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20 YEARS: Evening tilt planned to mark Millenium Bridge Anniversary

20 YEARS: Evening tilt planned to mark Millenium Bridge Anniversary

The Millennium Bridge, Image: NCJ Media

The Millenium Bridge will be tilting on Friday evening to mark 20-years since it first opened to the general public.

Despite getting its name from the dawning of the new millennium, it didn’t feel the footfall of pedestrians crossing the Tyne until Monday, September 17 2001.

A year earlier, on November 20, it had been carefully lowered into place after a breathtaking journey down the river, borne by the world’s largest floating crane, Asian Hercules II.

Transporting the 850-tonne bridge, from its birthplace – the Amec Yard in Wallsend, was no mean feat.

The five-mile river journey was meant to be carried out a month earlier but bad weather had scuppered the plans.

When the journey finally took place thousands lined the banks of the Tyne and  millions watched on television as the bridge made its spectacular way up the river at glacial pace.

The sophisticated precision-engineering operation was a success, and one of Tyneside’s  stunning landmarks had finally come home.

At the time the Chronicle reported: “Tyneside woke up today to the magnificent sight of the new Millennium Bridge arching over the River Tyne.”

The bridge’s story started in 1996,  when Gateshead Council took the daring decision to enter the race for millennium funding and announced a design competition for a new bridge.

More than 150 entries were received from architects and engineers across the globe.

These were whittled down to a short list of six, with an entry from engineering firm Gifford and Partners and architects Wilkinson Eyre  unanimously picked by the panel of judges.

Finally, after half a decade, the “blinking eye” would open  to the public for the first time.

The Chronicle reported how crowds thronged along the Tyne to see history made on the day of the official opening.

The article read: “Thousands queued to cross the £22 million structure for the first time following a weekend of celebrations. Despite the cold weather and drizzle, eager fans started queuing at 10am.

“At 2pm the barrier was raised and thousands of people who had been waiting patiently on both sides of the Tyne began to swarm across the world’s first rotating bridge.

“Many stopped to gaze in awe at the picturesque views. Some stopped to praise the remarkable feat of engineering.”

Pedestrians made their way across the bridge and had to queue on the Newcastle side if they wanted to return.

The first people to cross got a commemorative medal gift from Gateshead Council.

The reporter added: “It was a crossing that was over in minutes, but one that will stick in the memory for ever.”

Gateshead Council estimates that the tilt will take place at around 7pm.


Words: Herbert Soden, Local Demcoracy Reporter

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