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History of the Ken Bridge

The Ken Bridge

The designer was Sir John Rennie the famous bridge builder and civil engineer who, between 1799 and 1803 built the stone bridge at Kelso which was his model for his masterpiece - Waterloo Bridge. According to Samuel Smiles' "Lives of the Engineers" Vol. 2. Rennie built two bridges at New Galloway - a 3 arch granite bridge of 1811 and the present 5 arch bridge of 1820, but this last is wrong, as May 1821 saw the start of the present Ken Bridge.

The following data is derived from a diary kept by Rennie's foreman in the building of Ken Bridge, James Gauld, the father of Mrs. Haugh late of Castle Douglas and a great grandfather of the undersigned writer of these notes.
The contractor for the bridge was Mr. Mathieson. James Gauld was an Aberdonian mason and brought men presumably experienced in preparing granite for building with him to the Glenkens district. James Gauld's son was a shoemaker subsequently in the Royal Burgh, and made boots for local shepherds and some not so local, for he had orders from the Falkland Islands.

The first entry in the diary reads:

"19th May, 1851. This day, Mr. Mathieson going to commence cutting the founds, and we thought it necessary to make a notch in a growing tree on the verge of the river above where the bridge is to stand. This mark is four feet five inches above the surface of the water before the cutting of the found commenced". On the 28th May, 1821 the diary reads:- "This day laying the foundations of the Bridge of Kenmure". On 29th May Mr. Gauld was busy superintending the excavation of the rock for the first pier of the middle arch. Subsequently piles were driven for the foundation of the pier of the middle arch. This was owing to the softness of the ground. First of all they had to make a coffer-dam by driving 108 shutting piles round the site of the pier. The water was then pumped out of the compartment to let the men work. Then within this, 128 iron pointed piles 20-24' long were driven into the soft ground until they would go no further. On 11th July there was an inrush of water but six pumps cleared the compartment. Once the piles were all in, the next thing to lay was a course of large stones and then a series of 22 sills 17.5' long and 6" deep. On the top of the sills were laid nineteen 4" thick planks 38' long. Transversely again on top of these were laid forty three 3" thick planks laid the reverse of the former and each fixed in their order and bolted with inch bolts. Then on this platform were laid the ashlars or facing stones the height of the course being 16" headers and stretchers, and the foundation was ready for building operations.

On 12th July, Sir John Rennie paid a surprise visit and inspected the works and evidently found all to his satisfaction.

From 18 - 31st July ten courses of ashlars were duly laid on the pier of the middle arch. During August the second pier on the west side of the river was dealt with likewise. On average, about a dozen piles were driven each day.

On 1st September the builders were in a position to begin the ringwalls. A heavy flood on 3rd October held things up but did no serious damage. October and November were occupied with the building of the piers, laying the spring stones and preparing the arch stones in the quarry at Burnfoot. In January and February, 1822, the carpenters were busy erecting the centring for the arches while the men were driving protective piles around the piers. Another big flood on 2nd February passed the 8' level. The land arch on the western side was finished on 23rd April, the second arch on the west side on 11th May, the third arch on 17th June, the fourth arch on 28th June and the fifth arch on 18th July, after which the ringwalls and spandrills were duly proceeded with - on 2nd November the bridge stood up to another big flood. The final coping was laid 7 - 18 December and the last entry is 21st December, 1822, this day completed the mason work for Kenmore (sic) Bridge. The building thus took only a little over 19 months.

James Gauld was also the foreman builder of Threave Bridge over the Dee at Castle Douglas and contractor for the Dee Bridge (now a ruin) at Clatteringshaws. The Central span of Ken Bridge is 90'. One would like to suppose that Ken Bridge would become an object of attention for preservation by the National Trust of Scotland.

There is a historic appropriateness perhaps in the circumstance that a great grandson of James Gauld, Richard D. Gauld, A.I.M.I.C.E. who died in 1936 was the chief bridge engineer of the then existing L.M.S. railway.

William A. Gauld
New Galloway

14th July 1957.


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