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CHARLES BANNERMAN: Old bridge is fond memory of better architectural era

By Charles Bannerman

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Some people refer to Ness Bridge as the New Bridge.
Some people refer to Ness Bridge as the New Bridge.

One of many childhood memories from Dalneigh is the constant thump, thump, thump of a distant pile driver, hammering in the supports for what everyone called “The New Bridge”. Many older Invernessians still do, even though it opened in 1961.

Before that, the town was graced by the magnificent, iconic suspension bridge that had spanned the Ness since 1849, supplemented 90 years later by the Temporary Bridge, which eventually became a misnomer of two decades’ standing.

The “New Bridge” is an elegant structure, so perhaps created a false sense of security before the visual obscenities that proliferated over the next decade.

That old, asymmetric suspension bridge has now been gone for over 60 years but lives on as a much-loved, symbolic part of Inverness heritage, and you still hear regrets that it was ever knocked down. But, although retaining its artistic appeal is a lovely, romantic idea, this was regrettably never a starter.

Even by the 1930s, this beautiful construction was considered no longer fit for purpose and was only saved from demolition then by the outbreak of war. Despite it being the major town centre link between the A96/A9 south and the A82/A9 north, its narrow east arch could only accommodate one vehicle at a time, and the only alternative was Academy Street or the Longman via the Black Bridge.

So if mid-20th century traffic volumes were beyond it, imagine the total gridlock even by the ‘70s. Similarly, think Kessock Bridge against the Rosehaugh car ferry, but there were other problems. Bridge Street was also far too narrow and the decrepit buildings on its south side needed demolishing for road widening. So now, after further quantum leaps in traffic, what do the current council want to do? In order to access cash to change Academy Street, they intend to narrow Bridge Street again to create a cycle lane.

I’ve often wondered if it was really necessary also to demolish the magnificent Castle Tolmie at the riverside, unless to straighten up the previous line of the “squinty” old bridge, or the old Police Station and Public Library beside the town house?

That these attractive Inverness landmarks may have disappeared simply to make enough room for Upper Bridge Street remains the stuff of nightmares.

One of Inverness’s great unsolved mysteries is the political skulduggery that led to that ghastly epitome of pseudo-Communist brutalism being imposed on Inverness, and becoming a precedent for more of the awful same. Claims, some from credible sources, about contractors, architects, smoke-filled meetings and even brown envelopes have abounded for years, but hard evidence is said to be scarce.

However, I partly digress from my main point about the suspension bridge which, even supplemented by the Friars Bridge and the West Link, had absolutely no chance of survival in its original location.

Perhaps, like London Bridge in the late ‘60s, they could have expensively removed it stone by stone and relocated it, not to the United States, but further along the river, maybe as a foot bridge to replace the Infirmary or Greig Street crossings?

That however is a complete fantasy, but it’s nice to look back on part of Inverness from an altogether more architecturally civilised era which still retains much affection in the minds of many people.

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