Bridges on the River Thames
There are 33 bridges across the Thames in Greater London. Some are famous, some are beautiful and some are pig-ugly. Make your own mind up as we travel down the river from east to west.
Not only London's most famous bridge but also one of the most famous bridges in the world. Despite this, Tower Bridge is still often erroneously believed to be London Bridge by tourists. Well it's a bridge and it's in London, what more do you need to know?
The last of the Victorian bridges, indeed the last new bridge built in London until the Millennium, Tower Bridge, designed by Horace Jones and built by John Wolfe Barry, whose father Charles designed the Houses of Parliament, opened in 1894. Part suspension and part bascule (the name given to the lifting parts), the bridge was named after the Tower of London, not because of the towers incorporated into it, which were designed to match the Tower itself.
The walkways became notorious for pickpockets and prostitution and were closed to the public in 1910, not to be opened again until the early 21st century. Now one walkway has a glass bottom to test your fear of heights as you walk across. In the early days, the bridge was opened several times a day. Now a 24 hours' notice is required.
In 1952, Albert Gunter was driving a bus across the bridge when it opened beneath him. Accelerating quickly, he managed to jump the gap, the only injury being the conductor sustaining a broken leg. He was awarded a day off work and £10, at that time just over a week's wages. Traffic lights and automatic gates make this unlikely to happen again, though there is a scene in the Spice Girls 1998 vehicle movie, Spiceworld, where this actually does happen. If you know that already, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Disappointing to generations who have grown up singing about it falling down, the current London Bridge was opened by the Queen in 1973, which was not the golden age of British architecture. Despite its heated pavements to stop them icing up in the winter, its ancestor in the picture above must have spun in its grave when the present bridge was unveiled.
Elsewhere on this website is an excellent article telling the history of London Bridge in detail, but as an overview, there has been a bridge on this site since 50AD, built by the invading armies of Claudius. A more permanent one was built a few decades later. In 1014, the fleeing Ethelred the Unready pulled the bridge down behind him as he sailed up the river in a vain attempt to stop the invading Danish Vikings, which is believed to be the inspiration for the song. The medieval bridge in the picture featured houses and shops; the rents used to pay for the bridge's upkeep. It became one of the wonders of the world. In 1212, a terrible fire on the bridge killed approximately 3000 people, but the bridge escaped the Great Fire of 1666 due to a fire earlier that century at the north end that had created a fire break, protecting the bridge. The heads of William Wallace, Guy Fawkes, Jack Cade, Sir Thomas More, Archbishop Laud and others deemed to be traitors by the crown were displayed on London Bridge's gatehouse over the centuries.
The bridge was finally replaced in the early 19th century by John Rennie. This replacement bridge is now at Lake Havasu in Arizona. Entrepreneur Robert McCulloch had it shipped piece by piece and rebuilt there in 1968. Billionaires don't do business deals without checking the details first, so it is most likely that he knew exactly what he was buying, despite the story people like to tell about how he thought he was buying the more aesthetic Tower Bridge and got it wrong. It is officially the largest antique ever sold.
Cannon Street Railway Bridge
Cannon Street is right in the heart of the City of London, and it is said that the original intact London Stone stood in front of where the station now stands. Cannon Street station was built on the site of the Roman governor's palace and opened in 1866. There are some Roman remains beneath the viaduct over Upper Thames Street. Bombed during World War II and redeveloped both in the 1950s and '90s, the towers that flank the station's approach to the bridge are a familiar landmark on the Thames skyline by St Paul's, and are the remains of the original station. A hotel, where both the British Communist Party and Oswald Moseley's New Party were founded, stood next door. This was destroyed during the Blitz.
The bridge was constructed along with the station itself and trains head South East towards Kent. In 1987, the pleasure boat, The Marchioness, collided with a dredger by Cannon Street Railway Bridge and sank, resulting in the loss of 51 lives. As a result of the disaster, the Thames Lifeboat Service was established.
Also known as the "Lonely Bridge," London tour guides joke that if you see anyone on Southwark Bridge, it's because they are lost. It is indeed the quietest bridge in Central London, generally used by coach drivers to drop off and pick up groups from Shakespeare's Globe or the Tate Modern which are both nearby. Although now long gone, the very first self-service petrol station in the world opened at the south end of Southwark Bridge in 1961.
