Mr Rendel’s Floating Bridge

The previous post mentioned the floating bridge or chain ferry which was included in some railway plans as a means of crossing the river. But it wasn’t primarily a railway crossing – it was intended to replace or augment the existing steam ferry boats.1

Floating Bridge

To operate the ferry, chains would be laid across the river bed from Fife to Dundee. The steam ferry boat would use its engines to wind itself along the chains rather than drive a paddle wheel. The chains would need a counterbalance at each end. The boat would be able to load and unload via its ramps which only needed a flat landing place rather than an expensive pier. The power required by the boat was calculated to be one tenth of that used to power its paddle wheels.

The idea of a floating bridge on the Tay was first put forward as early as March 1834.2 James Meadows Rendel, who had successfully installed such a ‘bridge’ at Saltash, proposed to install and operate one here. The proposal was received coolly in Dundee, but the Ferry Trustees were soon to be overtaken by the march of progress.

Over the next few years several influences came together: competing railway companies were considering how to cross the Tay; the ferry operation was increasingly busy but was hampered by the sandbank in the middle of the river; the Harbour Trust (at that time a different organisation from the Ferry Trustees) were looking for extra low-water facilities; and the Ferry Trustees’ debts were not being repaid.

Above all, it was the finances of the Ferry Trustees that were to force the issue. Set up in 1819 to improve the ferry, the Trust had built piers, provided new boats and created a fairly efficient system. Their present annual income from tolls was £4900 with running costs of £3470. Unfortunately, the improvements had come at a cost: they were £46000 in debt. Of this, £22850 was public money, £8828 was owed to the Dundee Banking Co, £1791 to Mr Stewart of St Fort, and £500 to the former innkeeper and tacksmen at Woodhaven, one now deceased, as compensation for their loss of business when the ferry moved to Newport. All amounts are ‘plus interest’ or ‘plus a considerable arrear of interest’.3 There was comment at the time that the public were not aware of the amount of debt, since only income and expenditure accounts were publicly presented.4

The Exchequer Loan Commissioners (or the Public Works Loan Commissioners – the public source of funding) were obviously so concerned that they had unilaterally taken control of the ferry and intended to operate it or take such actions as would see a return of their investment.

They moved quickly and asked for a report – from James Rendel.

So in September 1842 Mr Rendel again proposed his floating bridge.5 This time he had some powerful backing. He didn’t foresee any problems with the tides or the amount of traffic. However, because of the sandbank in the middle of the river, the existing terminal at Newport pier would not be usable. Instead it was proposed to move the terminal to Craighead (where now the road bridge makes its Fife landfall). The Dundee terminal would be at the Beacon Rock (the southernmost of the 2 rocks off Dundee docks just east of the road bridge) and this would need to be connected to the main harbour. The Princess Royal (existing ferry boat) would only need 1 of her engines to operate the winding gear. Running costs would be £1700 with 2 crossings per hour. There would be no need to increase charges, the number of crossings could be increased, and the debt could be repaid.

Dundee Bailie Adam Symon (who incidentally had lived at Broadhaugh) championed Rendel’s cause but many of the Ferry Trustees, in particular Mr Berry, were strongly opposed to the idea.6

When the plans for Parlaiment were made, the Dundee terminal had changed to be at Craig Pier.7 The Fife terminal remained at Craighead – it gave a shorter crossing, avoided the sandbanks and was ideally placed for a railway terminal.

The Parliamentary bill was rapidly passed.8 The Ferry Trustees’ protestations came to nothing. The Act was overwhelmingly about finance – making sure that the debt would be repaid. The floating bridge seemed certain to go ahead and the operation was given 5 years to be up and running.9

The railway companies were initially overjoyed10 with the idea (although they continually referred to Beacon Rock as being the Dundee terminus). As time passed, they became lukewarm.

But …

This floating bridge came to nothing. The Dundee Banking Company bought the outstanding Tay Ferries loan from the Public Works Loan Commissioners11 thereby taking out their interest and drive in the project. The Bank then sold the debt to the Scottish Central Railway Company, whose plans for a railway failed to materialise. Instead the Edinburgh & Northern Railway (who had tried to buy out the Public Works Loan Commissioners but were thwarted by the Bank), out of what appears to be a fit of pique, built their harbour at Tayport and operated their own floating bridges, designed by Thomas Bouch, from there to Broughty Ferry. And very successful they were too.


