was opened in 1796. By 1812, when this cast-iron bridge in Hulne Park was constructed, cast iron was generally considered a suitable material for bridges. Thomas Telford had built four bridges in cast iron. But in the North-East, long experience with stone, and the collapse of a cast-iron bridge at Yarm in 1806 had an influence on the choice of materials. Across Northumberland and Durham twenty bridges had to be substantially rebuilt after serious floods between 1771 and 1815. All but one were rebuilt in stone.

So the choice of cast iron here is both early and rare. The next iron bridge in the North-East would be across the River Gaunless: built by George Stephenson in 1823 for the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

The Hulne Park Iron Bridge was designed by David Stephenson (1757–1819). No relation to George or Robert, David’s father was John Stephenson, a carpenter who came to prominence after taking just four months to construct a temporary wooden bridge that replaced the medieval Tyne Bridge after it collapsed in the flood of 1771.

Beginning his career as an apprentice carpenter, like his father, David Stephenson studied mathematics, geometry and drawing. He then turned to architecture, and studied at the Royal Academy in London from 1782. He married after retiurning to Newcastle, became architect to the Corporation and laid out Mosley Street and Dean Street, where some of his work survives. He also worked on internal restoration of St Nicholas Cathedral, and widened the Georgian Tyne Bridge.

He had wider influence: John Dobson served his architectural apprenticeship with Stephenson from 1804 to 1809. Supposedly it was Stephenson who encouraged Dobson to resist the temptations of London and establish his career in Newcastle. Stephenson became a founding member of the Literary and Philosophical Society and an early member of The Society of Antiquaries. In 1803, when there were fears of invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte, he organised and commanded a defensive company of volunteers.

For the Duke of Northumberland Stephenson superintended construction of numerous farm buildings and designed a new quay at North Shields which was never completed. In Alnwick his best-known work is the Percy Tenantry Column.

David Stephenson died here, in Alnwick on 29th August 1819. He is buried at one of his most important works: All Saints Church, in Newcastle, which he adapted from a scheme for Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

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