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The Engineering Department of Liverpool University had already agreed to provide the labour to construct the winning design in the shape of thirty young students in various engineering disciplines and a week later the first consignment of Meccano ( which had been cluttering up Ian Mordue’s dining room for the last couple of months) was transferred to the university.   Literally hundreds of angles girders and strip of all sorts of lengths together with fifteen thousand nuts and bolts, corner gussets etc.   Occupied the benches on the forth floor of the newly opened Harrison Hughes building in Brownlow Hill.   All that was need now were the plans from Atkins!.


When the Plans arrived it became clear how much work was involved!  The bridge would be approximately 14” wide x 25” deep and each two foot section took about twenty five hours of finger numbing insertion of hundreds of nuts and bolts. The straight section for the turn bride was completed by about the 29th of July and the curved section (Strictly a serials of flat) for the bascule about a week later.   The straight section had already been tested;  with some massive weights holding down the landward end of the span,  a brave youth of about 80 kilos took his place at the opposite end and the supporting bench was gradually lowered until his weight was supported only by the span!  To his immense relief, and everybody else’s, the structure of hundreds of Meccano strips and girder not only supported his weight but only deflected a satisfying 18mm,  at its extremity!  The Guild chairman had been present much of the time, providing tools and uttering words of encouragement as one consignment of nuts/bolts after another arrived to fill up the rapidly depleted plastic bins.   It seemed as if the entire output of Meccano’s factory in France was being diverted across the Channel to Liverpool University.


9 Metre straight section
Frank Smith Inspecting
Close up of Curved Section
Click on
Photo’s to

In April this year (2009) the chairman of the guild was contacted by telephone by Plum Pictures ( who make programmes for the B.B.C.) with a novel suggestion that

we might want to take part in constructing a Meccano Bridge across the extension to the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Liverpool’s Pier Head.   This was to be no ordinary bridge!  When the challenge arrived a few days later on a D.V.D.   James challenged ‘all engineers,  architects, engineering students, architectural etc’. To  ‘build a Meccano bridge across the canal,  some 37 feet, capable of carrying his weight of 80 Kg and worthy of the city of Liverpool one year after it tenure as City of Culture.



A feasibility study had been carried out By Ian Mordue of the North East Meccano Guild and on the basis of his study thousands of pounds worth of girders,  perforated strips,  nuts/bolts etc had already been ordered,  even though the final design might be quite different,  on the premise that ‘all the parts are interchangeable, aren’t they?’

A competition took place a couple of weeks later and chairman Frank Smith of the North West Meccano Guild submitted plans for a straightforward Warren girder bridge of traditional design,  against some formidable opposition in the shape of Ove Arup,  Richard Rogers and Atkins and Partners.   The Final decision by a panel of three was for a novel scheme submitted by three final year  architectural students at Liverpool University comprising a swing bridge on one side of the canal meeting midstream with a rolling bascule bridge on the opposite bank!   The winners agreed ,  in view of their tender years and limited experience, to be guided by Atkins and Partners.



James May Meccano Bridge
Leyland Exhibition 09
Club Meetings

Charlotte Melling | 11-Aug-2009 8:20 pm


I was the project manager for the construction of this bridge. We were

forced to use a harness by health and safety. Many of the people

involved walked on it very successfully without a harness during testing

at ground level. We would have liked it to have been more ambitious but

due to cost constraints we had to design it to the minimum strength

required. Lack of handrails was also due to health and safety in case the

bridge did fail so that James May could jump away (even though it was

tested an awful lot beforehand). Also the press release is wrong on a few

accounts. It took over 7000 painstaking man hours to complete this bridge

which consisted of over 50000 nuts and bolts, almost double the amount

stated above.



Charlotte Melling Civil Engineer



Statement By Charlotte Melling Project Manager

Today (08.08.09) James May achieved a crossing of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal by a series of manoeuvres over a two part bridge.

Having seen that he was due to cross at midday, I made sure to be there by 11am.


