'The Bridges by Night' by Douglas Walter Lang

'The Bridges by Night' by Douglas Walter Lang

6 January 2023

This work of art, which can be seen on display in our 'People and Place: Art Collection Showcase' until 18 February 2024, shows the two largest bridges that cross the River Tamar, linking Devon with Cornwall. It's titled ‘The Bridges by Night’.

On the left you can see the Tamar Road Bridge – the first major suspension bridge to be constructed in the UK after the Second World War. At the time it was also the longest suspension bridge in the country, measuring 335 metres, or 1,099 feet long.

The bridge was designed by Mott Hay and Anderson, and built by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company. Construction work began in July 1959 and it opened to traffic just a few years before this painting was created, on October 24, 1961.

40 years later, it achieved another first, when it became the world’s first suspension bridge to be widened from three to five lanes using cantilevers, and widened and strengthened while remaining open to traffic. When it was originally built it was designed to accommodate around 4,000 vehicles a day. Today, a busy day can see it used by over 50,000!

The Bridges by Night by Douglas Walter Lang (detail), 1965 © The Box, Plymouth

On the right you can see the Royal Albert Railway Bridge. In the 1850s, the idea of taking the Cornwall Railway across the River Tamar using a chain-based solution like the Torpoint Ferry was superseded by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s plans for a high level viaduct at Saltash, where the river narrows. Brunel came up with a range of designs before he settled upon his famous and unique bow arch self-supporting wrought and cast iron viaduct.

Around 20,000 spectators watched as the first truss was floated out into the Cornish half of the river supported by two barges in 1857. The bridge was completed and officially opened by Prince Albert in 1859.

Artist Douglas Walter Lang was active during the 1960s, and created this oil painting in 1965. It was gifted by him to the city’s collections in 1969. His life and career don’t appear to have been well documented, but the reverse of the painting shows an address for the village of St Germans, so we know he must have been living or working locally at the time.

Many images of the Tamar bridges show them from the Devon side of the river, or with the road bridge in the foreground, so this work offers us a different perspective of these two examples of civil engineering excellence.

Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer