As part of the Bridge exhibition we have teamed up with the Museum of London Docklands and Peter Matthews, author of London’s Bridges, to bring you a fun fact about each of the key bridges along the Thames. In order from east to west::
Tower Bridge, built 1894
- Tower Bridge is 244 metres (800 feet) long, covered in 22,000 litres (5,812gal) of paint and crossed by 40,000 people each day. Whilst generally considered a feat of engineering, in 1909 The Times said: “It looks like a monstrous Gothic toy that ought to be one of the side-shows of an exhibition.”
London Bridge (AD70, 10th century, 1209, 1831, 1972)
- McCullogh Oil Company in the U.S.A bought London Bridge for £1m in 1971 as a tourist attraction for the new Lake Havasu City in Arizona. The story that the Americans thought they were buying Tower Bridge is an urban myth, as they had seen plans and drawings.
Southwark Bridge (1819, 1921)
- The foundation stone was laid on 23 March 1815 with an inscription stating “The work was commenced at the glorious termination of the longest and most expensive war in which the nation has ever been engaged”. This was premature, as the Battle of Waterloo was only several weeks away.
Millennium Bridge (2000)
- The bridge opened to the public on 10 June 2000, but it had a wobbling problem, caused by the numbers of people crossing the bridge at one time. The wobble has been fixed now but “the wobbly bridge” nickname endures.
Blackfriars Bridge (1769, 1869)
- In 1982, Roberto Calvi, Chairman of the Vatican’s Bank, was found hanging from the bridge. His death remains a mystery. Calvi was embroiled in a series of financial scandals and a member of the “Propaganda Due” (or P2) Masonic lodge that brought down the Italian government in 1981. Members of P2 referred to themselves as “Frati neri” or Black Friars.
Waterloo Bridge (1817, 1942)
- The new bridge earned the nickname the “Ladies Bridge” as it was built mainly by women during World War II (while many men were away fighting).
Hungerford Bridge (1845, 1864, 1888)
- At 445 metres (1,462ft) long, the bridge was one of the longest suspension bridges built at the time. To allow access from the footbridge to the steamboat quays on the river, staircases were cut into the bridge’s stone piers. The entrances can still be seen today.
Westminster Bridge (1750, 1862, 1997)
- In the winter of 1739, after two of the stone piers had been completed, the Thames froze for two months and a frost fair was set up on the river. The stone piers became a popular attraction, with ladders set up against them for people to climb up and take in the view.
Lambeth Bridge (1862, 1932)
- Charles Dickens considered the 1862 Lambeth Bridge “on the whole, the ugliest ever built”.
Vauxhall Bridge (1816, 1906)
- A Russian delegation which visited the new Vauxhall railway station in the 1840s was so impressed that the word “voksal” entered the Russian language as the word for railway station.
Chelsea Bridge (1858, 1937)
- In 1851, during the construction of the bridge, which was originally referred to as Victoria Bridge, workmen found Roman and Celtic weapons, as well as human skulls and it was thought that this might have been where Julius Caesar and his army crossed the Thames.
Albert Bridge (1873, 1884, 1973)
- At each end of the bridge stand two tollbooths, which originally had a bar between them to prevent people from crossing without paying. On each booth is a sign warning “All troops must break step when marching over this bridge”, advice designed to prevent the bridge from suffering the same fate as the “wobbly” Millennium Bridge.
Battersea Bridge (1772, 1890)
- When oil lamps were installed in 1799, Battersea Bridge became the first Thames bridge to be lit.
Wandsworth Bridge (1873, 1940)
- The approach road continued to be a traffic problem until 1969 when a new road linked the bridge to Tooting, resulting in a busy roundabout which featured in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
Putney Bridge (1729, 1886, 1933)
- Putney Bridge has been the starting point for the University Boat Race since it began in 1845.
Hammersmith Bridge (1827, 1887)
- The first boat race between Putney and Mortlake took place in 1845. Hammersmith Bridge became a popular vantage point and mayhem ensued, with up to 12,000 people crowding on, bringing serious concerns about the strain on the bridge. Since 1882, the bridge has been closed on race day.
Chiswick Bridge (1933)
- It was the first of three London bridges opened on the same day. On 3 July 1933, Chiswick Bridge opened at 4.30pm, Twickenham at 5pm and Hampton Court at 5.30pm.
Kew Bridge (1759, 1789, 1903)
- The Museum of London holds all objects presented to King Edward VII on the day of opening. These include the silver mallet and trowel he used, as well as a bronze axe.
Twickenham Bridge (1933)
- The bridge was designed by Maxwell Ayrton – architect of the original Wembley Stadium and a pioneer of the architectural use of concrete.
Richmond Bridge (1776 & 1933/40)
- The 1772 Act of Parliament included a clause stating that anyone causing “wilful or malicious damage” to the bridge would be “transported to one of His Majesty’s Colonies in America for the space of seven years”. A harsh sentence for vandalism.
Kingston Bridge (12th century, 1914)
- At the Kingston end of the bridge, a ducking stool into the Thames for “punishing nagging wives” was recorded as being in use until 1738.
Hampton Court Bridge (1753, 1933)
- The furthest upstream Thames bridge in Greater London, the current bridge is the fourth on the site. The first opened on 13 December 1753 – an unusual construction in picturesque Chinese style with seven arches and curious pagodas. It was celebrated by artists, including Canaletto.