The world’s first aluminium bascule bridge was constructed at Hendon Dock in Sunderland during 1948. It was part of a project to improve and enlarge the dock and was considered of such importance that it was opened by no less than Alfred Barnes MP the then Minister for Transport.
Notable railway and maritime painter Leslie Carr was commissioned by the bridge constructors, Stockton based Head Wrightson, to capture the new bridge on canvas. Perhaps best known for his striking railway poster artwork, Carr captured the bridge surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a busy dock.
Retained by Head Wrightson, the painting was presented to the site construction manager for the bridge, Derek Kerr of Sunderland, on his retirement by Sir John Wrightson. Keen to preserve the painting for future generations Mr Kerr contacted Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens with a view to donating the painting.
Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, Councillor John Kelly, said: “The construction of the
bridge, and the painting itself, are fascinating insights into Sunderland in the immediate post war period.
“We’re privileged and very grateful that Mr Kerr has donated this painting to Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. It will be an important addition to the great industrial and maritime works already in the collection.”
The lifting bridge, used by both rail and road traffic, allowed Carr to combine maritime and railway subjects in one image; a River Wear Commissioners locomotive passing above several small vessels.
Mr Kerr said: “I want to preserve the painting for future generations and for it to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. I contacted Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens with a view to donating the painting and the team there were thrilled by the offer.
“I think it not only adds to the fantastic collection of local paintings but also tells the story of this important structure that was part of a grand post war dock enlargement and improvement scheme.”
Martin Routledge Keeper of History said: “Aluminium was the wonder material of its age. It is both relatively light and very strong. Head, Wrightson & Co of Stockton had started making mining engineering equipment out of aluminium alloys in the 1930s and they were awarded the contract by the River Wear Commissioners to build this bridge.
“The bridge was reckoned to be much lighter than a standard steel bridge of the same type. That lightness meant that less power was needed to open it, and it could open more quickly. Unfortunately, the aluminium of the bridge reacted with steel components in the structure leading to damaging corrosion and the untimely scrapping of the bridge in 1977.”
The newly arrived painting is expected to be exhibited as part of a new exhibition at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens late this year.