Tag Archives: London’s bridges

London’s oldest bridge

Ask any cabbie and he’ll be able to name the bridges spanning the Thames, to help we even have three adjacent crossings conveniently spelling CAB: Chelsea, Albert and Battersea bridges.

Most bridges are fairly modern, the current incarnation of London Bridge opened in the 1970s, although previous versions go back much further, Tower Bridge dates back to 1894, and our three CAB bridges only date back a few years: Chelsea 1937, Albert 1859, Battersea 1890.

So which is London’s oldest bridge?

The little-known Clattern Bridge, built-in 1293 holds the record. Named because of the noise of horse’s hoofs would make as they crossed. This bridge is still functioning, although these days the structure is driven or walked, rather than ridden, over.

Unlike the others, technically the bridge doesn’t cross the Thames. The Clattern Bridge crosses the River Hogsmill a tributary of the Thames, in Kingston, just before it joins the mighty Thames.

There is a bright blue badge on the central span of Clattern Bridge, featuring the coat of arms of Kingston, itself dating from 1623, recognisable from the three salmon on a blue background. The Domesday Book entry for Kingston mentions three salmon fisheries in the Thames, hence their inclusion of them on the county’s badge.

To prove how robust was its construction, the bridge is part of Kingston High Street, and still in use, unlike Hammersmith Bridge with less than 135 years of use.

Featured image: The Clattern Bridge is a bridge over the Hogsmill River in Kingston upon Thames. It was built around 1175 and is thus one of the oldest intact bridges in England. It replaced an older Saxon bridge which was known as the Clatrung Bridge. Its various names, such as the Clateryngbrugge, are thought to derive from the clattering of horses’ hooves as they crossed the bridge. The bridge still carries a full load of modern vehicle traffic. Up to the 18th century, the bridge was used as a site for the ducking of scolds with a cucking stool. The bridge also featured in the traditional game of football held in the centre of Kingston each year on Shrove Tuesday. It was the goal for one of the teams, while the nearby Kingston Bridge was the other goal, by Loco Steve (CC BY-NC 2.0).

London Bridge reopens

This Sunday fifty years ago, London Bridge that had been sold, dismantled and moved to Lake Havasu was opened. On 10th October 1971, London Bridge reopened in Lake Havasu City, Arizona with all the razzamatazz you’d expect.

Ivan Luckin, a Common Council Member of The City of London proposed the idea of selling the bridge, which was initially received as pure lunacy. Five weeks before the closing date there had been lots of inquiries – but no firm offers. The idea looked like collapsing in fiasco.

He persisted, went to the States and at a press conference at the British-American Chamber of Commerce in New York the sale was made to American oil tycoon Robert P. McCulloch for a sum of $2.46 million.

The oft-repeated tale that McCulloch believed he was buying Tower Bridge is a myth, there had been a fully illustrated sales brochure produced, and I suspect the extra publicity, gained from this urban myth later promoted property sales in Arizona.

Only the shell was shipped off to the States, the bulk of the stone that didn’t go to America went to Merryvale Quarry in Devon.

Each stone of the cladding was individually numbered to aid in reassembly. It was then transported to California, via the Panama Canal, and trucked to what would become Lake Havasu City where it was reassembled spanning a newly built canal in the reservoir, providing access to an island.

McCulloch had obtained a sizable portion of desert land, along the shore of Lake Havasu, which had been dammed off during the 1930s. He had every intention of developing it, which meant that he needed to make it interesting, and in the case of the island, accessible.

Following the completion of the bridge, his gamble paid off, and the bridge made people curious about his new development. He recouped his entire investment in the bridge through land sales in the area, and Lake Havasu City was born.

A view from the bridge

Newcastle is rightly proud of its river crossings, but down here in the south we seem uncharacteristically modest when it comes to London’s bridges, curious considering we have some of the most iconic.

Composers wax lyrical but seem to fail in stirring our souls: the classic London Bridge is falling down; The Pogues Misty Morning, Albert Bridge; or the unforgettable Tower Bridge by Spike Milligan.

[T]he only contender for managing to get the essence of how Londoner’s love their bridges seem to be Ray Davies’s Waterloo Sunset. Now with the Millennium Bridge devoid of wobbles and used by thousands every day another bridge is on the cusp of being constructed.

With London becoming ever more densely packed a new means of getting across the River has become as much of a priority as CrossRail. Hungerford Bridges were built to replace the earlier single one populated at the time by miscreants, the Millennium Bridge is now a decade on from having its design faults rectified and is almost at capacity during the day. Now the Garden Bridge is set to become London’s favourite pedestrian river crossing with a purpose probably unique in the world.

