Bridge building

Thousands of my fellow cab drivers in the past have driven over the Bishop’s Bridge – known to cabbies as The Raft – little realising that beneath them (and many feet of tarmac) was as engineering gem, even Westminster Council, who had for years maintained the bridge, had little idea until just before the old bridge was due for demolition to make way for a more modern bridge and a new entrance to the cab rank.

[I]sambard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian engineering genius who was instrumental in the building of much of our rail network has only 8 surviving iron bridges bearing his name and the earliest lay undiscovered within the old Bishop’s Bridge.

It was in 2003 that Steven Brindle, English Heritage’s inspector of ancient monuments, discovered documents relating to load tests of up to 30 tonnes using a hydraulic press on beams destined for the long lost bridge.

Its 22 beams, which were made in Deptford, which when assembled, uniquely, relied almost entirely on gravity to hold them together, had stood since 1839 encased in Edwardian brickwork and long forgotten.

With demolition due within months, in a race against time, the Brunel Bridge was dismantled and was found to be in remarkably good condition, considering that it had been subject to considerably more stress than its design.

The bridge originally was used to span the Grand Union Canal as a means for pedestrians and horse drawn vehicles to cross over the canal, and next year, if funds permit, it is hoped to restore it back to its designed function.

The bridge’s dismantled sections are now stored at Fort Cumberland near Portsmouth, but next year as a testament to Brunel’s genius it is hoped to reassemble them in Paddington Basin. It will revert back to its original function as a footbridge across the Grand Union Canal.

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