Following the construction of the Manchester ship canal in the early 1890's the ancient rowing ferry crossing the Runcorn Gap was no longer viable due to the canal wall. In 1899 the Widnes & Runcorn Bridge Company was established under the chairmanship of Sir John Brunner to investigate alternatives. They opted for a transporter bridge at one third of the cost of a high level bridge.
A transporter bridge consists of a high-level gantry along which a wheeled trolley moves. A cargo-carrying platform suspended under the trolley travels at ground level. Traffic enters the platform at one side of the bridge, and the trolley carries it to the other side.
The Widnes-Runcorn bridge was one of only three transporter bridges of this scale built in the UK, Meccano of Liverpool based their Super Model Transporter Briddge on it and it became a favourite toy of budding engineers the world over.
The suspended platform known as the car was 18 meters and 8 meters wide. It was designed to carry 4 two-horse farm waggons and 300 passengers.The bottom of the car was 4 meters above high water level clearing the ship canal wall by 1.5 Meters. it had a span across the Mersey of 305 metres with The bridge towers standing 58 metres above high water. The main cables supporting the bridge were 30 centimetres thick and weighed 250 tons. A power house was built within the tower on the Widnes side to provide power for the trolley motors and is now a Widnes listed building.
Closure of the ferry and construction of the bridge was approved by an Act of Parliament in 1900 it was designed by John Webster and John Wood and constructed between December 1901 aand 1905 at a cost of £130,000 The Widnes-Runcorn transporter bridge was opened by on 29 May 1905 but although it was a magnificent feat of Edwardian engineering there were problems with the suspended car which would often be closed down in high winds. The company failed to make it pay and in 1911 it was bought by Widnes Corporation who made a number of improvements over the years, as the operators of the bus department they created an integrated transport service, with a Corporation bus stop at the bridge ticket office. Unfortunately on the Runcorn side the nearest bus stop was over a mile away.
King George V was a passenger on the bridge in 1925 and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1958. By the late 50's it was obvious that it was inadequate for the growing needs of the region, and plans were made to replace it with the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge a fixed high-level bridge, which opened in 1961 after which the transporter bridge was demolished.Prior to closure it was making 49,000 journeys, carrying 280,000 cars, 145,000 commercial vehicles and over 2 million passengers per year.