Effin Bridge: its predecessors

The name Effin Bridge is given, in jest, to the railway bridge that crosses the Royal Canal in Dublin just below Newcomen Bridge. You can (I hope) see a Google map of it below. The railway crossing is to the right and slightly below Newcomen, and you can see the four jacks that lift the bridge. As far as I know the bridge has no official name so Effin, as in “That Effin Bridge is a nuisance”, seems as good as any, although I did suggest that it might be named instead after Sarah Kelly, the [ex-]whore who held the mortgage on the Royal.

Some folk think that Effin Bridge is a major obstacle to navigation on the Royal Canal and that, if it were replaced by some other structure, the numbers of boats using the canal through Dublin would increase significantly. The bridge had a reputation for unreliability, which didn’t help, although I haven’t heard of problems recently (which may simply show that I’m out of touch). Any replacement would be costly and the demand for bridge openings (ie the number of boats asking to use the bridge) seems to be very low (admitting that my figures are from 2013).

All of that is by way of introduction. This page is actually about the anonymous bridges that preceded Effin Bridge.

The need for a bridge

Here’s a blurry map from the OSI website (the quality is usually better than this; maybe the interweb is having a bad day). It shows the general layout, about 25 years after the Midland Great Western Railway [MGWR], who owned the Royal Canal, had made major changes to the lower reaches of the canal, including the construction of Spencer Dock.

Royal Canal and Liffey (OSI 25″ ~1900)

In 1872 the Dublin Port and Docks Board began deepening the Liffey at the point where the Royal Canal joined the river. The works cut off access to the canal and the MGWR decided to take advantage of the opportunity to expand the dock above the sea lock, making it 850 feet long, 100 wide and 15 deep. The sea lock was expanded to 190 feet by 26 feet by 15 feet deep. The quays on both sides were built with stone from the company’s quarries at Galway and Multyfarnham.

Here is an expanded section of the map showing the lower dock; the map is from ~1900, about 25 years after the works were completed. Note the “City of Dublin Steam Packet Company’s Railway” and the extensive cattle yards: livestock were an important export.

The lower dock (OSI 25″ ~1900)

When the Freeman’s Journal reported on the developments on 10 September 1872, the upper dock, Spencer Dock, was still being built. It was to stretch upstream from Sheriff Street Bridge to the Drogheda railway bridge. This curved dock was to be 1800 feet by 100 feet by 15 feet; enough gravel was extracted from the bed of the canal to ballast 20 miles of the MGWR’s railway line.

Above the railway bridge was “a basin for canal boats 500 feet long, and a slip for the repair of vessels is also to be added”. The depth in this section was only six feet, according to the Freeman’s Journal of 12 April 1873.

Spencer Dock (OSI 25″ ~1900)


Apart from the livestock and other cargoes entering and leaving, the MGWR expected that steamers would be able to bring coal into the docks for easy transhipment to the railway. There was already a line from the Broadstone down the east side of the dock; the company intended to add another down the west side. That line would have to cross the canal; hence the need for a bridge.

A diversion: Between the docks

This section is not about Effin Bridge or its predecessors: it is about the swivel bridge at Sheriff Street (replaced in 1941 by a lifting bridge or drawbridge). I put this in partly because there is little information elsewhere about the swivel bridge and partly because it was important to the career of the MGWR engineer, James Price.

Spencer Bridge at Sheriff Street (OSI 25″ ~1900)

The Ordnance Survey (OSI) map from around 1900 shows a swivel bridge at Sheriff Street, between the two docks. There had also been a proposal for a lock at that point, but I see no sign of that. However, the Freeman’s Journal of 12 April 1873 mentioned “The new swivel bridge and entrance gates”; perhaps there was a single set of gates to regulate entry. More information welcome.

Spencer Dock was opened by the Lord Lieutenant, Earl Spencer, on 15 April 1873; the Freeman’s Journal of 16 April 1873 carried a report of the proceedings at the dock and of the dejeuner provided later at the MGWR’s headquarters at the Broadstone (conveniently linked to the dock by railway). The speeches and toasts included praise from the company’s chairman, the newly-knighted Sir Ralph Cusack, for the company’s engineer, James Price, who had overseen the construction of the Spencer Dock and

… the admirably designed bridge that crossed Sheriff street, […] which was entirely an invention of Mr Price, tried and tested that day for the first time.

Cusack later proposed a toast to

“The health of Mr Price, engineer of the company”, to whose inventive ability he attributed the success of that day’s undertaking […].

The Freeman’s Journal of 12 April 1873 described the swivel bridge thus:

Underneath the line of this bridge, is a wooden buoy, ten feet deep and 10 foot in diameter, with a floating power equal to ninety-five tons. This will work as a balance to the bridge which weighs about one hundred tons, but the weight, resting on the centre point, owing to the compensating balance principle, is only five tons, and enables the bridge to be worked with the greater facility.

