Title ID 5101Collection ID722
TitleRoad Across the Tamar
CollectionH.K Lewenhak
Genre/TypeProfessionalTelevision companyNon-fictionActuality/Factual
ThemeWorking Life Transport
KeywordsAccidents Bridges Building Construction Cars Ferries Railways Rivers Workers Water Transport Trains Men Music
LocalTorpoint Saltfish
NationalEngland United Kingdom
ProductionH. K. Lewenhak
CameraDavid Howarth
DirectorH. K. Lewenhak
Commissioning bodySouth West Limited; Westward Television
EditorRoger Charlesworth
WriterH. K. Lewenhak
MusicCyril Tawney and Cy Baskin
FormatBlack & White Sound
Duration12 min. 7 sec.
Copyright & AccessCopyright restrictions apply, contact Screen Archive South East for details


Folk songs narrate the building of the Tamar Bridge between Devon and Cornwall, completed in 1959. Footage shot from the water, sky and from the workers' perspective on the bridge is included in this H. K. Lewenhak production.


Workers sing together in the Ferry House Inn, smoking and holding pint glasses. A folk singer tells the story of the Royal Albert Railway Bridge, built by Brunel in 1859, illustrated by drawings, prints and photographs. One hundred years later and the new Tamar road bridge is completed. Men are shown working on the construction site on the river bank, littered with excavators and cranes. "... and we'll give ol' mother Tamer, another string of beads," is sung. Arial shots of the bridge stretching over the river are shown, shot from an aircraft.

Men fix rivets to make large steal panels, which are hoisted up to the bridge by a crane. Footage of men working high up on a temporary platform above the construction site follows. The men fix mesh panels to build the footbridge. A coil of cables is seen at the base of the bridge. The cables are pulled and stretched following the length of the bridge. "We might be taking the strain today but soon it will be the other way, the other way."

A narrator describes the Tamer's history; the river, "which nearly makes Cornwall and Ireland, was probably used as a line of defense." Bridges were built at Greystone and Gunislake but steam and chain ferries cross the river where it widens and becomes tidal, at Saltfish and Tolpoint. The Saltfish ferry was to be replaced by a road bridge, and Tolpoint with diesel ferries; "Cross that little ol' bit of sea, I hear ol' Cornwall calling me!" Scenes of cars waiting to board the Tolpoint ferry follow. Motorcycles, cars and trucks board the ferry while the inspector is interviewed. "They miss the chain ferries when they're gone," he says. In archive footage, a crowd of people wave off a chain ferry at Tolpoint.

Back at the Tamar Bridge, a group of workers stand above the cable and pull system; "take care now lads, be on your guard... will they hold or will they fail." The cables stretch between two towers at either end of the bridge, "like lovers reaching out their hands." Views of the bridge from the water, the Royal Albert Railway Bridge also in sight behind. "There it is, finished. All 1,148 feet of it." The narrator informs that it took two hundred men two years to build, during which time five died in a boat accident and one when he fell off the bridge into the water. "Some days you loose your confidence," says one worker, interviewed at the new bridge. "Now the job is finished we're quite proud of ourselves."

A train traveling across the Royal Albert Railway Bridge is seen from one of the towers on the Tamar Bridge. Road vehicles driving over the new bridge beside it are also seen from this elevated position. Back inside the Ferry House Inn, the workers sing. Their song plays over final shots of the bridge in the evening.