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Fort Brown Bridge - Great Fish River
Fort Brown, Eastern Cape

Joseph NEWEY: Engineer



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33°07'40.87" S 26°36'49.45" E Alt: 266m

A substantial steel lattice girder wagon bridge - an historical and engineering landmark - remains in place at the crossing over the Great Fish River at the Fort Brown peninsular on the Queens Road between Makhanda (Grahamstown) and Fort Beaufort. Completed in 1898 it survives as an interesting layer of the development of this part of the Eastern Cape.

The bridge was built on the existing stone piers of the timber bridge that had been washed away in the flood of 1874. The road approaches to the new bridge were lined at each end with a short section of dressed stone wall. The approach wall on the Grahamstown side has a rectangular stone plaque set into the wall recording the following wording:


The bridge comprises a total of ten individual bridge spans, each approximately 16,5 m long (and 4 m wide) with a total span of about 165 m. The bridge spans at each end are supported with hammer dressed stone abutments. The lattice girders are all fabricated of rivetted hot rolled steel sections. Nine pairs of circular steel columns formed of forged and rivetted steel plates, support the bridge spans over the river itself. Each pair of steel columns was erected on the original substantial hammer dressed stone bases in the river bed, The stone bases had been built to deflect the force of the river water. The junction between the steel columns and the stone bases was reinforced at each column with substantial steel girders fixed onto the stonework and additional straps returning down the face of the stone bases - possibly an attempt at reinforcing the structural connection at some later stage.

The circular steel columns are capped with decorative hollow forged and moulded capitals, filled with concrete. The girder bearing plates are mounted on top of the concrete filled capital. Heavy steel pipe handrails are mounted on both sides of the roadway with robust, well detailed cast iron brackets.

The bridge was manufactured by JOSEPH WESTWOOD & Co, ENGINEERS, LONDON, as evidenced by the oval cast iron manufacturer's plaque (dated 1895) rivetted onto the inside top face of the top rail of the east girder of the northern bridge span. All components would have been transported to the site on ox-wagons. The construction of the bridge was undertaken by the Public Works Department of the Cape Colony, under the direction of Joseph Newey.

The bridge is no longer accessible from the southern approach as a previous flood has washed the approach away. The bridge is however still accessible from the north side.

The bridge is being used as a point to extract irrigation water from the river. A number of plastic water storage tanks are mounted on the road bed of the bridge. A cat ladder has been mounted against the east (downstream) face of one of the steel columns to enable access to the top of the stone base - presumably to service the submersible pump used to extract the irrigation water.

William A. Martinson, February 2023

Writings about this entry

Walters, Dennis. 2014. Bridging the Eastern Cape : the life and work of Joseph Newey. East London: Coral Tree Press. pg 120 B14