Bridges constructed on the old swivel principle took from ten to thirty minutes to be closed or opened, while the new bridge designed by Mr Price can be opened or closed in three minutes. This bridge furnishes ample accommodation for horse and carriage traffic and for pedestrians, and it combines attractiveness in appearance with genuine utility.

Colin Edmundson [private communication 3 December 2010] said that Price read a paper to the Institution of Civil Engineers on the subject in 1879; I can’t find it on the ICE archive, but it’s not easy to search with little knowledge.

Back to Newcomen

The high opinion of James Price expressed by Sir Ralph Cusack was not shared by everyone. At the company’s half-yearly meeting held on 6 March 1873 [Freeman’s Journal 7 March 1873] one Mr Slater criticised the construction of the dock, which had led to claims for damages for flooding, and said that the Spencer [Sheriff Street] Bridge had been “defectively constructed”. However, none of that caused any difficulty for Mr Price and there was no breach in the good relationship he enjoyed with the chairman. Later, though, works at Newcomen Bridge led to a falling out.

The works at Newcomen encompassed much more than a lifting bridge over the canal. They were designed to benefit the canal, the railway, the road and the sewers. From the Freeman’s Journal of 12 April 1873:

In connection with the new works, the lowering of Newcomen-bridge on the Clontarf-road must be alluded to. To effect this the old lock had to be moved higher up [ie from below to above the bridge]; and the old bridge replaced by one suited for the requirements of the tramway traffic.

The arch of the bridge crossing the Canal was lowered five feet, and a new girder iron bridge crosses the railway at the same level. The Main Drainage Board wisely took advantage of the opportunity of the Canal being drained to make a main sewer under the canal and the railway above Newcomen-bridge at the low level required.

Though much has been accomplished in the works which we have above described, and which reflect so much honour on Mr Price, the engineer by whom they were designed and under whose superintendence they have been brought to their present state, it would appear that much more in this locality remains to be accomplished.

The new Lock 1, above Newcomen Bridge


The resignation of Mr Price

On 15 March 1878 the Freeman’s Journal carried an ad from the MGWR which was seeking an engineer to succeed “Mr James Price, CE, who has resigned”. Six months later, at the company’s half-yearly meeting on 5 September 1878, the chairman sought permission to pay Price £900 in addition to £1200 he had already received. He had resigned on 13 March 1878 because of ill health after sixteen years in the company’s service with “some very hard times indeed, and very heavy work”. Mr Slater opposed the motion, inter alia because

There was a lift bridge, or a swivel bridge at the North-wall that was a grand undertaking, cost this company a deal of money; was it right now? What had to be done with it during the last few months? Did it not break down, and had they not at a large cost to repair it? Who advised that bridge? Whose scientific knowledge advised the work that had now cost this company double the original outlay?

There was a long argument about whether Price [who was present at the meeting and spoke at length] should be paid the money, why he had resigned, whether he was really in ill-health [he had started a private engineering practice] and whether he had been right to disagree with the board’s decisions about the allocation of certain items in the accounts [he had later written to withdraw his criticisms]. In the end the resolution to grant the £900 “was negatived by a large majority” and Price did not get the money.

The lifting bridges at Newcomen Bridge

Although the chairman and the board had presented Price’s case for an additional £900 at the half-yearly meeting in September 1878, their hearts were not in it. At the next half-yearly meeting, on 6 March 1879, the chairman gave more details [Freeman’s Journal 7 March 1879].

The next unfortunate accident was in connection with the balance bridge crossing the canal near Newcomen-bridge. At the last half-yearly meeting he was censured for not pressing the shareholders to give the £900 to Mr Price. He would tell them now what he did not tell them then — because he never thought that Mr Price would have treated them as he had done — that what influenced him in the matter was the transaction connected with that balance bridge.

The Government inspector of the Board of Trade directed them to raise the lift bridge that was originally there. Mr Price said it could be done easily, and was directed to get it done, and employed Messrs Courtney and Stephens to carry out the work.

Note that this suggests that there was a bridge at the spot, perhaps from 1873.

At the end of a few weeks the whole thing tumbled down and broke into little bits. Mr Price reported to the board on the following day that the castings were not according to the designs furnished, that the contractors were to blame, and that the company would not have to pay. At the first board meeting after Mr Price resigned, after he had been told what the directors would recommend the shareholders to do for him, he said before leaving the room — “I wish to pledge my word to the board that I am in no way to blame for the lift bridge; Courtney and Stephens are to blame, and you won’t have to pay them.”

Mr Price was asked to give that in writing, and there was his letter to the secretary reiterating the statement that the bridge was constructed in violation of the specifications, and that the company would not have to pay for it. Now the shareholders would hardly believe him (chairman) when he told them that in twenty-one days after that letter was written Messrs Courtney and Stephens having furnished their account, Mr Price gave them, in his own handwriting, an unqualified certificate “that the entire of the work” — that was the bridge that tumbled down — “was carried out according to agreement and to his entire satisfaction” (laughter). And it was supposed that after that he (chairman) was to come there and advocate strongly the giving to him of £900. He told them plainly that he could not do it (hear, hear).