This plan12 , which goes from what is now the Tay Road Bridge landfall on the right to almost the foot of James Street on the left, shows the intended landing area at Craighead. The 2 blocks in the centre are Craighead Cottage and a small cottage to the east of it; the 2 blocks towards the left are Kempstane (now the site of 81 Tay Street). The landing place is now the site of the nursing home and Taygrove – 111, 113, 115 Tay Street.


And what of James Rendel? He had worked on the Tay before – surveying the new landing piers for the Tay Ferry as an assistant to Thomas Telford.13 His floating bridges were used at Dartmouth, Saltash, Torpoint, Southampton & Portsmouth. But he was better remembered as a dock engineer (Birkenhead & Grimsby) than for his ferries. He died in London in 1856.14


  1. Fifeshire Journal, 3 Nov 1842, p1 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  2. Caledonian Mercury, 17 Mar 1834, p3
  3. Fife Herald, 1 Sep 1842, p4; and Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  4. Fife Herald, 5 May 1842, p1
  5. Fife Herald, 1 Sep 1842, p4
  6. Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3; Fifeshire Journal, 6 Apr 1843, p2; Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
  7. Plan and sections of proposed floating bridge across River Tay from Craighead to Craig Harbour, Dundee at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP34329.
  8. Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
  9. Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  10. Fife Herald, 23 Sep 1843, p3
  11. Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 16 Sep 1845, p2
  12. Drawing of ferry boat, and plan of Craighead, from Plan and sections of proposed floating bridge across River Tay from Craighead to Craig Harbour, Dundee at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP34329.
  13. Rendel’s Floating Bridges, Alan Kittridge, 2008. Useful for background, but the section on the Tay has errors (the ferry was approved by Parliament, it just was never built).
  14. Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History,; and Rendel’s Floating Bridges, Alan Kittridge, 2008.

A Tunnel Under Tayfield

The Intricacies of Railway Mania

Map showing path of Rendel’s floating bridge

Following on from the previous blog Big Plans about the Edinburgh and Northern (the E & N) Railway’s plans for a line from Cupar via Leuchars to Tayport and then possibly on to Newport, other companies were desperate to run the line through Fife to Dundee.

In September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Junction Railway (the G & D J) proposed to go from Glasgow via Stirling and Kinross, Strathmiglo, Auchtermuchty and Cupar to Newport. In its journey through Fife it would meet the E & N, presumably at Cupar, ‘from whence it will proceed directly to Newport … where there is a short and commodious ferry.’ ‘No tunnelling will be necessary. The gradients and curves are unexceptionable, and the work throughout will be light.’ The prospectus said that the whole line ‘is supported by a majority of landowners through whose properties it is intended to pass’ 1 . The wording in the prospectus is unclear – did it mean that the railway would stop at Cupar and use the E & N rails to carry the traffic; or did it mean it would connect with the E & N and then itself go directly to Newport (but without tunnels)?

Also in September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Direct Railway (the G & D D) put out their prospectus 2 . Despite their name, they took as their starting point Dundee harbour and from the outset intended to use Mr Rendel’s floating bridge across the river to Craighead* (shown as a purple dashed line). The floating bridge idea had been approved by Parliament in 1843 3 and originally was intended to (1) provide a replacement or additional ferry terminal at Craighead and (2) operate it as a chain ferry (or floating bridge) by converting one of the existing steamers 4 . But the G & D D prospectus went further – ‘railway carriages and wagons were to pass without change from … Glasgow to Dundee and Arbroath’ – in other words the wagons were to roll on to the floating bridge and roll off at the other side – just like that!

Once on Fife ground, the G & D D line was to take ‘the most direct line’ from Craighead (Newport) to Kinross and then on to Stirling. It was also intended to form a short branch to Cupar.

But ambition doesn’t guarantee success. The G & D D’s grandiose plans lasted only a week before the company was amalgamated with the G & D J 5.

While all this is going on, surveyors and engineers must have been on the ground. Two months later, in November 1845, the plans are issued for public consultation prior to presentation to Parliament 6 . And what a dog’s breakfast they are.

The plans, now nominally G & D J plans, are for a line – shown in blue, tunnels in dashed blue -from Craighead, with no mention of connection to the floating bridge, then west along the coast to Newport Pier. From there, 2 alternatives were given:

  1. a line continuing along the shore past Woodhaven and Scroggieside, round a bend to pass Wormit Farm, then through the Wormit Gap in the hills and round the hill at Sandford. The main line would run from there west through open countryside past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty, then on to Kinross and eventually Stirling and Glasgow. (4.6 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm). Yes, you read correctly – the main line would run past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty.
  2. a line heading south past Tayfield and Friarton, then turning southwest to join up with option (1) at Easter Kinnear Farm. (3.5 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm).

