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Development of reinforced concrete bridges

The use of reinforced concrete in the UK probably started with the Homersfield Bridge over the River Waverney on the Norfolk/Suffolk border in 1870, when iron was embedded in the concrete. However, it was not until the first decade of the 20th century that reinforcement as we know it today was introduced. This was due almost entirely to L. G. Mouchel, the UK agents for the Hennebique system. The first project in the UK was the 18 ft (5.5 m) span bridge at Chewton Glen, Hampshire in 1902, followed two years later by a 40 ft (12 m) span beam and slab bridge at Sutton Drain, Hull.

Other systems followed including Monier (Copner footbridge, 1902), Kahn (Lucker, Northumberland, 1906), Considere (Great Eastern Railway, Tottenham, 1908) and Coignet (Metropolitan Railway, Kings Cross). These pioneers created the platform for local authority designs notably in Somerset and Devon.

The first reinforced concrete rail bridge, which had a 28 ft (8.5 m) span, was built in Dundee in 1903. This was followd by reinforced concrete bridges designed by Mouchel (Bristol 1907) and Coignet (Bargoed, Wales).

By the 1930s there were about 2000 reinforced concrete bridges in the UK, with notable designers such as Sir Owen Williams emerging between the two World Wars. Major bridges of the period were the Royal Tweed Bridge (Berwick), Chiswick, Twickenham and London Bridges, and the George V Bridge (Glasgow).

Reinforced concrete was still being used in the 1950s for larger bridges, especially arches, but by the end of the 1960s it had been largely superseded by prestressed concrete.

A paper by Chrimes entitled The development of concrete bridges in the British Isles prior to 1940 was published in 1996, see Reference below. This traces the the use of concrete for bridges in the British Isles from its 19th century origins to the outbreak of the Second World War. 

Concrete Society Technical Report 70, Historical approaches to the design of concrete buildings and structures, reviews the development of design standards for bridges and gives information on how concrete and steel design strengths have developed over the years.

Acknowledgement: Concrete Bridge Development Group

Other references:Chrimes, MM. ´The development of concrete bridges in the British Isles prior to 1940´, Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers, Structures and Buildings, August/December 1996, pp. 404-431.

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The development of standard prestressed concrete bridge beams

TR70 Historical approaches to the design of concrete buildings and structures