The MGWR borrowed the services of the Port and Dock Board’s engineer, Bindon Blood Stoney, who designed a new balance bridge for the crossing. The new bridge cost the MGWR £1500 [Freeman’s Journal 7 March 1879], although Stoney gave a lower figure, perhaps excluding professional fees.

Mr Stoney’s bridge

Stoney described his bridge to the 48th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Dublin in August 1878 and to the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1879 [“Description of a new balance bridge over the Royal Canal, Dublin” in Min Proc Inst CE 58 (1878–1879)].

This bridge […] carries a short branch of the Midland Great Western railway of Ireland across the Royal Canal immediately below Newcomen bridge at the very oblique angle of 25°, and, though the canal is only 15 feet wide, the bridge carrying the railway is 40 feet long on the skew. The trains run over the bridge at from 2 to 3 feet above the ordinary water level, and whenever a boat is passing along the canal, the bridge is lifted from 8 to 13 feet, according to the height of the deck load, so as to permit the boat to pass.

The bridge is formed of two strong single plate girders of the usual type which lie underneath the rails, with cross girders and side brackets over which the platform is laid. It is lifted by a lever 40 feet long, formed of two plate girders braced together horizontally and attached at right angles to the centre of the bridge. This lever is balanced at its centre on blunt steel knife edges like the beam os a pair of scales. The weight of the bridge at one end of the lever is counterpoised by an equal weight of metal attached to the other end, so that the whole structure turns freely on the knife edges, which rest on steel pillar blocks dovetailed into the tops of metal standards, one on each side of the lever.

The lever


The opening and closing movements are regulated by a small crab-winch and chain, the ends of the chain being attached to the lever at some distance apart, one on each side of the line joining the knife edges. The centre of this chain is woumd on and off the barel of the winch, which is itself bolted down to a mass of concrete extending beneath the metal standards.

The man in charge works this arrangement with ease, and it is so regulated that the bridge can be opened or closed in a little less than one minute. It might be moved faster than this, as the friction is reduced to a mere trifle by the knife edges, but it is not convenient to put a large mass in rapid motion when there is nothing to be gained by so doing.

The weights of the principal parts of the structure are:

Bridge, including girders, platform and rails 11 tons 15 cwt
Lever 8 tons 17 cwt
Counterpoise 11 tons 5 cwt
Total weight put in motion 31 tons 17 cwt
Cast-iron standards 2 tons 13 cwt

The total cost of the bridge, including concrete foundations, and a little masonry for repairing the side walls of the canal, was £877 16s.

The bridge was erected in 1878, under the Author’s direction, in place of a former bridge of a different design which was removed. It was essential that the new bridge should be erected speedily, so as to interrupt the traffic as little as possible, and the first engine passed over it in about twelve weeks after the contractors, Messrs Courtney, Stephens and Bailey, of Dublin, got instructions to proceed with the work and the traffic was only interrupted for about one week during erection.


The lever sloping upwards has a somewhat singular appearance when the bridge is in position for trains to pass over; on the other hand, the bridge has a singular effect when lifted into the air for canal boats to pass beneath, but the Author believes that the strength of the structure, the ease of working and keeping it in order, and its moderate cost, more than compensate for any strangeness in appearance.


After Stoney

Note that Stoney’s bridge was the third at the site: first the “lift bridge” that the Board of Trade condemned, then the short-lived Courtney and Stephens bridge, then Stoney’s, close to which L T C Rolt slept on his “green and silver” voyage on Irish waterways after World War 2 [L T C Rolt Green and Silver George Allen and Unwin, London 1949].

Stoney’s bridge was decommissioned in 1968 (the canal had been closed in 1961) and replaced by a culvert. The current bridge is, therefore, the fourth at the site. However, there is a possibility that the Courtney and Stephens bridge was considered to be a mere modification of the original; the Freeman’s Journal of 27 February 1879, referring to Stoney’s bridge, said

This [Stoney’s] bridge has been erected in substitution of a lift-bridge, constructed in 1872, but to which an unfortunate accident occurred in the month of February, 1878.

On the question of cost, on a day on 2014 I measured the resources required to raise the new, fourth Effin Bridge. With eight men (four of whom may have been in training) and four hydraulic jacks, I reckoned that preparing to lift took 5 minutes, lifting 9, the passage of two boats 3 and lowering and locking perhaps another 14 (I didn’t stay to measure it). The 14 minutes and (minimum of) 4 m3n compares unfavourably with Stoney’s 1 minute and 1 man.

Note that there was a separate crew from Waterways Ireland to get the boats through Lock 1.