The Victorians gave us many of today’s parks, now for obvious reasons no open spaces have recently been created in central London. The Garden Bridge (shall we nickname it Bushy Bridge?) plans to change that creating 2,500m² of planted green space. There will be 270 trees, 2,000 shrubs, hedging plants and climbers, more than 22,000 perennials, ferns and grasses and 64,000 bulbs. It is estimated the bridge will be used daily by 9,000 commuters crossing from Temple Station to the South Bank. The bridge will be open 18 hours a day and only closed 12 days a year for private functions for clients with very deep pockets.


Some have proposed that another ubiquitous bike lane is included across this tranquil haven. Surely this will defeat the purpose of providing a truly pedestrianised park which has been designed by Southwark-based horticulturist Dan Pearson a world class creator of gardens who was the winner of RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 Best in Show Award.

The Garden Bridge has other benefits for Londoner’s. It will be a focal point attracting more tourists (cabbies should approve), it will be free to all with provision at each end for queuing. No cars, for once there will be a place in the capital were you can breathe fresh air. Security guards will patrol the place ensuring everyone’s safety and stop picnicking – or bikes.

It is proposed to close Temple Station during construction, what better excuse can there be to rename it Garden Bridge Station? But I’m concerned about the green cab shelter at Temple Place which has been under threat before.

In the 1960s developers knocked down four ancient streets running down to Temple Place to allow for a hotel to be built presumably so American tourists could see just the sort of roads they had destroyed to built the hotel. When the hotel reached completion the architects were amazed to find that just at the spot they’d planned to put their grand hotel entrance there was a green cabbie’s shelter. With typical corporate stupidity they tried to use their financial might to have the shelter removed by the authorities, but they were told that the shelter had been there since 1880 and was staying put. With the image of their rich American visitors being greeted by a ramshackle old shelter they were forced to beg for its removal. For a price the shelter was duly moved a few yards down the hill away from the hotel’s lobby.


The green shelter is still there, but the hotel has since closed – being redeveloped.

By the time the bridge is completed Boris Johnson will no longer by Mayor of London, thankfully the crossing’s nickname is unlikely to be the ‘Boris Bridge’.

The only negative point I can find is the view from Waterloo Bridge looking east will be obscured. Terry and Julie will have to look towards The Houses of Parliament on Friday night or Ray Davies might have to find another crossing when he writes the lyrics to his next iconic song.

Underneath the Arches

For most of London’s history there was only one bridge spanning the Thames, then in a building frenzy most of the modern crossings we know today where built. With a proposed new Garden Bridge a major exhibition Bridge has opened at The Museum of London Docklands. In this Guest Post Alan Kean author of Isle of Dogs Life has had the opportunity to join waterborne Dan Cruickshank and reviews the exhibition.

[T]o give some insight into the exhibition, the museum organised a trip on the river by Thames Clipper to have a closer look at some of London Bridges. With renowned architectural historian Dan Cruikshank as our guide, we departed London Bridge Pier and were made aware that it was once London Bridge that dominated the Thames for over 1,700 years.


It was in the 18th and 19th century that a series of bridges were built over the Thames that meant that London Bridge lost its unique position in London and when the medieval bridge was finally pulled down in 1830 to be replaced by an elegant but not iconic stone bridge, it lost most of its historical significance.


The bridges opened up the city to encourage development of the South of the River and enable freedom of people to move between the North and South especially when tolls were done away with. When you’re on the river and get past Tower Bridge heading west, you quickly realise how many bridges there are, ranging from pedestrian, railway and multipurpose bridges.


A few surprising facts are given by Dan Cruikshank  such as the solid-looking London Bridge is actually  hollow inside, in fact in the exhibition is a photograph by Lucinda Grange  which illustrates this.


Inside London Bridge (copyright Lucinda Grange)

 A couple of rather unusual facts was that Waterloo Bridge is known as the ‘Ladies Bridge’ because it was said it was mostly built using the labour of women in the Second World War, it also has a more melancholy reputation due to the high number of people who have committed suicide throwing themselves from it.


The exhibition has a large number of exhibits that show existing and demolished bridges in paintings, prints and photographs, however it will also look at the way artists and writers have used bridges in their work.

It is perhaps with some irony that the Bridge Exhibition will take place in a warehouse in the West India Dock area because it was the shipping trade that curtailed any suggestion of bridges east of Tower Bridge. The only major crossings attempted in this area were the tunnels at Wapping, Rotherhithe and Blackwall.


Opening to public on the 27th June, but just before the big day the press was given access to what is likely to be one of the highest profile exhibitions ever held at the Museum of London Docklands.


The exhibition is based in the 19th century warehouse which provides the ideal setting for the paintings, prints, photographs and films.


Old Hungerford Bridge – William Henry Fox Talbot (copyright Museum of London)

 Without doubt the star of the show is the very early photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot, it is quite incredible that the photograph has survived at all. Called  ‘ Old Hungerford Bridge’ the photo was taken in 1845 , when Fox Talbot was beginning to perfect the process that would dominate photography for the next 150 years. It is somewhat ironic that the bridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel only survived 15 years but this extremely fragile photograph has survived over 160 years.

