Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River

Item details

Name of item: Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Land
Category: Road Bridge
Location: Lat: 151.62656831 Long: -32.72376847
Primary address: Main Road 102, Morpeth, NSW 2321
Local govt. area: Maitland
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Mindaribba
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Main Road 102MorpethMaitland  Primary Address
Northumberland StreetMorpethMaitland  Alternate Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Roads and Maritime ServicesState Government 

Statement of significance:

Completed in 1898, the Morpeth Bridge is a substantial and rare overhead braced Allan type timber truss road bridge that has provided an important river crossing since its completion. As a timber truss road bridge, it has many associational links with important historical events, trends, and people, including the expansion of the road network and economic activity throughout NSW, and Percy Allan, the designer of this type of truss.

Allan trusses were third in the five stage design evolution of NSW timber truss road bridges, and were a major improvement over the McDonald trusses which preceded them. Allan trusses were 20% cheaper to build than McDonald trusses, could carry 50% more load, and were easier to maintain. Only six examples of overhead braced Allan type timber road bridges were built of these only three remain, two under RMS control (Morpeth Bridge and Dunmore Bridge) while Hampden Bridge is under the control of Wagga Wagga Council. Technically they represented the high water mark of timber bridge construction in Australia; the top braces enabled the construction of 156ft spans on the Macleay River Bridge, the greatest ever achieved. In 2013 there are 24 surviving Allan trusses in NSW of the 104 built.
From an aesthetic perspective, the dominance of the truss grouping and associated approach bridges provides an important counterpoint to the perpendicularly aligned main street of Morpeth for which it serves as a “gateway”. The town and bridge are within a heritage conservation zone. On the northern approaches of the bridge are a small flight of stairs which serve as a dedicated and purpose-built flood evacuation access route, this feature is unique to Morpeth Bridge amongst the bridges in the Hunter Valley.
Date significance updated: 28 May 09
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Percy Allan
Builder/Maker: Samuel McGill
Construction years: 1896-1898
Physical description: The Bridge has three 33.6m timber Allan truss spans, flanked by timber beam spans supporting concrete decking units. The roadway width is 5.5m and the main spans are supported on twin iron cylinder piers. The approaches have timber piers.

Some of the features of the modified Howe truss developed by Allan are the use of paired timber elements throughout, which allowed any component to be replaced while the bridge remained in service, without the need to temporarily prop the trusses from below. The truss consists of timber top and bottom chords, timber compression diagonals and tension rods as verticals; the tension rods could be used to adjust the geometry and counteract shrinkage. Furthermore, cast-iron shoes at all joints ensured proper truss action and a good transfer of member forces at the joints.

Allan’s design was lighter and more economical than the McDonald truss it replaced. They were also designed to be more accessible for painting and repair, and to use shorter lengths of timber which were much easier to obtain and to manoeuvre during construction.

Flood evacuation stairs are located on the northern approach adjacent to Pier 9.
.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Original condition assessment: 'The bridge is in good condition, and has been well maintained by the RTA.' (Last updated: 15/10/1998.)

2007-08 condition update: 'Poor.' (Last updated: 17/4/09.)

Good (updated 23/07/2013)

Low Archaeological Potential. Evidence of former Morpeth branch railway line may be present in the vicinity of span 1 on the Morpeth town side.
Date condition updated:17 Apr 09
Modifications and dates: There has been a continual replacement process of defective timbers over the lifetime of the bridge, however it can be considered as having its original fabric.

Between 2008 and 2011 the bridge was upgraded by RMS to increase the load capacity in line with current traffic requirements. The timber planking on the truss spans and approach spans was replaced with Stress Laminated Timber decking and concrete decking units respectively. The timber ordinance railing was replaced with a visually similar steel railing in order to comply with current safety codes. The seven northernmost approach spans were replaced with a raised embankment delineated by textured concrete retaining walls. Flood evacuation stairs were removed from Pier 13 and reinstated at Pier 9 in 2013.
Further information: Special effort should be made to monitor the effect of modern heavy truck loads which are well in excess of the original design values.
Current use: Road bridge
Former use: Road bridge

History

Historical notes: Morpeth was part of a land grant made to Lieutenant Edward Charles Close by Governor Brisbane in 1821. Influenced by its desirable location on the Hunter River and the realisation of the area’s immense potential, by the 1830s Morpeth had evolved from a riverside forest to a frontier town and busy river port. During its time as a major agricultural and industrial hub Morpeth contributed to the development of the entire Hunter Valley. A punt service was established across the River from Queen’s Wharf to Phoenix Park and Hinton to the north.

