Before I begin writing I would like to take a minute to dedicate this post to the Bridge maintenance teams of past, present and future, whose work may go unnoticed by many, but is important to all.
Beside me sits a book over 100 years old, a log that begins in 1910 and has a month by month record of all work undertaken by the maintenance team up until 1960. I was tasked with going through the entries in an attempt to discover how snow and ice were originally removed from the bridge, a mystery that had eluded us, and I am sorry to say still does.
While I was unsuccessful in finding out this particular piece of information, this maintenance log offered an insight into something else. It showed the true rigours of working on the bridge and demonstrated the tireless efforts of the maintenance team, who were responsible for the upkeep of the bridge 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This appeared to be more than a job to many of the members of the maintenance team, some of whom dedicated huge portions of their lives to it. The bridge became integral to them just as they were integral to the bridge. They were the driving force in ensuring the bridge was kept in the highest condition, ensuring the safety of everyone who crossed it. The maintenance team had responsibility far beyond what one may at first imagine. As the bridge became an increasingly important transport link, having it run fluidly became essential, as the smooth running of the bridge helped relieve congestion and allowed for a smoother running of the city.
Being a maintenance worker on the bridge meant you became a jack-of-all-trades, with jobs ranging from clearing leaves and painting railings to more dangerous ones like climbing to the top of the bridge to install lightbulbs. Our friends at the British Pathe have some fantastic footage of the daring exploits of the maintenance team, showing the dangerous nature of day to day life on the bridge.
But danger also came to the bridge in a much more destructive way during the Second World War. On the night of December 2nd 1940 a bomb dropped by the Luftwaffe hit the bridge on the Leigh woods side, causing damage to both toll booths and scattering debris everywhere. The very next morning the maintenance team were clearing the rubble and debris from the road and aided the toll collectors so vehicles could still pass into the city. The Bridge was again targeted in May of that year, with two bombs hitting the south side footpath. The constant threat of being bombed added a new level of peril to an already dangerous job.
However, despite the everyday dangers that were faced, it impossible not to notice the sense of camaraderie that appears in the log, giving a sense that to the maintenance team, working on the bridge was much more than just a job.
Written by Harrison Phipps, Intern.