The bridge opened in 1921, replacing a previous Rennie bridge that stood on the spot and was originally a toll bridge. It was the largest cast iron bridge ever built, and Dickens mentions the old bridge in "Little Dorrit," partly set in Southwark's Marshalsea Prison, in which the toll is one penny. It is also referred to at the start of "Our Mutual Friend." Buskers often perform in the tunnel beneath the bridge, which is part of the walk along the South Bank. Southwark Bridge, as its name suggests, connects the borough of Southwark to the City of London. It is the only bridge in London still lit by gaslight.
In fact the scene of the bridge collapsing in the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince film, (the bridge in the book being fictional), is a nod to the fact that the bridge was known as the "Wobbly Bridge", and suffered from a fault known as "excitation", which caused the bridge to wobble when too many people crossed it. This slight wobble would cause pedestrians to step in unison, aggravating the wobble even further, and the bridge had to close days after opening to correct the fault, which incidentally had also occurred when Albert Bridge opened in 1873. Signs telling troops to break step when marching across Albert Bridge are still visible to this day, (the former Chelsea Barracks being nearby).
London's newest bridge, the Millennium Bridge links St Paul's in the city to the Tate Modern, formerly the Bankside Power Station. Designed by Norman Foster, it was the first new bridge (rather than a replacement) to be built across the Thames for over 100 years, (Tower Bridge being the last).
Blackfriars Railway Bridge
The Black Friars were an order of Dominican monks who established a monastery in the area in the 13th century. After the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, some of the buildings were later taken over by the Burbage family and converted into the Blackfriars Playhouse-the first covered theatre in London. Shakespeare himself was a shareholder. Another great writer, Geoffrey Chaucer was born nearby.
The railway bridge incorporates part of the mainline Blackfriars station which is one of only three stations in the world with solar panels. It stands next to the remains of the old railway bridge, which was demolished in 1985, its red pillars still there as a listed structure. These were used as platforms for construction equipment during the rebuilding of the station during the early 21st century.
Originally named after the then Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder but the name never caught on, the bridge was designed to reflect the influence of the Black Friars monastery which the area was named after, hence the pulpit style piers.
In 1982, the body of the former head of the Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi, was found hanging under the bridge after going on the run after being accused of embezzling funds. It appears he was in debt to the Mafia and five Mafiosi were put on trial in 2005 in Rome but acquitted due to lack of evidence. In the film, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Heath Ledger's character is found hanging under the same bridge as a homage to the incident.
Originally called the Strand Bridge, Waterloo Bridge is on a bend in the river and therefore affords some of the most spectacular views along the Thames, particularly at night, inspiring the Kinks song "Waterloo Sunset."
Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the red telephone box and Battersea Power Station among others, it is the longest bridge in Central London. The current bridge replaced a 19th century John Rennie bridge that was painted by both Constable and Monet and was thought to be the most beautiful bridge in the world. In fact, there was an uproar when it was announced it was to be demolished.
However, it was not strong enough for the increasing London traffic, and the replacement bridge was built from self-cleaning Portland stone by a mostly female workforce during World War II as the men were away fighting. Because of this, it is also known as the "Ladies Bridge." There are two films made from a play called Waterloo Bridge, one of which stars Vivien Leigh.
In 1978, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was assassinated by being stabbed in the thigh with a poisoned umbrella on Waterloo Bridge by suspected KGB agents.
Hungerford (Charing Cross)/Golden Jubilee Bridges
Although the whole thing is generally known as Hungerford Bridge, this only really refers to the ugly railway bridge, hidden from view in between the Golden Jubilee walkways. Running across the river from Charing Cross station, it is sometimes referred to as the Charing Cross bridge.
Originally a suspension bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel stood here. The south side still has the original steps from the pier Brunel built. This was replaced by the current railway bridge which opened in 1860 using the original buttresses from Brunel's bridge. The original walkways were thought of as a narrow and dangerous muggers' paradise and were replaced by the current walkways which opened in the Golden Jubilee year, 2002. They are the busiest footbridges in London, with approximately 8.5 million people a year crossing.
