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Dorman Long and Newport Bridge

The Tees Valley during its industrial heyday was home to many iron and steel-making companies. One of the most successful and recognisable was Dorman Long and Co. It was in the 1920s when the company began to specialise in building bridges and they constructed one of the most recognisable bridges in Middlesbrough – Newport Bridge.

Tees Newport Bridge. Image courtesy of Middlesbrough Museum Service.

Arthur Dorman’s career in iron and steel began in 1870 when he was 22 years old. Family connections enabled him to work as an apprentice at Stockton iron works and he quickly progressed up the ranks. Within five years he was in partnership with Albert de Lande Long and the two bought the West Marsh Ironworks in Middlesbrough.

The 1880s were a time of new innovation and technologies in steel-making, which Dorman and de Lande Long took full advantage of. This included investing in open hearth furnaces, which produced better quality steel than the Bessemer process which was currently used.

This put them in competition with the leading steel-makers in Middlesbrough, Bell Brothers, who had been in business since 1809 under a different name. In 1903 Dorman Long acquired half of Bell Brothers and continued to grow into a strong industrial force. During the First World War Dorman Long contributed greatly to the war effort in supplying ammunition. After the War the company began diversifying into bridges.

Between 1926 and 1937 there was a steady period of bridge building. A total of 13 bridges were built in this time both in Britain and Worldwide, starting with the Omdurman Bridge in Sudan and ending with the Chien Tang River Bridge in China. Dorman Long built three prominent bridges in Britain – the Tyne Bridge in 1928, Lambeth Bridge in London in 1932, and Middlesbrough’s Newport Bridge on 28th February 1934. They built their last bridge in 1961, the Silver Jubilee Bridge in Runcorn and Widnes. In 1967 Dorman Long and Co. was nationalised into the British Steel Corporation.

Newport Bridge was a vertical lift bridge, the first of its kind to be built in the UK. It was built specifically so that the main part of the bridge could be lifted to allow ships to pass under it, and then lowered again for people and vehicles to cross. The bridge was fitted with two electric motors and a petrol engine in the event of a power failure. It only took a minute and a half for the bridge to be raised or lowered. It was possible for the bridge to be raised and lowered manually with a winch system, but this would have taken eight hours to do. During its working lifetime between 1934 and 1990, Newport Bridge was raised and lowered twice a day. On average 800 ships a year would pass under it.

Gradually the number of ships sailing up the River Tees declined and the bridge was lifted a final time on 18th November 1990. Rather than be dismantled, the bridge was converted into part of the A1032.