A few days ago, on 4th September 2017 to be exact, the Queen opened the #3 crossing of the River Forth, at Queensferry. The date was chosen, I assume, because it was 53 years to the day since she had opened the #2 crossing, the original Forth Road Bridge, back in 1964 (shown below with the Queensferry Crossing beyond).
The Queen did not, of course, open the original Forth Bridge; that was done by her great-grandfather, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1890.
Forth Bridges come in threes
So now there are three bridges across the Forth: the iconic 19th century Forth Bridge, in all its red oxide glory, carrying trains; the 20th century Forth Road Bridge, carrying far too many cars and lorries for its own good: and the 21st century Queensferry Crossing, designed to take much of the load from the 20th century bridge. Utilitarian, perhaps, but in the early morning light, taken all three together, they look ethereal to me (even though the 20th century Forth Road bridge, in the middle, is almost invisible).
Queensferry crossing — but which queen?
There are two Queensferries, one on each side of the River Forth, aptly (though not very imaginatively) named. South Queensferry is on the Edinburgh side and North Queensferry is on the Fife side.
They are indeed named after a queen, but not one that many outside of Scotland have heard of. She was Margaret (later Saint Margaret), an English princess of the house of Wessex. Her brother was that Edgar Ætheling who was proclaimed King of England in 1066 after the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Edgar didn’t last long and was never crowned. He soon lost out to William’s superior military might and eventually fled to Scotland along with his mother and sisters.
In Scotland, Margaret married the King of Scots, Malcolm III (Malcolm Canmore) in 1070. She’s shown here in a window in Edinburgh Castle’s St Margaret’s chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.
Margaret was extremely pious and, among many charitable works, she established the ferry across the Firth of Forth for pilgrims travelling to St Andrews in Fife. The settlements at the north and south ends of the crossing were named after her.
Three of Margaret’s sons followed one another as King of Scots. Depending on how you count, it’s possible to argue there were four. Her daughter Eadgyth (also called Matilda) was the first wife of Henry I of England, possibly chosen because she brought him Anglo-Saxon legitimacy that he, as a Norman and son of the bastard William of Normandy, lacked. Eadgyth’s grandson was Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet kings of England so Saint Margaret’s line had influence on both sides of the border. She died in 1093 and was canonized more than a century later, in 1250.
Naming the new Forth bridge
The new bridge was named after a public poll. Voters had 5 choices, two of which harked back to Queen Margaret:
St Margaret’s Crossing
the Firth of Forth Crossing
[There was no option of the Boaty McBoatface variety!}
Picture credit: bigthink.com
St Margaret didn’t win in her own right. But the crossing points named after her did. The largest number of votes went to Queensferry Crossing, so that is the name it was given.
Building the Forth bridges
Bridges can be magical and these add to the heritage that we Scots are so proud of. The 19th century bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and encapsulates much of the engineering prowess that we used to boast about. The same can be said of the 20th century road bridge, designed and built by British engineers and craftsmen.
So I was saddened to learn that the 21st century bridge, for all its dancing beauty, has very little British (or Scottish) input. Its main designers were American, Danish, Dutch, Swedish and German. The main contractors were American, German and Spanish. And the materials came from China (steel), Germany (concrete) and Switzerland (cable stays). So much for Britain’s great industrial heritage?