The Exhibition is built around the themes of Bridge, River, Building , Crowds and Icons.

The Bridge theme considers the way that London for a long period reliant on London Bridge for a crossing, in the 19th century went through a Bridge building explosion fuelled by the industrial revolution and the growth of the railways.

Etchings by Whistler illustrate this growth and pays  homage to Old Westminster Bridge.

The painting by Joseph Farrington made in 1789 gives an almost dreamlike impression of London before major building works on the river began.


Lucinda Grange with a very rare photo of inside London Bridge

 More recently the photograph taken inside London Bridge by Lucinda Grange challenges some of our preconceptions of bridges.

The River theme makes the obvious point that without the river, London as we know it would not probably exist. The Thames has been a constant through centuries of change and has provided major challenges  to those who would like to cross it . The William Raban film provides a visual tour through some of the stranger aspects of the river.


The Building theme remind us that building bridges are not always an easy process and are often sources of great engineering ingenuity.


The etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi of Blackfriars Bridge in 1766 illustrates some of the weird and wonderful designs that do not always come to fruition, the recent Thomas Heatherwick  proposal for a Garden Bridge may be  a classic case of this phenomenon.


Thomas Heatherwick (copyright Arup)

The Crowds theme looks at the way that Londoners have used the bridges often for their daily commute, this has often fascinated artists and photographers. The picture by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson from 1927 illustrates London as a working  industrial city.


Finally, the exhibition looks at the way that the bridges themselves become Icons and how they come to represent the city as a whole. For many centuries London Bridge had its iconic role, however in more recent times Tower Bridge has become a focus of world attention especially during the 2012 Olympic Games.


Ewan Gibbs, London, 2007

Ewan Gibbs Linocut offers a different view which in many ways references Whistler’s work.

Though the  exhibition is relatively small, its ambition and themes are large. Like the Museum’s recent exhibition Estuary  it examines how the river has played a major part in London’s development and how Bridges have become an integral part of that story.

Using the Museum of London’s considerable art resources past and present, this free exhibition is one not to miss and if your bridge fixation is not satisfied visit other parts of the museum to see a scale model of Old London Bridge and many other interesting exhibits.

Museum of London Docklands – Bridge exhibition 27th June – 2nd November, 2014 – FREE

Lost bits of London Bridge

The first London Bridge was constructed by the Romans during their occupation of London around 50AD. It was probably a pontoon type giving a rapid overland shortcut to the Kentish ports, along the Roman Watling Street (the modern A2). After the Romans abandoned Londinium the bridge fell into disrepair as the River Thames marked the boundary between the Saxon Kingdoms of Marcia and Wessex nobody bothered to maintain the structure.

[A] later bridge was thought to have been destroyed by Norwegian Price Olaf in the service of Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred against the Danes. This act might have given rise to the nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down.

King John replaced an older bridge which had been destroyed by fire in 1136, all trace of the bridges prior to this date have been lost. Taking 33 years to build King John’s bridge boasted of having 7-storeys with shops below.

When this bridge was demolished in 1831 some features were sold off. Fourteen stone alcoves originally graced the bridge and four still survive. Two stand in Victoria Park, one stands in the grounds of Guys Hospital while the fourth, bizarrely ended up in the garden of a block of flats in East Sheen.


A coat of arms which was located above the bridge tollgate now can be seen above the door of the Kings Arms on Newcomen Street.

Kings Arms

In 1896 it was estimated that the bridge was the busiest point in London, with 8,000 people crossing the bridge by foot and 900 crossing in vehicles every hour. London Bridge was widened in 1902–04 from 52 to 65 feet, in an attempt to combat London’s chronic traffic congestion. A dozen of the granite ‘pillars’ quarried and dressed for this widening, but unused, still lie near Swelltor Quarry.

London Bridge Corbels

This bridge even after widening lasted barely a century when in the 1960’s it was decided to replace it. Instead of demolishing it one member of the body responsible for London’s bridges proposed that the bridge be sold.

Ivan Luckin – if ever a man needed to live up to the name – thought he could find someone to take the bridge off the City’s hands. This was not some 19th century granite monolith he argued; this bridge was the embodiment of London’s 2,000 year history.

Robert P. McCullock was building a city on the shores of Lake Havasu from scratch. The Colorado River had been dammed but the water at one end was in danger of going stagnant, he needed to redirect it by turning the peninsular obstructing the flow into an island, hence the need for a bridge.


McCulloch’s bridge was reconstructed around a concrete frame using the 1831 London Bridge’s stones as cladding. A few corbels from the Swelltor Quarry were sent as spares to America during this construction.

Not all the Rennie bridge made it to America. There is a piece of granite from the bridge behind the Duke of Wellington statue at Bank, commemorating his involvement with the London Bridge Approaches Act 1827.

Some pictures taken from The Great Wen by Peter Watts