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Life size Meccano bridge erected in Liverpool

A life size Meccano bridge was unveiled by Top Gear presented James May last weekend in Liverpool’s Pierhead.

This creation is part of the BBC2 series James May’s Toy Stories, where May takes iconic toys and does something huge and ambitious with them, with students building the bridge using the Active Learning Laboratory at Liverpool University’s Department of Engineering.

May walked across the 23 m long bridge constructed entirely from traditional Meccano.

Liverpool was home to Meccano for more than 70 years until the Binns Road “Factory of Dreams” closed in 1979.  30 years on and this great construction, built using more than 100,000 strips, girders and bolts of Meccano, triumphantly celebrates bringing Meccano back to its native soil. 

The basic concept for the bridge came out of a Dragon’s Den style pitch by five competing teams. The winning idea came from three architectural students from Liverpool University, while the challenge of transforming the idea into reality and engineering a bridge which can carry James May fell to leading engineering and design consultancy Atkins.

“Like all the best jobs, this was an extremely difficult and complex challenge but we had brilliant fun along the way,”said Atkins design director Hayden Nuttall. “I grew up playing with Meccano but never imagined I’d have to use it to design a real bridge. There’s no precedent for this so it was engineering in the dark, but I’m as confident as I can be that James will make it across in one piece.”

May was careful to stay faithful to the mechanics in Meccano and chose a bridge that moves, with one nine metre beam sliding into place like a canal lock gate, with the other 12 metre section rolling down like a drawbridge.

The construction of the bridge is being handled by the students of Liverpool University’s Mechanical Engineering department with some help from the North East Meccano Guild and is expected to have taken approximately 1,100 hours upon completion.

The bridge resides on the new Leeds Liverpool canal extension, which runs from the Albert Dock, past the foot of the Liver building all the way to Leeds and the rest of the European canal system.  The bridge has been erected outside the Liver building (Britain’s first sky scraper) as a celebration of the successes of Liverpool and British engineering.

 

 

Facts and figures

Number of parts – approx 100,000 including 28,000 bolts.

Number of man hours in construction – approx 1,100 hours

Width of Canal – 12m

Total length of Bridge – 23m

Width of bridge – 30cm (the width of a sheet of A3 paper)

Height of bridge over water – 5m (up to the guttering of a two-storey house)

Total Weight of Bridge – approx ½ tonne. 

Total length of Meccano in bridge laid end to end would stretch 6.1*10-13  light years or about three and a half miles.

Laid flat it would cover an area of 0.0001134 homesteads or 800 sq ft.

Readers' comments (14)

  • I suppose like many engineers my love of building bridges was nurtured by the Mecanno set Santa gave me one Christmas. The dream of building the real thing came to fruition when I joined Sir William Arrol & Co of Bridgeton, Glasgow and was posted to the Liverpool docks in the late 1960s. The place was awash with life sized Mecanno bridges and cranes and I was getting paid to build and repair them. Treat of all treats was the building of the Hornby (that conjures up other fond memories) Gladstone swing bridge. I believe it was the last device to be built for the High Pressure Mains system that operated many of the locks and bridges in the docks at that time. Wonder of wonders this bridge actually moved without any electronic motherboards or circuit wizardry. Just simple valves and trip switches with a camshaft as the main central processing unit. Oh those halcyon days. Why did life become so complicated after that?

    James Sneddon Dow (F)

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  • On the one hand this is incredibly cool. On the other, it is slightly lacking in ambition.

    I was expecting to see a full size footbridge from this project (wider than 30cm), with more than one person allowed on at once, and also with handrails so that anyone walking across didn't need a harness! The harness makes it look like a lack of faith in the engineering, whereas I assume it is mainly in case May loses balance.

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  • i was the project manager for the construction of this bridge. We were forced to use a harness by health and safety. Many of the people involved walked on it very successfully without a harness during testing at ground level. We would have liked it to have been more ambitious but due to cost constraints we had to design it to the minimum strength required. Lack of handrails was also due to health and safety incase the bridge did fail so that james may could jump away (even though it was tested an awful lot beforehand). Also while i am here, the press release is wrong on a few accounts. It took over 7000 painstaking manhours to complete this bridge which consisted of over 50000 nuts and bolts, almost double the amount stated above.

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  • plus i'm a civil engineer not a mechanical engineer

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  • Quit your whinging Charley!

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  • haha, im in the third picture along!!! w00p... there i'm not whinging now!!!

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  • Thanks for the comments Charlotte, great to have my queries answered by someone involved in the project.

    I did wonder whether cost was responsible for the relatively small (transverse) scale of the bridge. A pity the BBC didn't feel like stumping up any more money.

    Out of interest, do you know (and if so, are you allowed to reveal) how much the bridge cost? I would find it quite interesting, and it would add to the article when it gets published in NCE print edition.

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  • As a Meccano enthusiast, I have followed this project with great interest. The success of it is a tribute both to the people who designed and built the bridge and to the properties of the Meccano system. The comments made by Charlotte Melling have puzzled me a bit. As project leader, she must be right in her statement that more than 50,000 nuts and bolts were used. Could it be that the 28,000 bolts is the number of bolts alone, as is literally listed in the facts and figures table? That leaves me with the discrepancy of the listed hours of construction (1,100) vs the "7,000 painstaking manhours". Did the design phase actually take 5,900 hours, or should 1,100 be multiplied by the average number of men (and women!) building simultaneously?
    Finally, from the photos and videos I've seen so far I can't figure out how the pivot of the swing bridge was constructed. I can hardly imagine that this was entirely built from Meccano parts. I am curious how the team solved this problem, as the bridge swung smoothly during the performance!

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  • As a Meccano enthusiast, I have followed this project with great interest. The success of it is a tribute both to the people who designed and built the bridge and to the properties of the Meccano system. The comments made by Charlotte Melling have puzzled me a bit. As project leader, she must be right in her statement that more than 50,000 nuts and bolts were used. Could it be that the 28,000 bolts is the number of bolts alone, as is literally listed in the facts and figures table? That leaves me with the discrepancy of the listed hours of construction (1,100) vs the "7,000 painstaking manhours". Did the design phase actually take 5,900 hours, or should 1,100 be multiplied by the average number of men (and women!) building simultaneously?
    Finally, from the photos and videos I've seen so far I can't figure out how the pivot of the swing bridge was constructed. I can hardly imagine that this was entirely built from Meccano parts. I am curious how the team solved this problem, as the bridge swung smoothly during the performance!

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  • Please excuse the second message, which us a copy of the first: I pressed the button twice.

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