The first Central London bridge across the river since London Bridge, its construction was opposed by ferrymen and the Archbishop of Canterbury who was also making a profit from the horse ferry which operated where Lambeth Bridge now stands. Both were paid off, and the first bridge opened in 1750. William Wordsworth claimed, "Earth has not anything to show fairer". This bridge had resting places along it for pedestrians but soon became the haunt of muggers and prostitutes. Eventually, the bridge was rebuilt by Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament.
The current bridge opened in 1862 and is painted green to match the benches in the House of Commons. It has the most spans of all the Thames bridges and is the oldest surviving road bridge in central London. The film 28 Days Later famously opens on an eerily deserted Westminster Bridge.
In 2017, a terror attack on the bridge resulted in three pedestrians being mown down by a van before the attacker stabbed a policeman at the Houses of Parliament before being shot dead himself. Since then, pavements on all the bridges have barriers to stop a repeat of this.
Originally a suspension bridge stood where the current bridge is, which in turn replaced the Horse Ferry, the only ferry in London that carried horses and carts. This ferry regularly stuck in the mud or sank. In 1633, the ferry sank with Archbishop Laud and all his possessions, and again in 1656 with Oliver Cromwell on board. Interestingly both were later beheaded, albeit Cromwell posthumously. In 1689, James II's wife, Mary of Modena escaped with her baby son across the river before fleeing to Gravesend. The baby grew up to become the Old Pretender, leader of the First Jacobite Rebellion in 1715.
The current bridge was opened in 1932 and features pinecones on the pillars at either end. Different theories abound for this. Some say it's in homage to the first pineapple grown in Britain, in the gardens of nearby Lambeth Palace. Others claim this to be a masonic symbol. There is a palm tree at the north end in the middle of the roundabout, the road continuing as Horseferry Road, a reminder of the original crossing.
Vauxhall takes its name from a long-gone mansion in the area belonging to one of King John's knights, Falkes De Breaute, who built the Falkes Hall which over time and linguistic changes became the name by which we know the area today. On this side of the bridge is the bullet-proof and bomb-proof MI6 headquarters that features in every James Bond film made since it was built.
Although Vauxhall Bridge itself isn't that old, remnants of a bronze age bridge have been discovered nearby. The Thames was a series of small channels at the time, with islands probably linked by a series of bridges. In 1905, the original Vauxhall car factory was established in the area, and South London's oldest gay venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is nearby.
The first Vauxhall Bridge was also the first iron bridge across the Thames. The current bridge was the first to carry trams. Unknown and unnoticed by the majority of people who use the bridge are eight bronze statues that flank each pier. They represent human accomplishments-agriculture, architecture, engineering, pottery, local government, education, art, and astronomy.
Stretching south from Victoria station via Pimlico, the Grosvenor Bridge is one of the least known of all the Thames's bridges. Opened in 1860, it was the first railway bridge built across the Thames.
Extensive rebuilding in the 1960s saw the bridge widened. Technically it isn't really one bridge but ten bridges parallel to each other, making it the widest bridge across the Thames. Straddling Grosvenor Road, which is this part of the road along the riverside, and continuing across the river, it is often used as a shelter for rough sleepers.
The original Chelsea Bridge was actually called Victoria Bridge and opened in 1858, but as it was structurally dangerous, it was renamed Chelsea Bridge to avoid a royal connection with a potential disaster. During excavations for the bridge, a battlefield dating back to the Roman invasion was discovered, complete with weapons and bones. A particularly fine bronze Celtic shield was discovered here which is now in the British Museum. Historians believe Julius Caesar crossed the Thames here in 54BC.
The current bridge opened in 1934 and was the first self-anchored suspension bridge built in Britain. During the 1950's it was a popular spot for motorbike gangs to assemble. In the 1970's it was painted red and white, much to the dismay of Chelsea fans who objected to Arsenal's colours on the bridge. The bridge is now red, white and blue. During the 1990s, bungee-jumping became fashionable and people could bungee jump from the bridge, being videoed on the way down. In 2004 a footbridge was built beneath the south side of the bridge as part of the redevelopment of the Battersea Power Station complex.
