Captain Samuel Brown lived from 1776 to 15 March 1852. He was an English naval captain and engineer who pioneered the use of chains in suspension bridges. He is best known as the builder of the Union Chain Bridge Over the River Tweed. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Samuel Brown joined the Royal Navy at the age of 19 in 1795. He steadily rose through the ranks, serving as lieutenant on HMS Royal Sovereign in 1803 and first lieutenant on HMS Phoenix in 1805. By 1811 he had been promoted to the rank of commander. From early in his career, Brown undertook experiments using chains instead of ropes for parts of ships' rigging and for their mooring lines. His work led to the Admiralty beginning to introduce chains to replace ropes for mooring lines and anchors.
In 1808 Brown took out patents on a series of innovations arising from his work, including twisted open chain links, joining shackles and swivels. Some of his designs were not improved on for a further century. In 1812 he established a company known Brown Lenox & Co with his cousin Samuel Lenox. In 1816 he set up a much larger operation called the Newbridge Chain & Anchor Works in South Wales. The company went on to produce all chains used by the Royal Navy until 1916.
In 1817 Brown patented a design for wrought iron chain links suitable for use in a suspension bridge. The following year he prepared plans for a new bridge over the River Tweed four miles west of Berwick-upon-Tweed as the crow flies: or slightly further as the river flows. When work started on 2 August 1819, building of the Menai Suspension Bridge linking Anglesey to Wales to a design by Thomas Telford was already under way, but the Union Chain Bridge was completed six years earlier and less than a year after work on it had started. The bridge cost a total of £6,449. It has a span between the support towers of 423ft and the wooden deck of the bridge is 360ft long.
On 26 July 1820 the Union Chain Bridge, at the time the longest iron suspension bridge in the world, opened to traffic. First to cross was Captain Samuel Brown. His carriage was followed by twelve heavily loaded carts. With the strength of the bridge having been demonstrated for all to see, the 700 spectators who had gathered for the event then flocked on to the bridge.
Samuel Brown went on to construct a number of other notable landmarks, including the Trinity Chain Pier in Newhaven, Edinburgh and the Chain Pier at Brighton. He built eight bridges in all, including Hexham Bridge on the River Tyne, opened in 1826 and replaced in 1903, and the Stockton and Darlington Railway Suspension Bridge over the River Tees, which when it opened in 1830 was the first railway suspension bridge in the world. Less successful was the South Esk Bridge in Montrose, which opened in 1829 but collapsed through overloading with the loss of three lives in 1830. It was rebuilt, only to be damaged in a storm in 1838.
Brown became a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 7 February 1831, and in 1838 he was knighted by Queen Victoria. He maintained a home at Netherbyres near Eyemouth, and died in London aged 75 in 1852.