How Saltburn’s remarkable bridge was used by telephone pioneers

In our coastal special last week we said that the name came from the fee that foot passengers paid to cross, although it was also used by horse-drawn carriages which ran 6 days at a time. The first cars were allowed to pass, but were banned after one backfired, scaring a horse that almost threw its rider over the parapet. The 160ft fall onto Skelton Beck would have meant instant death.


“It is worth noting that in the 1960s one vehicle was allowed to cross Halfpenny Bridge: the local volunteer fire engine,” says John Wright.

The Northern Echo:

A rare image looking across the Halfpenny Bridge, showing its width as the Cleveland Chase passes

John asks about the bridge’s place in communications history, because in 1877 the 32-year-old engineer Francis Fox lived in Balmoral Terrace overlooking the valley.

He had been sent to Saltburn by his father, Sir Charles Fox, to gain experience in the ironstone mines of Cleveland. This was not cruelty on the part of Sir Charles, the inventor of railway switches, but it enabled Francis to gain an understanding of underground excavations and he went on to expand the London Underground and dig the Mersey railway tunnel before being responsible for the shoring The cathedrals of St. Paul and Winchester were knighted.

Anyway, on March 10, 1876, in Boston, USA, Graham Alexander Bell made the first audible telephone conversation with his assistant Thomas Watson in an adjoining room.

In September 1877, Francis stretched a cable from Balmoral Terrace over Halfpenny Bridge to Cliffden mansion across the valley, which was the home of retired barrister William Ayrton. Subsequently, later in life, he made what he claimed was the first telephone call to Britain.

Most sources consider this an exaggeration, and yet the first real date in Britain’s telephone history is January 14, 1878, when Bell demonstrated the device to Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. They called Cowes, Southampton and London and the Queen was so impressed that she wanted to buy one.


The Northern Echo: Halfpenny Bridge, Saltburn

The Halfpenny Bridge in Saltburn. Image: Tony Marshall


The Northern Echo:

The Halfpenny Bridge from the Italianate Gardens in the valley

“THE piece about Saltburn reminded me of a school party to see a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Valley Gardens,” says Chris Eddowes in Hartlepool, . “It must have been the late 1980s or early 1990s.

“The production and audience moved through the gardens as the story progressed. The children found it very uninhibited – “Why is she talking to herself?” “It’s called self-talk – she’s thinking out loud.”

“One of our more adventurous students was found chatting with Puck while sitting on a large leaf on a long stem.

“As darkness fell, it was time for the final scene, the game of rude mechanics. We sat in the Duke’s courtyard on a stand that resembled a tournament and was lit by burning torches. It didn’t need fairies to make it magical.

“It was a wonderful first Shakespeare experience and the children absolutely loved it on the bus to Hartlepool on the way home.

“This is how you teach literature!”


PETER HOLMES at Barnard Castle enjoyed the article about railway posters.

“They were considered the working man’s art gallery and featured some of the best artists and designers of the time,” he says. “They added two from a 1931 set of six by Tom Purvis entitled East Coast Joys, which when placed side by side created a wide panoramic design based on a coastal scene.

“It was a clever idea where each poster was good on its own, but together they were pretty impressive.”

Peter repeats what the Times, no less, said in 1931 when it first saw the work.

It said: “East Coast Joys, the six posters may be viewed individually but are cleverly combined into a single design, with a delightful wave movement running through the whole thing.”

The Northern Echo: A pair of posters produced for LNER before the Second World War extolling the delights of the east coast, where, as the posters pointed out, there was better weather than the wetter west

Sunbathing above and sea bathing below, from the East Coast Joys series

The Northern Echo: A pair of posters produced for LNER before the Second World War extolling the delights of the east coast, where, as the posters pointed out, there was better weather than the wetter west

Purvis began working for LNER in 1926 and became known as the “King of Advertising Boards” for his bright colors and simple shapes. He also worked on the “Dig for Victory” campaign during World War II and is considered one of the best advertising artists of the 20th century.

His six-piece set included designs titled “Hiking Tours,” “Sunbathing,” “Safe Sand,” “Sea Bathing,” “Sea Fishing,” and “Water Sports.” They took the viewer from a hiker on a cliff to a family on the beach to people on a boat, culminating in the sound of the wake of a speedboat, which is increasingly visible in the previous five posters.

In 2019, an original set of six sold for £19,500. Unfortunately, the Memories budget isn’t enough for this…



The Northern Echo: The dome of Spanish City, partially obscured by scaffolding and tarpaulins, in Whitley Bay in 2012

The Spanish City dome was partially obscured by scaffolding and tarpaulins in Whitley Bay in 2012

“I was thrilled to see the Spanish town in the Memories Seaside Special,” says John Todd in Barton. “I was fascinated by this façade and dome as a child as I was often taken there by my grandmother, who lived in Blaydon-on-Tyne.”

John particularly remembers the fairground that was behind the Spanish City in Whitley Bay.

However, the city, which opened as a tourist attraction in 1910, has had a turbulent recent history: it fell into increasing decline at the end of the 20th century and was closed in 2000.

Nevertheless, John visited him. The dome has been a magnet for him throughout his life.

“There were cafes and shops downstairs, but there were panels with tiny hooks put up in front of them. There were colored metal discs attached to the hooks and the wind made them flutter around so they looked quite magical,” he says.

“The wind did all the work, but over time it blew some windows away and people took others down, so when I visited there weren’t many left, and that seemed to sum up the place.”

This inspired him to create a painting 10 years ago that shows the famous outline of the dome, flanked by the dancing ladies on their domes, while the discs still colorfully rotate. As he was drawn back to the Spanish city, he returned to the painting and made prints of it showing different elements and colors of the rotating disks.

The Northern Echo: Spanish City, Whitley Bay, by John Todd

Above: John Todd’s painting of the Spanish city and its rotating disks. Below: A printed version of his painting

The Northern Echo: Spanish City, Whitley Bay, by John Todd

In 2018, following a £10 million restoration, the town reopened as a wedding, entertainment and dining venue and is considered “the North East’s most iconic venue”.

READ MORE: MEET MISS CRIMDON, THE QUEEN OF THE DURHAM COALFIELD How Saltburn’s remarkable bridge was used by telephone pioneers

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