Cambridge’s Mathematical Bridge: 18th-century Architectural Marvel

Located at the Queen’s College of the University of Cambridge, the magnificent Mathematical Bridge got its name, because of the unique geometrical design. Even though it consists of completely straight timbers, they are arranged in such a way that makes the bridge curved.

The tangent and radial trussing of the Mathematical Bridge in Queens’ College, Cambridge, with its tangential members highlighted.

The unique structure has inspired all sorts of lore, that has circulated across campus. Some say it was constructed by Isaac Newton himself, while proving certain laws of physics. Another theory is that the bridge was constructed completely of wood, without the use of nails or other materials. It was proved to be true, when students (or in some versions of the tale, academicians) deconstructed the bridge and failed to put it back together.

Old Walton Bridge (1754) by Canaletto

The bridge was built by James Essex and designed by William Etheridge. The bridge also has nails and bolts in it. When it was first constructed, there were iron spikes driven into the joints that gave the illusion that it was constructed out of nothing but wood.

The reason for its curved structure at the bottom, is to ensure that the bridge would not be destroyed, if a common flood were to happen. It was constructed by arranging the pieces of straight timber in specific angles and pressure, to allow the perfect curve to occur.

You’ll be able to visit the bridge yourself (and see if there are any nails or bolts yourself) by paying a fee of 3.50 pounds and entering through the Visitor’s Entrance on Queen’s Lane. From there, you’ll be able to cross the bridge and see the famous sundial. You can also opt for a punting tour that will allow you to explore under the bridge.

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