Cleddau Bridge Disaster – 50th Anniversary

50 years ago today at 2.16pm on 2nd June 1970 the Cleddau bridge at Pembroke Dock in Wales collapsed while under construction. Four workmen lost their lives in the accident. The BBC’s coverage of the anniversary is here.

The bridge was designed by Freeman Fox & Partners and Charles Doveton Crossthwaite, one of their partners, was living at Oxted Place East at the time. The firm experienced a second collapse, just four months later, of a box girder bridge while under construction at West Gate in Melbourne, Australia with the loss of 35 lives; to this day this remains Australia’s worst ever industrial accident. In the UK the Merrison Committee of Inquiry was set up to investigate both failures. The Inquiry found that the Cleddau bridge failure was due to inadequate design of the diaphragm bulkhead inside the box girder above the support pier. The Inquiry also found that “the failure of site organisation between the parties was of more general significance”.

During the Inquiry Oxted Place East served as Freeman Fox’s base for coordinating their defence (senior partner Sir Ralph Freeman lived nearby in Ballards Lane, Limpsfield). For this task the billiard room was converted to the document library filled with many tables piled high with papers.

While Freeman Fox went on to design a number of other long span bridges, including the Humber bridge, their reputation never fully recovered from these two catastrophic failures and in 1987 the firm merged with John Taylor & Sons to form Acer Consultants (now part of Arcadis).

The Merrison Committee of Inquiry initiated the implementation of Interim Design and Workmanship Rules for box girder bridges which subsequently developed into British Standard BS 5400. Cleddau bridge’s collapse during construction was the last major bridge disaster in the UK.