Local lobbying for a bridge over the Hunter River at Morpeth began as early as March of 1885, when the Morpeth Progress Committee drafted a petition calling for the construction of a bridge across the Hunter to connect with Phoenix Park to the north (Anderson 2001: 67). By August of that year the local member, Robert Wisdom proposed that the community should request that the Department of Public Works construct two bridges (the second being over the Paterson River at Hinton) which would better serve the people of the region as it would:
supply a long necessary public want to the residents of Morpeth, Hinton, Seaham, Clarence Town, East and West Maitland and surrounding districts…(Anderson 2001: 72)

Tenders for the construction of the Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River were called for in the Government Gazette in June of 1896 (Government Gazette 269: 2529). The call requested tenders for the:
erection of a Timber truss Bridge on Iron Piers over the Hunter River at Morpeth; also alternative tenders for a bridge with composite Truss spans on Timber Piers.
In August of 1896 it was announced that the tender was won by S. McGill of Inverell (GG 649: 5692). The estimated cost of its construction was £9 000, the actual final cost was £9 239 11.5 (Report of the Department of Public Works 1897: 10; 1899: 105). Construction was delayed in part by flooding along the Hunter River which occurred in February on 1897; as a result of this flooding scaffolding erected for the bridge was washed away (Dungog Chronicle).

The Morpeth Bridge was opened in June of 1898. It, along with the then proposed Hinton Bridge over the Paterson River, was intended to provide a route between Morpeth, Hinton, Wallalong, Phoenix Park and Largs. The Bridge replaced a hand-powered punt (DPW 1987; 10) and was built as a National Work (RTA file 307.138) The Bridge opening ceremony was attended by the Hon. J.H. Young, the Colonial Secretary and several Members of Parliament. Attendees from the general public were reminded during the accompanying speeches that they were, to a degree, indebted to their political representatives for the existence of the Bridge, and that they could repay the debt by voting accordingly at the then upcoming general elections (Dungog Chronicle 21/06/1898). The Bridge opening was described as a “very successful and enjoyable one” – entertainment included the Morpeth Brass band and a long procession of school children (Dungog Chronicle 17/06/1898).

The Bridge was described as consisting of:
three timber truss spans, of 100ft. 3in. each, resting on iron cylinder river piers and timber land piers, with fourteen timber beam spans of 35 feet each, extending on a grade 1 to 30 to the low-lying lands of Phoenix Park. The roadway is 18 feet in width, and in order to clear the tramway on the Morpeth side it was necessary to keep the Bridge 16 feet above flood level (DPW 1898: 13).

The Bridge was considered by the Department of Public Works to be an important construction, and it was noted in the annual report for 1898 that the “question of affording access to the town of Morpeth from the low-lying lands of Phoenix Park had long been under consideration” (DPW 1998: 13). A photograph of the Bridge was included with the Annual Report for 1898 showing the three truss spans and iron cylinder piers. As a result of the erection of the Bridge, navigation of the Hunter River above the Bridge was limited and Queens Wharf in Morpeth fell into disrepair (Morpeth Progress Assoc. 1992).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. River flats-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural: Rivers and water bodies important to humans-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Changing the environment-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Significant Places How are significant places marked in the landscape by, or for, different groups-Monuments and Sites
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Developing local, regional and national economies-National Theme 3
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Bridge - road-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis Building Bridges-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. State government-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Developing roles for government - administering public roads and bridges-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Developing roles for government - building and operating public infrastructure-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Through the Bridge’s association with the expansion of the NSW road network, its ability to demonstrate historically important concepts such as the gradual acceptance of NSW people of American design ideas, and its association with Percy Allan, it has historical significance.

The town of Morpeth was a historic Hunter River port. It remains an historic town and is well complemented by the Bridge.

