There were tears of emotion among the audience as artist Mackenzie Thorpe opened the new Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience with a passionate speech dedicated to the iconic structure, Teesside and the area’s steelmaking heritage.
As Teesside continued to rock in the aftermath of the death of steelmaking, the internationally-renowned, Middlesbrough-born artist spoke with affection and pride about the 104-year-old bridge and the area he loves.
Hosted by ‘Voice of the Boro’ Alastair Brownlee, the BBC Tees presenter, the event was opened by local band Cattle & Cane performing their Teesside anthem ‘Infant Hercules’ – its lyrics particularly poignant following the announcement this week that the Redcar steelworks had opened for the last time.
There were speeches from Middlesbrough’s deputy mayor Charlie Rooney and poems about the bridge read by poet Andy Croft.
But the biggest round of applause followed the speech by Thorpe, born close by on St Paul’s Road.
After recalling some of his own boyhood memories about the bridge, Thorpe said of the Transporter: “It’s not just a bridge that spans a river. After all this time it still fulfils its function and we’ve made it even more beautiful.
“It’s recognised all over the world. It’s an icon. To me, it’s a living, breathing work of art.
“It belongs to us. It reminds us who we are. It symbolises where we come from, our area and the people who we are.
“We are people of steel – forged from it, from our grandparents and their parents. To our future, no matter where it takes us, we’ll come through.”
The artist was joined by Middlesbrough schoolgirl Ebony Watts, winner of the Our Town art project.
Opened in 1911, the Transporter was devised to take thousands of workers back and forth across the river from their Middlesbrough homes to their workplaces in the steelworks and shipyards on the north bank of the Tees – all without disturbing the non-stop flow of river traffic.
The bridge’s halcyon days came immediately after World War I. During 1919, the Transporter took across the Tees more than 5.1 million passengers at a rate of 14,000 a day or 760 every hour it was open.
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the major £2.6m refurbishment of the Tees Transporter Bridge and Visitor Experience has included the renovation of the gondola, installation of a glass viewing lift to people to the top walkway, state-of-the-art visitor resources and the construction of a winding house viewing area.
Extensive repair and repainting work has also been carried out.
“The glass viewing lift, winding house viewing area and visitor experience will, I’m sure, be massively popular with people not just in Teesside but with visitors from across the world,” he said.
The improvements mean the Transporter’s top walkway, high above the Tees, is accessible to wheelchair-users and pushchairs for the first time in its 104-year history.
Members of the public can take the Transporter Bridge tour on Tuesdays and Thursdays 9.30-11.30am and 1-3.30pm; Saturdays and Sundays 9.30-11.30am and 1.30-2.30pm.
Trips are run every hour. An online booking service will be available soon. Cash only but card payment will be available soon.
Prices are £5 adults, £3.50 children and £15 for a family ticket (two adults, two children). There is a 10% discount for groups of eight or more. More details at www.teestransporterbridge.com