Go Forth from Frome

The iconic Forth Bridge in Scotland has a very interesting connection with Frome, Somerset. It was completed in 1890 and was named as a World Heritage Site in July 2015 by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). The bridge was identified as an ‘important milestone in bridge design. It was construction during the period when railways came to dominate long distance land travel’.

A World First

As the world’s first steel bridge, it is still the longest multi-span cantilever bridge. It is also the longest illuminated railway bridge in the world. According to legend a man fell into one of the caissons during the construction of this remarkable bridge.  Workers tried in vain to get the poor man out.  They eventually decided to feed him poisoned sandwiches.  He sadly died and his body remained in the caisson, where it is to this day.

Together with Sir John Fowler, the bridge was designed by Sir Benjamin Baker who was born on 31st March 1840 in Keyford, which is now part of Frome.

Sir Benjamin Baker

After attending school in Cheltenham, he went on to become an apprentice and later an associate partner in iron works companies.  He was instrumental in the construction of the Aswan Dam, the transportation of Cleopatra’s Needle from Egypt to the Embankment in London and in the development of the London underground system, especially the Metropolitan Line.

Although William Morris said that the bridge was “the supremest specimen of all ugliness”, and “a testament to robust and conservative over-engineering”, the Forth Bridge is an engineering marvel. It was was considered an eighth wonder of the world when constructed. Today it is proudly featured on the Scottish twenty pound banknote…and it all started in the market town of Frome – going ‘Forth for Frome’.

This Frome story was published in the Frome Times in July 2018: