Tyne's Gatekeeper to Roads and River; What Is It like to Work in One of the North East's Most Important Cultural Landmarks and to Operate 135 Years of Engineering History? STUART EDWARDS Speaks to George Fenwick of the Tyne's Swing Bridge to Find Out

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Byline: STUART EDWARDS

FOR 23 years George Fenwick, of Wallsend, has manned the River Tyne Swing Bridge, opening up both road and water to cars and ships alike.

With years of practice, the frightening level of precision needed to connect 12,000 tonnes of bridge to its roads has become second nature to George.

He says: "There's no bigger gap than maybe an inch and a half to connect the fixed and moveable part of the bridge.

"If there's even a slight gap to one side, can you imagine what would happen if somebody fell through the 10ft drop onto the support? That's assuming they don't bounce off into the river." "Common sense can be dangerous too, if someone falls and gets an arm caught or someone takes a run at it in a bike.

"Twelve thousand tonnes of fastmoving bridge; if you get in the way of that, there's nothing I can do, it'll take your arm off."

Such concerns are all part of the job on the Swing Bridge. Since 1898, 63-year-old George has had to ensure that such concerns do not bring both Newcastle and Gateshead to a standstill. He says: "There was this one time where we couldn't open the road for 35 minutes and couple of buses stopped anyone being able to U-turn; apparently the queues stretched right back up to Gosforth.

"Today's [Monday's] swing there just took eight minutes. There's no room for error."

George is married with two children, a son and daughter, so it's not just the well-being of the bridge's users that he has to be vigilant for. Just last year, he had his own lucky escape.

He says: "I was nearly killed because I stood in the wrong place.

"I'm 5ft 8ins and there's a fence by where I was stood that's 6ft high and that now has a massive dent in. If the weight of that bridge had hit me at full speed, I'd be dead. Simple as that."

The Swing Bridge is currently in a Catch 22 situation.

This original Armstrong Whitworth construction is a piece of hydraulic engineering history, due to its 135-yearold history. English Heritage is aware of its historic value, however, the bridge still plays a fundamental part in connecting both banks of the Tyne.

"If you go to places like New York, they've got more modern swing bridges but hydraulic engineering hasn't changed massively. …