The rise and fall of cast iron in Victorian structures – a case study review

Gagg, Colin R. and Lewis, Peter (2011). The rise and fall of cast iron in Victorian structures – a case study review. Engineering Failure Analysis, 18(8) pp. 1963–1980.



The Victorian era in English history is often referred to as a ‘golden age’, marked by unique and historic achievements in the field of engineering and technology. It was in Victorian Britain that new production methods first allowed cast iron to be produced in large enough quantities to be used in substantial building projects. However, a series of high profile structural failures sent shock waves through the engineering profession and general public, prompting one of the first ever systematic investigations into the failure of structures. To track these developments, this paper takes a retrospective view of a number of major cast iron structural disasters that occurred during this period of history. Reassessment of historic incidents will allow use of modern analytical techniques not available at the time of initial investigation. A specific case study analysis into the demise of the Tay Bridge is used to demonstrate the value of engineering lessons to be learnt from taking a retrospective view. Reconsideration of historic failure is shown to demonstrate incremental advances made in the understanding of the limits of materials available at that time.

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