A bridge [repair] too far

“Sorry Gov’nor, I’m not going south of the River” could be a cabbie’s response you will hear more frequently in the future, but blame the Highways Agency/TfL not us, for perversely they seem to be trying to divide London as never before since Roman times. Consider this, if you want to cross the Thames by road there are 11 bridges, 2 tunnels and a ferry crossing to choose from, you would have thought that was adequate.

Boris has already said that he is cancelling the building of the East London Thames crossing, presumably to free up more money for bike hire, and now we find ourselves in the position of having but one unobstructed bridge to cross the Thames.

So indulge me if you will, while I list the possible River Thames crossing points in central London:

Woolwich Free Ferry
Opened in 1889 and was the first successful attempt to cross the Thames for eastern districts. Existing boats started operating in 1963. This was probably the last time both boats worked; usually one is now out of action.

Blackwall Tunnel
The northbound tunnel was built in 1891-7 and was only the second tunnel to be completed under the Thames. The northbound tunnel will be closed from 9pm to 5am on Sunday to Friday, with traffic diverted to the southbound tunnel and southbound traffic forced to go elsewhere.

Rotherhithe Tunnel
This narrow tunnel is only suitable for a car was built in 1904-8. The top of the tunnel is 48 feet below the high water mark to allow ships to pass overhead. The tunnel is closed one or two nights a week for maintenance.

Tower Bridge
The first stone was laid by the Prince of Wales in 1881 after which its architect, Sir Horace Jones promptly died; it was then finished with detailing changed from original design in 1894. It is in fact a steel frame clothed in stone in order to support the great weight of the bascules. The bridge is currently being painted in patriotic colours for the 2012 Olympics with temporary traffic lights.

London Bridge
Positioned approximately on the site where the original Roman crossing stood. The current incumbent was completed in 1972 and replaced the elegant Georgian bridge which ended up at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Extensive road works at the southern approach mean that all traffic going to Elephant and Castle is wasting it time using bridge.

Southwark Bridge
The current bridge was opened in 1921 replacing the original cast iron bridge, which was in its day the largest ever Cast Iron Bridge built in the world. The iron manufacturer went bankrupt in the process. After just completing the cycle lane (see Diary 31 July 2009), this was promptly dug up before the cement was dry and remains so to this day with roadworks and no northbound cycle lane.

Blackfriars Bridge
Opened by Queen Victoria in 1869 the same day she cut the ribbon for Holborn Viaduct. So unpopular was she at the time, while travelling along the Strand that day she was hissed at, she must have been exhausted after all that effort. Extensive road works and diversions due to new railway station being built across the river alongside the bridge.

Waterloo Bridge
Londoner’s favourite bridge for it affords one of the finest views of London at its centre point, was built during the last war mainly by women. A complete no go area, with road works and the Strand Underpass closed all year.

Westminster Bridge
Charles Barry (of Houses of Parliament fame) was architectural consultant when this bridge was being built in 1854-62; its 84ft between the parapets was exceptional for the time. After the renovation of this bridge, which seems to have been on-going since the old King died, has now been completed, and remarkably this bridge is now fully open.

Lambeth Bridge
Originally a horse-ferry operated here; hence the approach road goes by the name of Horseferry Road. Oliver Cromwell’s coach and horse sank on the horse ferry in 1656. The bridge was built in 1929-32 and it is painted red to denote that it is at the House of Lords end of  Parliament with their red benches, Westminster Bridge is painted green reflecting the green leather of the House of Commons leather benches at the opposite end of The Palace of Westminster. This little bridge of single 2-way traffic will have to accommodate those motorists unable to cross alternative means.

Vauxhall Bridge
This uninspired structure replaced the original bridge which was the first cast iron bridge to cross the Thames. Built in 1895-1906 the only redeeming feature is of the bronze figures on its piers depicting Pottery, Engineering, Architecture and Agriculture upstream and Science, Fine Arts, Local Government and Education downstream, view them by peering cautiously over the parapet. It remains the only major bridge in London fully open.

Chelsea Bridge
When the previous bridge was being built many human bones and Roman weapons were found while digging the foundations. The current suspension bridge was opened in 1934. How long will this pretty bridge be able to take the strain before it too has to have restoration work?

140px-Albert_Bridge_tollhouse Albert Bridge
This the most elegant and fanciful of all London’s bridges, was started in 1864 then abandoned for six years while the Government dithered about the route the Thames Embankment would take. It was finally opened in 1873. The architect Rowland Mason Ordish designed it as a rigid suspension bridge to his own patent design, but it had to be strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1884 when he was building the Embankment. After the Second World War the London County Council wanted to pull it down but the whole of Chelsea, led by Sir John Betjeman protested vigorously, and it was reprieved. The bridge remains as fragile as it looks, and was only open to light traffic, notices still famously demand that all troops must break step when marching over it. Two small tollbooths were built at either end by the Albert Bridge Company. The bridge is now closed for 18 months while a complete refurbishment takes place.

Battersea Bridge
Replacing an earlier wooden bridge depicted by the artist Whistler this structure designed again by Bazalgette, the engineer who also designed London’s sewer system (did that man ever sleep?) was built between 1886-90. Road works scheduled to last until October.

I’m not going to continue up river it’s just too depressing, I’ll just say that Hammersmith Bridge is also closed at weekends.

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