IT has formed a link between Scotland and England for almost two centuries, carrying first horse-drawn carriages then cars and lorries across the River Tweed.

Now the future of the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world has been secured after a five-year-long campaign to save it from ruin.

The bridge crosses the River Tweed from Fishwick in Berwickshire to Horncliffe in Northumberland, and was officially opened in 1820.

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But in recent years it has become structurally unsafe and can only be accessed by one light vehicle at a time –and was closed in January for six weeks.

Now a project to restore the famous structure has received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to allow a major programme of repairs to get underway early next year, with a further £3.4m supplied by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) and Northumberland County Council (NCC), while community group Friends of Union Chain Bridge will continue with fundraising activities.

David Renwick, director of England: North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Not only have National Lottery players secured the future of the iconic structure that is the Union Chain Bridge, but the money they have raised will also strengthen connections between communities in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

“We are delighted that through a programme of ambitious activities, our funding will provide exciting opportunities for people to explore the heritage and stories of the Union Chain Bridge, and hopefully inspire a new generation of engineers from communities on both sides of the Bridge.

“It is heartening for us to see that two of the cross-border local authorities involved in Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal – Northumberland County Council and the Scottish Borders Council – working together on this wonderful heritage scheme that will improve transport links and connectivity for the area extending across the Scotland-England border, and in turn we hope to see economic growth of the area increase further.”

Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge was originally made from wrought-iron chains the former naval officer designed and patented after developing them for ships to use as rigging.

At 449 feet long, it was the longest bridge of its type in the world when it was built, and was opened to great fanfare in front of a crowd of around 700 people.

Since then the chains have been replaced with cables and it has been upgraded numerous times, with toll booths which once collected a fare for using the bridge removed in 1902.

Councillor Glen Sanderson, cabinet member for Environment and Local Services with NCC, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have secured this funding after two years of hard work to get to this point.

“We submitted an extremely comprehensive second round submission and we knew we were up against strong competition but were quietly confident of a positive result.

“This bridge is known and loved not just locally, but nationally and internationally and we’ve had support from across the world since we started on this submission.”

A programme of community engagement and education activities will also get under way now the funding has been secured, designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance, and potentially boost local tourism.

The success of securing the bridge’s future will be marked today with a visit to the bridge by Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

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Councillor Gordon Edgar, SBC’s Executive Member for Roads and Infrastructure, said: “This is a momentous day in the 200 year history of the Union Chain Bridge.

“Not only is the future of the bridge now secured, but our partnership project will now take forward a number of initiatives which will aim to bring numerous culture, heritage and community benefits, and could prove a catalyst for the local tourism


“We will be reaching out to the local communities and schools as part of the public engagement element of the project in the coming months, which will include volunteer recruitment and a new digital presence.

Robert Hunter, chair of the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, added: “We are all thrilled that The National Lottery Heritage Fund has made such a substantial grant to save this much loved and iconic piece of our engineering history.

“When it was completed in 1820, the Union Chain Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge and it provided the catalyst for huge innovation in bridge design.

“I am enormously grateful to our Friends, NCC, SBC and Museums Northumberland who have worked incredibly hard get to this outcome.

“Together with our other funders we are not only going to restore the bridge but deliver a really exciting project.”