I found a large area with barriers round it and about 30 people in hi-vis jackets all milling around. James May was being interviewed. Also there was Edwina Currie who was on the selection panel for the winning design. The panel was there to make a choice over which James May had the casting vote and veto on anything that did not fit with his plans.

The rolling part of the bridge was in place but still had packing material on it and had not been released from a tower crane. The horizontal part of the bridge was still in its packing material.

About 1pm James announced that there had been technical delays and nothing was going to happen quickly. The next three hours passed exceedingly slowly.


At 4.20pm he stepped forward and from then on his commentary was on the public address system.


The rolling part of the bridge was restrained in the rolled back position by a water ballast tank and some counterweights and the horizontal portion was parallel to the bank.

James stepped on to the bridge. He was wearing a harness attached to the tower crane so any possibility of a splash was averted but if he had lost his balance or the bridge collapsed he might have been left suspended over the canal.

The water was then released from the main ballast tank and the rolling portion rolled to the crossing position. James then walked gingerly along the 12 ½ inch wide deck steadying himself by holding some handholds to the end which was over mid canal.

The horizontal portion was then swung round in line with the one he was standing on and he stepped one pace forwards on to the other half. As he did so he released some water from a small ballast tank at the end of the rolling section so this section rolled back out of line with the one he was standing on so that return was not possible.

The horizontal portion with James on the end of it was then rotated to a position parallel with the bank while he held on to two hand holds. He then tottered unsteadily without any handholds to steady himself along the horizontal portion, which was flexing, with encouraging words from Edwina. He reached the end of it and then crossed the landing platform to pull a lever on a model of the Liver Building. this caused lights to flash and the Liver Bird to open its wings.


The performance finished about 4.45 pm.



Report of the Day By Derrick Murdie (photo’s 21 to 40 by Derrick)
Music - Against the Odds
This Photo Gallery By Roger Thorpe
Music - Lasting Impression

The bearing consisted of four 5.5" x 2.5" flanged plates, two in line with the pivot pin and two about 5 feet aft of it. These four flanged plates were filled with steel balls about 5/8" diameter and rotated on a quarter circle of steel plate, about 5 ft. mean radius and about one foot radial width. The pivot pin was centered in two bush wheels bolted to the underside of the bridge structure. Gravity, plus the saddle tank of water used to counterbalance the rotating section, kept the balls in contact with the steel bearing plate whilst the bridge was rotated through 90 degrees.


Click to enlarge
Pivot  Details of the 9m Straight Swinging Section
Above Report  and Photo’s 
By Frank Smith Chairman Of North West Meccano Guild
Music - Break Neck

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James’ May Meccano Bridge Challenge
Facts & Figures

Location of the Bridge - Pier Head,  Merseyside,  Liverpool,  L3 1HT.

Number of Parts Approx 100,000 including 50,000 Nuts & Bolts.

Number of man hours in construction - over 7000 hours.

Width of Canal - 12 Metres.

Total length of bridge - 23 Metres.

Width of Bridge - 30cm (the width of a sheet of A3 paper).

Height of Bridge over water - 5 Meters ( up to the guttering of a two-storey house).

Total Weigh of Bridge - approx ½ tonne.

Total length of Meccano in bridge laid end to end would stretch about 3.5 miles.

Laid flat it would cover an area of 800 square feet.

Bridge  Movements - The Nine Metre Straight Section beam will slide into place like a Canal Lock gate,  with the other 12 metre curved section rolling down like a drawbridge.

Cost approx £45000 .00

Help to build the Bridge provide by the following:-

North West Meccano Guild,  Frank Smith.

North East Meccano Guild, Ian Mordue.

Tims Meccano Society,  Chris Shute,  Janet Way and Keith Way.

Dr Tim Short,  Derek Neavey and a Team of Students of Liverpool University.


My apologies if I have missed anyone out.


This model is made with Meccano but is not a Meccano Model due to the fact that non Meccano parts have been used in the construction.

At the Start

Quarry Bank Mill 09


Quarry Bank Mill 08


Quarry Bank Mill 10


Leyland Exhibition 08

Leyland Exhibition 09


Leyland Exhibition 10