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Tay Bridge disaster
Tay Bridge disaster

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5.5 Evidence of Henry Law

Henry Law's report is brief and to the point, and includes a substantial appendix giving detailed calculations of the effects of wind pressure on the structure (not included in Paper 1). Further information on his inspection of the remains – the two standing piers, the twelve wrecked piers the high girders and the train within – was given during his testimony before the enquiry.

Law was able to examine the extant remains in considerable detail, and noticed numerous defects in the broken metalwork of the piers. He also collected 12 shims from the bases of the piers that had collapsed, one of which, on pier 1, had fallen from a still intact bracing bar linking the sets of columns together. They were presumably those used by Mr Noble to stop the joints chattering.

Law made a detailed survey of the damage present after the disaster, inspecting each pier in turn, starting at the south end, because of the presence here of the partly intact piers 1 and 3. In his oral testimony, he described many flaws, which he had observed in the castings, showing exhibits to the court when necessary.

The remains would have been inspected either personally by him or by his assistants following photography of the remains. We have already analysed a small selection of those pictures, but he or his team will have examined all of the remains. That would have been quite a task given the amount of metalwork preserved on the twelve piers of the high girders section of the bridge, in addition to the two standing piers at both ends of the high girders section.

However, it is important to appreciate that those visible remains represent only a small part of the collapsed piers: most of the cast-iron columns and their wrought iron braces actually ended up on the river bed with the high girders themselves (Figure 22).

How much of that debris was retrieved in the months following the disaster is unknown: the high girders were themselves removed because the train itself lay within them.

So what kind of defects did he or his team observe? Tables 5, 6 and 7 in the next sections summarise all the various kinds of defect he observed in the remains of the bridge. They are divided into three general classes:

  • casting defects;

  • fitment flaws;

  • design defects.

We will examine these in turn now.