CROSSING THE THAMES: YOUR GUIDE TO LONDON’S BRIDGES
The River Thames forms the backbone of London, snaking its way through many of the city’s districts. And like any major waterway, there are plenty of crossing points, but do you know your Tower Bridge from your London Bridge? Here, we will explore some of these iconic structures and their fascinating histories.
One of London’s most enduring symbols is Tower Bridge, which has spanned the Thames since 1894. Its twin towers support a glass walkway 42 metres above the river, offering unrivalled views of the traffic and pedestrians on the bridge below. If you are lucky, you may even see the bascules rising up below to allow shipping to pass through.
In 1952, one of London’s iconic red buses was still on the bridge as the hydraulic system started to open the bridge. Quick-thinking bus driver, Albert Gunton, hit the accelerator and the bus managed to jump the gap in the bridge in scenes reminiscent of many an action film.
While the current incarnation of London Bridge was erected in 1971, there has been a crossing point at this part of the Thames since Roman times. Over the centuries, it has been replaced with various different structures, including one featuring houses along its length during medieval times.
According to urban legend, Robert Paxton McCulloch, the American entrepreneur, believed he was going to receive Tower Bridge when he purchased the decommissioned London Bridge in 1971. Instead, he took delivery of the much plainer structure and installed it as a tourist attraction in Arizona’s Lake Havasu City.
The current version of Chelsea Bridge was opened in 1937 by William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was prime minister at the time. This was appropriate, as the timbers on the deck of the bridge were made of Douglas firs grown in Canada – just one of the components that came from the British Empire.
It replaced a previous bridge at the same point that had fallen into disrepair. When this original bridge was being built, a large selection of Roman and Celtic artefacts were found on the site. This has led archaeologists to believe that Julius Caesar crossed the Thames here in 54BC when he invaded Britain. Among the objects was the Battersea Shield, which can now be seen in the British Museum.
Known as the Ladies’ Bridge due to the fact it was built largely by women when the men had gone off to fight in World War II, Waterloo Bridge opened to the public in 1945. It was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, whose other work includes the traditional red telephone box, and is now a Grade II-listed structure.
Some of the best views can be obtained from Waterloo Bridge, as it is strategically located at a bend in the river. Standing on it, you can get a fantastic photo opportunity looking across to St Paul’s Cathedral.
New bridges continue to be built over the Thames, with the Millennium Bridge completed in 2000. It became known as the Wobbly Bridge due to an infamous tremor, which was soon fixed. These days, it provides a convenient pedestrian link between St Paul’s and Tate Modern.
The bridge’s “blade of light” design means it has a shallow profile, with the supporting cables below deck level. This prevents any of the structural elements from interrupting the view and the lines of the bridge draw the eye to the cathedral on the north bank of the river.
Photo credit: TomasSereda via iStock