Both options would connect to a branch to Cupar and St Andrews. [Interestingly, there was no proposed link for traffic approaching from the west to get to the Cupar & St Andrews branch. Cupar was to be reached by a minor branch much further west, while St Andrews would have been unreachable from the west. All the attention seems to have been on the Dundee to Kinross line.]

I have a whole page showing the planned line in Newport and Woodhaven on here.

The direct route, option 2, (and railway promoters were always pushing for the ‘direct’ route) is thus over a mile shorter than option 1. However, and there is a big ‘however’, route 2 passes through hilly ground. The usual answer to this is to make cuttings and maybe a tunnel – but these are expensive. Tunnelling is very expensive. Having climbed from Newport pier there would have to be a tunnel under the eastern part of St Fort Hill (between the Old Kirk Road just south of Newport and Friarton), and another under Knockhill (between West Friarton and South Friarton). But the plans show tunnel all the way from Tayfield North Lodge to West Friarton. Would it have to be tunnelled all this way? I doubt it. The ground rises steadily but not excessively as it goes from the lodge, through what is now St Serfs grounds, to Kirk Road. Tunnelling here is not an engineering necessity.

If it was a case of being hidden from sight from the grounds of Tayfield, then there was also the issue of smoke, fumes and noise as a north-bound train exits the tunnel at Newport – and that would quite easily be seen from Tayfield House. South-bound trains would create more noise and smoke but this would mostly be cleared by the wind before entering the tunnel.

What did option 2 have in its favour to justify the additional expense? Why was that route even considered? Was it a legacy of its original G & D D ‘direct line’?

Was its expense simply there to make the Wormit route more attractive?

What about the support of the landowners? Was Mr Berry in favour? He had been unsuccessful in arguing against the floating bridge at Craighead in 1843 7 . Was this another obstacle to the G & D J line to help make it economically unviable?

[Added after original post: Another newspaper extract 12 has come to light commenting about the engineers surveying for a direct line and a tunnel to run from Forgan Smithy under Forgan Hill to Tayfield Den or Maryton [sic]. It gives the advantages of this route as ‘avoiding the interference with the amenity of St Fort & Tayfield, and with the valuable fishings in Wormit Bay’. It goes on to say that the landowners gave the engineers utmost freedom in their survey. If it isn’t the best route, don’t blame the landowners. It finishes with a wish that the tunnel should be liberally lit by gas. – So this is the ‘direct line’ option.]

Whatever the reasons, the G & D J went ahead and sought Parliamentary approval. But all did not go well. While passing through parliamentary scrutiny in April 1846, it had numerous objectors and the drawn plans in particular were criticised and found to be wanting. The bill was therefore thrown out for failing to comply with standing orders 8 .

The G & D J was short-lived. Only 9 months after being proposed, the company was wound up 9 , leaving the E& N line to Tayport as the only railway crossing to Dundee – until the next proposals appeared .

*Craighead is the point of land immediately west of the Fife end of the Tay Road Bridge. Craighead Cottage and, later, Craighead Farm and eventually Craighead housing scheme all take their names from their proximity to this point of land. On 17th century maps it is called ‘Scarness’, but by 1703 Adair’s map of the River Tay names it as ‘Craig head’ 10 , and there is a baptism recorded at Craighead in 1726 11 .


  1. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 26 Sep 1845, p3 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  2. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 23 Sep 1845, p3
  3. Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  4. Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3 ; and Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
  5. Dundee Courier, 30 Sep 1845, p3
  6. Bound plans and sections of Glasgow and Dundee Junction Railway from Stirling to Newport and Dundee via Kinross… at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP85254.
  7. Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
  8. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 7 Apr 1846, p1
  9. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 5 Jun 1846, p2
  10. Fifae Pars Orientalis, Blaeu, 1654 ; and The Frith of the River Tay …, Adair, 1703 at the National Library of Scotland
  11. Old Parish Records, Forgan parish 431/1, baptism of James Gilcrest 8 May 1726 , ScotlandsPeople
  12. Fifeshire Journal, 30 Oct 1845, p6

Additional reading:

  • The Railways of Fife, William Scott Bruce, 1980
  • Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, vol 15 North of Scotland, John Thomas & David Turnock, 1993