The National Archives of Scotland Home
A-Z Help Site search
You are in: NAS> About us> News and features>Forth rail bridge exhibition
Friday 6 January 2017

News: Portraits of a Scottish icon

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is launching on 9 October an exhibition of photographs of the Forth Rail Bridge, often described as one of the wonders of the industrial world. It will provide an interesting insight into this iconic structure, with contemporary artwork juxtaposed with historical images.

A dramatic photomontage of the Forth Rail Bridge structure, by renowned German artist, Dieter Appelt, will be the centrepiece of the exhibition. The piece, 'Forth Bridge- Cinema. Metric Space' (2002) consists of 312 separate gelatine silver prints crafted together. It was purchased with money from the National Galleries of Scotland - of which the Portrait Gallery is part - and The Art Fund and will remain in Edinburgh permanently.

For the exhibition, National Archives of Scotland (NAS) has contributed copies of 40 photographs from its holdings of an original collection of photographs taken by Evelyn Carey (1858-1932). Carey was the official photographer and assistant engineer on the Forth Rail Bridge. The collection of over 400 photographs gives a unique account of progress on the Forth Rail Bridge, from the building of parts on drill roads to almost completed spans of the bridge.

Image of the human cantilever (NAS ref: BR/FOR/4/34/161

The human cantilever
Demonstration of the Forth Bridge's construction, photographed by Evelyn Carey (NAS ref: BR/FOR/4/34/161), courtesy of British Rail Board (Residuary) Ltd

The bridge was designed by engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. Work commenced in 1883 on the massive steel structure which would become one of the greatest accomplishments in engineering. HRH Edward, Prince of Wales performed the opening ceremony on completion in 1890. It has recently been calculated that 63 lives were lost during construction on the bridge, perhaps a surprisingly small number considering the work involved, massive heights and time spent by construction workers below sea level. The huge scale of the structure, the work and the risks involved are well documented in Carey's photographs.

The exhibition runs from 9 October 2007 until 6 January 2008 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street. For further information and travel details see the National Galleries of Scotland website.

Photo of Forth Rail Bridge under construction

View of the Forth Rail Bridge under construction, from the north west.
Photograph by Evelyn Carey, in the records of the British Railways Board
(NAS reference: BR/FOR/4/34/223), courtesy of British Rail Board (Residuary) Ltd

Copies of the collection of Evelyn Carey's photographs are available for public viewing in the search room of NAS's West Register House, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.

If you would like to find out more about the construction, maintenance and administration of the Rail Bridge, NAS holds a collection of the British Railway Board's records on the Forth Bridge Railway, 1873-1948 (NAS ref BR/FOR) which includes minutes of meetings, engineers' reports etc and Carey's photographs (NAS ref BR/FOR/4/34). Two volumes of prints of some of Carey's photographs 1883-1889 are also available (NAS ref BR/LIB/S/9/49-50). Digital images of a collection of photographs and drawings of the Forth Rail Bridge works, 1884-1885 (GD1/1346) may be viewed in the NAS Search Rooms on the 'Virtual Volumes' system. Parliamentary bills and evidence can be a useful source of information as they often contain very detailed engineering information (several concerning the Forth Rail Bridge can be found under NAS ref BR/PYB/S/1).

Privacy statement | Terms of use | Using our site | Contact us | Complaints procedure | Copyright | Back to top
Page last updated: Wednesday 03 October 2007

The National Archives of Scotland, H.M. General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3YY; tel +44 (0) 131 535 1314; email: