Conon Bridge History

Conon Bridge Community Collage
In 1809 this bridge, constructed under the supervision of the renowned engineer, Thomas Telford, became the means of crossing the River Conon, replacing the ferry which existed upstream. In the background is the railway bridge and on the right can be seen the toll house.  (photograph courtesy of W J McCulloch)

A History of Conon Bridge through old photographs

(photographs courtesy of W J McCulloch, unless otherwise stated)

 
Early photo of Conon Hotel with policeman, gentleman with impressive watchchain and cyclist - a tourist setting off from the hotel?

View of Conon Hotel from bridge, showing horse waiting patiently for owner and boy with bicycle. House on right is now 'The Drouthy Duck'.  The postcard, dated 12 June, with a George V stamp and dated 1934, is addressed to an Anthony Browne, in Esher, and reads:  "We have just arrived here. Our bedroom is the window over the front door by the lamp."


Progress on Conon high street with cars instead of horse and cart.


Apart from cars, more like the frontage of Conon Hotel as it exists.


Telford's bridge.  By the 1970s the condition of the bridge had deteriorated and it had superimposed a 'Bailey' bridge controlled by traffic lights.  A modern bridge was constructed, downstream, a short distance away. 


A downstream view of the bridge with the toll house to the right and Frank Menzies' garage appearing over the parapet.


Conon River, looking downstream from the bridge. On the left there is a horse at the water's edge and two figures bending over in a boat. The right bank of the river shows a more pleasant view than exists in 2008.  This same bank has been occupied at various times by Logan's stone and aggregate plant, Pescanova's fish factory and (2015) has planning permission for housing.  At one stage there was a proposal to build a joint school for Maryburgh and Conon there. 


The Toll House at the Maryburgh end of Conon Bridge with the extension built by the then owner, Mr Robert Dougall, in the 1960s, by using stone from the former ice house which lay in the curtilage of his property.


The tollhouse in its location beside the bridge.  (source unknown)


The avenue leading from Maryburgh to Conon Bridge, with the Telford bridge on the left. The trees have long since vanished and the area on the left has modern bungalows while the area on the right was built as local authority housing and is known as Wrightfield Park.






Building of the new bridge underway, with small observers in foreground!  (source of all three photos unknown)


Finally, a new bridge.




This allowed demolition of Telford's bridge.  (source RCHS)

 
A view of the main street in Conon, possibly in the 1930s. On the left is Ferintosh Church and the wall, which no longer exists, is the boundary of the area which is now a car park. The small building, second on right, is where the petrol station existed for some years.


Back to possibly the 1920s with this photograph of Ferintosh Church of Scotland. (source Tony Innes)


Another view of main street - unknown date, possibly late 1940s. Can anyone identify the large building with the curved roof which existed on what is now the entrance to Riverbank Road? Also, can anyone identify the large, white building beyond Conon Hotel?

Since posing these questions, RCHS has received an e.mail from Cameron Gilpin, who can recall that, in the early 60's, he and his friends played in the ruins of the white building which was always referred to as being an ice house.

The actual ice house is remembered as the usual domed structure, most of which was set deep into the ground. It, too, was demolished and the stones used to extend the adjacent toll house. Could it be that the large white building was an ornate "cover" for the ice house? Anyone with detailed information about the building please contact RCHS on rchs@maryburgh.org.uk .


This postcard, entitled Evening Conon Bridge, has a George VI stamp and is dated July 1943. It is addressed to a Mrs W Ogston, Tarland, Aberdeenshire, and the message reads, "Having nice holiday. Lovely scenery and lovely weather. Did you get any strawberries?"


Another view of the main street - in the 1950s?


Newspaper cutting, source and photographer unknown.


Conon was not without its traumas and, in the 1960s, the river Conon burst its banks and caused considerable flooding.  Here is Ferintosh Church of Scotland surrounded by water.  [Photo courtesy of Tony Innes]

And, finally, back to an "Ice Age" (c.1911??) with the entire river frozen.  The people, and dog, are standing west of the railway bridge, with Telford's road bridge in the background.  (source RCHS)


Conon railway bridge plaque.  [Photo courtesy of Douglas Chisholm]
The contractor responsible for building the bridge was George Meakin, Birkenhead.

In June 2012 there appeared in the Ross-shire Journal an extract from the book Pioneers of the Highland Tracks, written by Anne-Mary Paterson, concerning the 150th anniversary of the opening of a Ross-shire rail link.  The article is reproduced courtesy of the author and of the editor of the Ross-shire Journal.


The rail bridge 150 years after construction.  [Photo courtesy of Highland Railway Society]

In January 1859, Alexander Matheson convened a meeting of interested parties to discuss the building of a railway from Inverness to Dingwall.  Matheson was a director of Jardine Matheson which traded between India and China.  He and his uncle, James, one of the founders both made fortunes and were able to purchase Highland estates.  Alexander owned Ardross, near Alness.

After Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Balmoral, the Scottish Highlands became a popular tourist destination.   The landed gentry liked to travel each summer to their Scottish estates along with their retinue, so good communications were essential for them as well as for the local population who were able to benefit from the employment provided.

The indigenous landowners were also keen on the railway as they realised that this was an opportunity for them to develop the resources of their estates for export such as wood, fish, grain and whisky.  

The Dingwall Town Council was very enthusiastic about a railway.  Its citizens had either to walk or ride on horseback to Inverness or rely on the stagecoach.  From there, they were able to get a train to Aberdeen and travel further south if they wished.

The directors asked Joseph Mitchell, the engineer for the railway eastwards along the coast to Keith, to carry out a survey.  He and his assistants, William and Murdoch Paterson (Anne-Marie Paterson's great-granduncles) set to work.

Although the country along the coast is flat, there were a number of obstacles to negotiate;  there was the River Ness and the Caledonian Canal and then the railway had to squeeze between Clachnaharry and the steep hillside behind the village. 

To save money there was a low-level wooden viaduct over the River Beauly, but the Ness and Conon were of stone.  A swing bridge crossed the canal.

Parliament approved the Inverness and Ross-shire Railway for the thirty-one miles to Invergordon in July 1860.

Alexander Matheson's wife cut the first sod in Inverness on 19 September 1860.   To celebrate there was a general holiday.  The workers received beef, bread and ale from a special booth.  Although the contractor, George Meakin, was from Birkenhead, most of his labour came from the west coast of Ross-shire.

This was an extremely busy time for Mitchell and his Paterson assistants as planning work was already under way on the Inverness and Perth Junction Railway which was authorised in July 1861.

On completion, trains ran directly from Inverness to the south via Aviemore.  Work started in August 1861 and the whole line opened in September 1863.  Work on the Dingwall line proceeded quickly.

The most difficult viaduct was the Conon.  Miss Mackenzie of Seaforth laid the foundation stone in November 1860.

The masonly viaduct, adjacent to what was then a Telford road bridge, has five arches and is on a skew of forty-five degrees to the river, the north abutment being 304 feet downstream of the south abutment.

Mitchell considered it a great feat of bridge engineering.  It is said he originally favoured an iron girder bridge but decided on masonry because of its durability.

One hundred and fifty years ago, on 11 June 1862, the railway opened.  Colonel Yolland from the Board of Trade inspected it the previous day and was entirely satisfied with the work.  Two new engines, Belladrum and Lovat, worked the line.

After the lunch in the National Hotel, Dingwall, following the opening, Provost Falconer of Dingwall said that the arrival of the railway was, "... the most momentous event that has ever occurred in its annals since the title 'royal' was conferred upon it by Alexander I in 1226". 


 
 
 
For further information about the Parish in which Conon Bridge lies, see - 

New Statistical Account (1840)

Old Statistical Account (1790)

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