Where is London’s first flyover?

London’s oldest flyover is not some ugly crumbling concrete edifice, but a much more elegant structure built well before Britain’s first petrol driven motor car was launched onto the streets of Walthamstow in 1894.

There is an apocryphal story which every generation of Knowledge students hears. It relates to an Appearance [oral test] when a Knowledge boy tells the examiner that you could turn right into Farringdon Street from Holborn Viaduct. The salutary lesson to be learned is that if he had just gone to that location he would have discovered there was a 60ft drop onto the road below. The hapless Knowledge boy had relied on his A-Z map and had learned the hard way that maps should not be slavishly followed.

Spanning the Fleet River valley (the river now covered by Farringdon Street), Holborn Viaduct was built between 1863 and 1869 and links Holborn with Newgate Street.

The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. Four bronze statues featuring agriculture and commerce feature on the south side, and depictions of fine arts and science on the north side. There are statues of winged lions, dragons, globe lamps and the City of London’s coat-of-arms.

The buildings containing the stairs each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade: Banker Sir Thomas Gresham, Engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton and Mayors Sir William Walworth and Henry Fitz Ailwin.

Several old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard were relocated.

Made of cast iron, the flyover is 1,400 feet long and 80 feet wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.
Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements, as are the globe lamps – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz.

The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.

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