A lot of peoples' favourite bridge, Albert Bridge was originally known as the "Trembling Lady" due to the same phenomenon that the Millennium Bridge suffered from upon opening, that of excitation, where a slight wobble caused pedestrians to step in unison, exacerbating the wobble. Albert Bridge has signs up saying "All troops must break step when marching over this bridge." However, the nearby Chelsea Barracks are no longer in use.
The bridge is luridly painted in pink, blue and green, and is garishly lit up at night, giving it the appearance of a fairground ride. The toll booths at each end reinforce this, and tell the story that like many of London's bridges, once upon a time you had to pay to cross it. The colours and lights were to make it visible to river traffic in the fog.
In the 1970s there was an attempt to close the bridge to traffic, but this was abandoned. Other than Tower Bridge, it is the only Central London road bridge never to have been replaced.
The current Battersea Bridge replaced the last wooden bridge across the Thames, which was captured for posterity by Whistler in his painting "Nocturne in Blue and Gold, Old Battersea Bridge." This was built on the site of Sir Thomas More's private landing stage.
Due to its position on a hazardous bend in the river, the bridge has had numerous crashes from river traffic. In 2005, a barge carrying a load of gravel became wedged beneath one arch causing the bridge to be closed for repairs for several months. Other collisions occurred in 1948 and 1950, both resulting in closure for repairs.
In 2006, a bottlenosed whale became stranded at Battersea Bridge. Despite rescue attempts, the whale sadly died, and its skeleton is now on display in the Natural History Museum.
Battersea Railway Bridge
Also called the Cremorne Bridge, Battersea Railway Bridge's claim to fame is that it is the only bridge that doesn't cross the river at right-angles and is also the only railway bridge that runs to multiple destinations either end. It is also the narrowest of any bridge across the river. Planning permission has been granted for footbridges (Diamond Jubilee Bridge) to be built alongside it.
Having never been replaced since its construction, it is the oldest original bridge in central London.
Opened in 1940 and painted in the boring colours that are there to this day in order to protect against air-raids, Wandsworth Bridge replaced a Victorian bridge that was built in the expectation of a nearby rail terminus that never materialised. It was the last of the toll bridges built across the river.
The bridge marks a 22km/p/h speed limit boundary on the Thames, brought in to protect the rowing teams that practise further west. The roundabout at the south end of the bridge was used during the filming of A Clockwork Orange.
Fulham Railway Bridge
There is a plaque on the Fulham Railway Bridge to Frederick Simms, inventor of the first practical magneto and founder of both Daimler and the RAC, whose first workshop was by the bridge. A footbridge runs beside it, and it links Putney Bridge and East Putney stations either side of the river. It opened in 1889.
The Leander Club, the oldest rowing club in the world was founded by Putney Bridge, hence its position as the start of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race.
The original Putney Bridge was actually called Fulham Bridge, built in 1729, and was the first bridge built across the Thames since London Bridge. The story goes that Britain's first PM, Robert Walpole needed to cross the river in a hurry but the ferry was on the other side, and the ferryman was in the pub and couldn't (or wouldn't) hear him call. Walpole decided a bridge had to be built.
In 1795 the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft threw herself off the bridge after being ditched by her lover, but was rescued and subsequently married and had two daughters, one of which was Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein and wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The current bridge was opened in 1886 and was designed by Joseph Bazelgette, who is responsible for London's sewage system. The bridge is incorporated into this, with relief outflows built into it. At the south side is St Mary's church, where the Putney Debates between Oliver Cromwell and the Levellers (not the rock band) took place. The Levellers were the first organised political movement in Britain, and though Cromwell ignored their demands and suppressed them during the Commonwealth, their ideas would inspire future groups such as the Chartists and Libertarians in the struggle for democracy.
London's first suspension bridge was opened in 1827. The current bridge opened 61 years later and is painted green and gold, the colours of Harrods, whose depository is on the south side.