By the standards of this criterion, Morpeth Bridge can be considered to be of state significance.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Morpeth Bridge represents the efforts and motivation of the local community to lobby for a series of permanent crossings on the road north from Morpeth to Hinton and beyond in the Lower Hunter Valley.
The bridge was built by S. McGill, whose construction teams were also responsible for building the nearby Dunmore Bridge at Woodville and Hinton Bridge, both of which are listed on the SHR.
Designed by Percy Allan who is regarded as one of Australia’s foremost bridge engineers being associated in the design and construction of 583 bridges during his 49 year career (1878-1927) in the NSW Department of Public Works.

By the standards of this criterion, Morpeth Bridge can be considered to be of state significance.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The aesthetic significance of the Bridge is manifested in two ways; the first is the design and construction excellence that the Bridge exhibits and the second is its visual appeal including the relationship between the Bridge and its visual setting and the way that they complement each other.

Morpeth Bridge is an imposing and distinctive structure in its setting. It is a clearly visible and dominant component of the Morpeth townscape. It is encapsulated in the setting of a modified landscape of roads, gardens and buildings which it played a part in forming.

By the standards of this criterion, Morpeth Bridge can be considered to be of state significance.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Timber truss bridges are prominent to road travellers and NSW has in the past been referred to as the “timber truss bridge state”. Through this, the complete set of bridges gain some social significance, as they could be said to be held in reasonable esteem by many travellers in NSW.

The Bridge has significance to the local community as an important item of heritage which historically supported the economic and social development of the district and provided an important permanent road link between Morpeth and towns to the north. The Bridge was only built due to intense lobbying on the part of the Morpeth Progress Association.

By the standards of this criterion, Morpeth Bridge can be considered to be of state significance.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Morpeth Bridge is assessed to have technical significance as an Allan truss and represents some major technical developments that were made in timber truss bridge designs by the NSW Public Works Department.

Morpeth Bridge is one of only three large Allan truss style bridges complete with full overhead bracing remaining of six built and is the only triple span, overhead braced Allan truss not to incorporate a lift span.

By the standards of this criterion, Morpeth Bridge can be considered to be of state significance.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
Morpeth Bridge is one of 24 surviving Allan trusses in NSW of the 104 built. Of this truss type Morpeth Bridge is one of only 6 large Allan truss style bridges complete with full overhead bracing built and one of only two remaining open to traffic.

Morpeth Bridge exhibits a rare relationship to an adjacent historic townscape setting and is unique amongst the bridges of the Hunter Valley for featuring flood evacuation stairs.

By the standards of this criterion, Morpeth Bridge can be considered to be of state significance.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The Bridge, with its distinctive overhead braced spans is regarded as representative of this type of rarely constructed (in Australia) type of timber truss bridge.

When the bridge was built in 1898 Phoenix Park had no levee and was frequently flooded, even more so than it is at present. Flooding was a characteristic of Phoenix Park and the farmers relied on the stairs as a last resort flood escape by walking along the high river bank at a time when wading through floodwater to the end of the bridge would have been hazardous, if not impossible; The flood evacuation stairs are therefore representative of the farm culture of the district.

By the standards of this criterion, The Crossing can be considered to be of local significance.
Integrity/Intactness: Intact
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Continued sympathetic management by the RTA.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0147620 Jun 00   
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage registerRoads & Traffic s.170    
Local Environmental Plan 199303 Sep 93 0985526

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River View detail
Written 1898The Dungog Chronicle
Written 1896Government Gazette (NSW)
WrittenAllan, Percy1924Highway Construction. The Practice in NSW
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River View detail
WrittenDepartment of Main Roads1987Timber Truss Maintenance Handbook
WrittenFraser, D J1985Timber Bridges of New South Wales
WrittenIan Berger2011“History and Service of timber Howe truss bridges in Australia”, 8th Austroads Bridge Conference
WrittenIan Berger2008Morpeth Bridge proposed capacity upgrade Statement of Heritage Impact
WrittenIan Berger, NSW Roads and Traffic Authority2005Statement of Heritage Impact Emergency strengthening works on Morpeth Bridge over the Hunter River Morpeth, NSW
WrittenMaitland Mercury2017'Improvements to historic bridge complete'
WrittenStaff Journalist1998Morpeth Bridge Centenary 1898-1998

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5051380
File number: H00/00317


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