Kent

The man who helped build the Dartford bridge

Dennis McNally on Dartford Bridge
Image caption Dennis McNally supervised a team of about 56 men who constructed the concrete towers

As the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford approaches, one man remembers what it was like to help build the famous structure.

Millions of people in south-east England have crossed the Dartford bridge. It is as well known for the length of its tailbacks as it is for the height of its imposing structure.

However, when Dennis McNally sees the bridge, he says he feels suitably "chuffed" as he was one of the people who helped to build the concrete pier towers central to the structure.

Originally from Newcastle, Mr McNally moved to Dartford to work on a ferry terminal project, before becoming the general foreman in charge of concreting and labour for the new bridge.

It was his job to supervise the construction of the four main piers on each side of the river. Reaching about 200ft (61m), the towers were slip formed - a procedure used for constructing large chimneys.

"Once you start pouring the concrete, you carry on until it [the tower] is finished at the top," explained Mr McNally.

Image caption The bridge opened on 30 October 1991

"It's 24 hours a day pouring concrete - it creeps up an inch at a time and it took 10 days and 10 nights per column."

On a clear day he could see most of Essex and Kent from the top of the towers.

He said: "When you look at the area now it's all industrialised. When we were there it was all fields - that's all you could see."

Stuck at the top

During one of Mr McNally's shifts up a tower on the Essex side, a World War II bomb was found on the approach road to the bridge.

"When I looked over the side I could see the traffic for miles in both directions on the M25 and nothing was moving, the tunnel was shut and I hadn't a clue how I was going to get home when my shift finished.

"Fortunately the fella who took over from me lived on the Essex side so he came up and I came down.

"I had no way of getting across so I got a safety boat - it took us across and I walked up to the pub to wait until the traffic moved."

Even as it was being built the bridge was subject of discussion and controversy.

"When I was on the Essex side people used to complain it was called the Dartford bridge - they didn't like the idea and wanted to call it the Tilbury Bridge.

"I said 'You can call it what you like it will be always be called the Dartford bridge' - and it is, even though it's named the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge."

Image caption When the bridge was being built fields surrounded the construction sites

Specialist abseilers

Mr McNally worked on the project for about two years.

When the towers were almost ready, because there was no scaffold, a team of specialist abseilers were brought in to go down over the sides on ropes and patch up and make good any little holes.

Mr McNally believes the new bridge was necessary at the time but now, after just 20 years, the problems at the crossing are back to what they were prior to the bridge opening.

He said: "They built the bridge because the tunnel couldn't cope and everything was perfect for a while but now there is just too much traffic again and they need another one - preferably not in Dartford."

However, 20 years on Mr McNally still remains proud of his involvement with the bridge.

"When I see it I think 'I helped to build that' and so does everybody else in the family. In fact it's known as Den's bridge."

More on this story