Iron Bridge, Spanish Town, St. Catherine, 1801, the earliest iron bridge in the Americas
Built in 1801 from prefabricated cast iron sections imported from West Yorkshire, Spanish Town’s Iron Bridge was the first of its type to be erected outside the UK. It consists of a single arched span between massive stone abutments, the two halves stiffened by cast circles of diminishing circumference. The iron components weigh 87 tons and required 43 horse-drawn wagons to transport them from the nearest seaport to the chosen site spanning the Rio Cobre.
The technology used had been pioneered, of course, at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, in 1779, whose celebrated Iron Bridge was the world’s first. Unlike two slightly later but almost identical structures, built at Staines, Middlesex, in 1802 and Yarm, Yorkshire, in 1805, the Jamaican bridge survived hurricane and earthquake intact and was in use until 2000, when erosion by storm water in the Rio Cobre was seen to have undermined the masonry in one of the five abutments so severely as to threaten the bridge’s survival.
It was at that point that a national appeal for funds was launched in Jamaica to save the bridge (which had long since been bypassed) from demolition on safety grounds. Learning of the situation, the FGSJ immediately offered £1,000. This helped to kick-start the rescue effort, and was followed by individual gifts from members of £750.
When we visited the bridge during our last tour of Jamaican historic sites in 2010, we found the structure fully restored, much appreciated by visitors and in regular use by local pedestrians and cyclists, who told us how pleased they were to have it back.