Kelso firm erects UK’s biggest Olympic rings on Tyne Bridge

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AS dawn broke over the Newcastle skyline on Tuesday, residents awoke to see the country’s largest set of Olympic Rings attached to the iconic Tyne Bridge – and it’s all thanks to a Kelso firm.

It was on Monday evening that a team from Signmaster, based at Kelso’s Pinnaclehill Industrial Estate, together with aerial specialists, scaled the giant structure to finish attaching the set of giant rings to the bridge.

Signmaster, Kelso olympic Rings, Gateshead Bridge. Stuart Horsburgh at Signmaster.

Signmaster, Kelso olympic Rings, Gateshead Bridge. Stuart Horsburgh at Signmaster.

Company staff had been sworn to secrecy since November, as they laboured over a project that involved designing, manufacturing, painting, transporting and then erecting what are the largest metal Olympic rings in the UK.

Bad weather at the end of last week delayed the completion of the erection of the rings by several days, but Signmaster director Stuart Horsburgh told TheSouthern he is delighted with the result.

“The rings look incredible. This was a real team effort by everyone at Signmaster and we are all justifiably proud to have been involved with such a prestigious project,” he said.

Signmaster was approached by Newcastle City Council last year, but by the time all the necessary permissions and consents were finalised, the company only had a 12-week window to manufacture and erect the rings.

Signmaster, Kelso olympic Rings, Gateshead Bridge.

Signmaster, Kelso olympic Rings, Gateshead Bridge.

“At the 2000 Olympics in Australia, the Sydney Bridge had a set of rings attached to it. That bridge is a direct copy of the Tyne Bridge, just three times larger,” explained Mr Horsburgh.

“So we looked at duplicating what was done there, albeit on a smaller scale. But our set of rings is still 25m wide and 12m high, and weighs a total of four tons.

In fact, the rings are so large, that when assembled for the first time, it could not be done inside Signmaster’s premises and they had to be put together in the adjacent carpark.

Mr Horsburgh explained: “Because the Tyne Bridge is classed as both a historic monument and a listed building, non-destructive fixings in the form of compression brackets were used to attach the rings to the bridge superstructure.

Signmaster, Kelso olympic Rings, Gateshead Bridge.

Signmaster, Kelso olympic Rings, Gateshead Bridge.

“Attaching them to the bridge was the trickiest part of the project, as it was 125ft from the river below to the bottom of the rings.”

Work started on site last Wednesday, but had to be halted twice because of bad weather and when traffic flow was too heavy.

The last sections were secured in place in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after Mr Horsburgh and his 16-strong team from Kelso worked throughout the night to get the job finished.

A special hoisting company was engaged which used compressed air winches to drag the rings up the side of the bridge to their fixing points.

This Saturday will see the official switch-on of the floodlights which will illuminate the rings when the Olympic torch arrives at the bridge by zip wire in a spectacular ceremony.

Once the games are over, the rings will be removed and dismantled and shipped to Brazil as a gift from Newcastle to the next Olympics host city, Rio De Janeiro.

Mr Horsburgh added: “There is, rightly, a huge sense of pride among all the staff at Signmaster at what they have accomplished. We created a very special version of a very famous logo, and attached it to one of the country’s most iconic structures.

“It’s great promotion, not just for us as a company, but for Kelso and the Borders, showing what businesses in this region are capable of.”