Bridging the Tay at Dunkeld
The medieval bridge begun by Alexander Myln in 1510 had collapsed by the early 17th century and for two hundred years crossings were made by two ferries - the Inver Ferry upstream of the Cathedral and the East Ferry downstream of Little Dunkeld Church.
Recognising the poor state of the roads and lack of bridges in Scotland, the government instructed Telford to carry out a survey for improving communications. In 1802 he reported that a bridge could be built at Dunkeld on a straight reach of the river a little way above the East Ferry at a cost of £15,000 (nearly £1m in today’s prices). The 4th Duke of Atholl agreed to give up his interest in the ferries and meet half the cost on the understanding his investment could be recovered by tolls.
Construction of the bridge began in the spring of 1803, at first supervised by Patrick Brown and then John Simpson under Telford’s direction. The sandstone for the arches was quarried at Gellyburn on the Murthly Estate, some 10km to the south east of Dunkeld and the stone for the rubblework was sourced in local quarries to the west of Birnam. The foundations of the bridge are not piled but are laid on rafts of larch cut from the neighbouring Polney Wood.
On the 24th June 1805, a ceremony was held to inaugurate the construction the stone bridge. Sir George Stewart, laird of the Murthly Estate laid the foundation stone in the Duke of Atholl’s absence and, after the workmen had all received and downed a dram, construction began. Over 250 workmen (masons, carpenters, smiths, quarrymen and labourers) were employed during the construction of the bridge.
Despite adverse weather conditions with high water levels often flooding foundations, the bridge was opened to the public in October 1808 and finally approved by Telford as complete in November 1809.