The rio Tinto company loading bay



You may see what is undoubtedly a patrimonial treasure of Huelva at a few metres from the “Huelva, Puerta del Atlántico” Visitors Centre – the loading bay of the Rio Tinto Company Ltd. Built in 1874 and closed in 1975, this engineering masterpiece from the last quarter of the nineteenth century worked for one hundred years. The bay, used for loading minerals, was refurbished in 2007 for its public usage and was declared as “Bien de Interés Cultural” (Estate of Cultural Interest).

A Sunset at the Estuary of Huelva

The enviable location of the Rio Tinto Company loading bay – just by the marshes of Huelva – provides an unrivalled view of the sunset in the province. The bay allow us to go into the mouth of the Odiel River in a pleasant walk. The sunset and the sea breeze in the Estuary offer a range of colours – mauve, purple, and golden – which are an extraordinary end of the visit to the Visitors Centre.

What was the purpose of the loading bay?

The loading bay was built to sell and export the minerals extracted from the mines from the north of the province, which had been acquired by foreign companies in the middle of the nineteenth century. The bay was the end of the complex system designed by the British to transport the minerals from the mountains of Huelva – traditionally done with wagons pulled by mules or donkeys – with the railway. The process ended in the bay, where boats loaded and unloaded the mining outcome.

How did the loading bay work?

The process followed the system of gravity charging, which consists of placing different loading and unloading tracks for wagons so that loading tracks go up to a high point and then go down to the end to the bay. With a point switch, the wagons eventually go back to the start through some descending, lateral tracks. Thus, no mechanisms were needed as wagons were impelled by gravity.

Who built the loading bay?

The Management Board of the Rio Tinto Company Ltd., gathered in a session in London on the 31 March 1873 under Mr. Hugh Matheson’s presidency and hired Sir George Barclay Bruce as Railway Consultant and Mr. David Forbes as Mining Consultant. The loading bay was built by the John Dixon Co. on the left bank of the Odiel after the Clark & Punchard Co.’s withdrawal due to its lack of experience. The construction started at the beginning of September 1874.

Sir George Barclay Bruce

Born in Newcastle in 1821, he started working as resident engineer in the construction of the Newcastle and Darlington Railway and the lines of Northampton and Peterborough at the age of 21. Bruce worked in the East Indian Railway in Calcutta in 1850 and in the Madras Railway between 1853 and 1856. His works spread throughout a great part of Europe, including Germany and Russia, thus becoming a globally prestigious railway consultant. In 1873, he and Matheson came to Huelva. Here, Bruce designed the railway line – including bridges and tunnels – and the Rio Tinto Company loading bay.

Thomas Gibson

Gibson was born in Tarsdon, Northumberland, in 1843. After finishing his studies, he left to India to work both in Madras Railway and Madras Port – today the city is named Chennai. Gibson worked in the ports of London and many other locations in Great Britain. He was also a resident engineer at the construction of the Redheugh Bridge in Newcastle. There, he met Bruce, who suggested him to manage the construction of the loading bay of the Rio Tinto Company in Spain.