Forth Bridge sculpture tribute to dead builders

The sculpture remember those lost during the construction of the bridge. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The sculpture remember those lost during the construction of the bridge. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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IT is regarded as one of the engineering marvels of the world, but its construction came at a huge human cost.

Now, a city art teacher has created a sculpture of a section of the Forth Bridge and a trio of workers as a tribute to more than 70 men and boys who lost their lives building the rail crossing.

Mark Rees, head of art at independent school Cargilfield, in Cramond, has created the masterpiece with the help of dozens of pupils aged nine to 13.

He said the piece was inspired by an old newspaper photograph – and that he now hopes it will end up on display in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Rees, who lives in Kirkliston, said: “We decided to reproduce three Briggers [the name given to the thousands of men who built the bridge] out of paper mache and real clothing, and taking casts of the children’s faces and hands. It’s quite realistic in that respect.

“I brought an old futon in and we built a 15-feet section of the bridge based on an old photograph from a newspaper – the original photo was from 1890 and showed a few Briggers painting the bridge. That inspired us to do the sculpture, which now hangs from the ceiling in the art room.”

The 51-year-old added: “We decided to paint the whole thing red because we felt because of the loss of life over those years and the years of commitment and dedication to building the bridge, the Briggers were effectively part of it.”

The sculpture took more than three months to make and also features a cat, tools 
including a spanner, a packed lunch, ladders and rivets.

Mr Rees said he would invite Alex Salmond to see the piece and that the “ultimate goal” was to display it at the parliament.

Pupils who had their locks trimmed at the hairdressers while the sculpture was being created were even encouraged to use their own hair in the piece, creating a beard for one of the workers to make the artwork “more realistic”.

Mr Rees said: “I heard that one of the Briggers fell into one of the concrete bases and broke his back. They fed him sandwiches with rat poison to kill him off quicker because they couldn’t get him out.

“Our sculpture is a kind of memorial to the 71-plus guys who died. The figures have ‘become’ the bridge. Casts of faces and hands give the structure an eerie feel.”


MORE than 70 people died during the construction of the Forth Bridge in South Queensferry.

The crossing was built in the late 19th century and was considered an engineering marvel, but working conditions were dangerous. The youngest person to die during building work was only 13.

In 2007, First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled a memorial to the workers killed building the bridge. The sculpture of a section of the bridge, designed by Hamish Gilchrist, was put in place outside the Rail Bridge Inn in South Queensferry. The stone base was designed by students from Telford College.