Hammersmith Bridge is the lowest bridge across the Thames. In 1939, hairdresser Maurice Childs spotted a smoking suitcase on the bridge which he threw into the Thames where it exploded, soaking him in the process. Childs was subsequently awarded the MBE. In 1996, the largest semtex bomb found in Britain was discovered on Hammersmith Bridge, where it failed to detonate. The bridge was closed for four years afterwards, reopening in 2000 when another bomb detonated on the bridge. These were presumed to be the work of the IRA, though there were rumours that the last one was planted by locals who had had four traffic free years and were enjoying the peace and quiet. Hammersmith Bridge is London's weakest bridge, and this is believed to be the reason for the bombing campaign.
A plaque on the bridge commemorates South African RAF Lieutenant Charles Campbell-Wood, who dived into the river to rescue a drowning woman in 1919. Both survived, but Campbell-Wood contracted tetanus and died two weeks later.
Barnes Railway Bridge
Along with Hungerford and Fulham, Barnes Bridge is one of three bridges in London to combine railway and pedestrian access. The current bridge is actually built alongside its predecessor and opened in the 1890s. The disused span from the old bridge is clearly visible from it.
The coat of arms of both Oxford and Cambridge universities are visible on the bridge, which was a vantage point during the University Boat Race. However, in recent years it has been closed to pedestrians during the race due to safety concerns.
Built of reinforced concrete and opened in 1933, Chiswick Bridge is just near the finishing line of the University Boat Race. Like Waterloo Bridge, it is faced with Portland stone, which is self-cleaning. Other structures faced with this include the cenotaph and Buckingham Palace.
It was one of three West London bridges opened that year to relieve traffic congestion, the others being Twickenham and Hampton Court. At the time of its completion, Chiswick Bridge had the longest concrete span across the Thames.
Kew Railway Bridge
Despite its ugly iron lattice-work, Kew Railway Bridge is a grade II listed structure. During World War II, it had a pillbox built on it to guard it, along with an anti-aircraft gun platform. The bridge crosses the river close to the village of Strand-on-the-Green, which is full of 18th-century cottages. Its sailing club headquarters is based under the north arch.
In the 1964 Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, the TARDIS becomes trapped under the collapsing Kew Railway Bridge.
The name Edward VII Bridge never really caught on, but Kew Bridge remains a popular spot for watching swans and other waterfowl. Nearby Kew Gardens is internationally famous. Kew Palace was built by the father of the later to become George III, and the building is open to the public within the gardens. During excavations, prehistoric tools were found.
The old bridge has been sketched by a number of artists including Turner, and during the silent movie era, a film studio nearby was named after the bridge.
During the First World War, Zeppelins dropped several bombs near the bridge. There are also World War II shrapnel marks about halfway along the bridge, either from Luftwaffe bullets or shrapnel that came from a nearby bomb during an air-raid.
Richmond Lock and Footbridge
Because the old London Bridge had acted like a dam, when it came down, the water returned to rapids. At this point of the river, the water became so shallow that it became impossible for river traffic to use this part of the river at certain times. To offset this problem, Richmond Lock was built in the 1890s, along with a footbridge.
Built in three sections, it contains sluice gates to ensure a consistently navigable river depth at this point of the Thames. Apart from Albert Bridge, the lock footbridge has the only remaining toll booths on the river, as pedestrians had to pay to cross until World War II. The remains of the turnstiles are also still visible.
The Daily Telegraph led a petition against the construction of Twickenham Bridge in the 1930s but it still went ahead, and in 1933, along with Chiswick and Hampton Court Bridges, Twickenham Bridge was opened by the future Edward VIII who would abdicate to marry Wallis Simpson.
The bridge incorporates permanent hinges that adjust to the temperature. This was the first concrete bridge to feature this innovation. In 1992, the first Gatso speed camera was installed on Twickenham Bridge. There were, however, no petitions this time.
Richmond Railway Bridge
Originally built in 1848 to connect Richmond to Waterloo via Clapham Junction, Richmond Railway Bridge was rebuilt from the material of the original in 1908. One of the earliest railway bridges across the river, the viaduct approach crosses the Old Deer Park and both constructions, like most of London's bridges, are grade II listed buildings.
As the caption tells you, despite its widening and slight flattening in the 1930s, Richmond Bridge still conforms to its original construction from its opening in 1777 and therefore is a grade I listed building. The bridge replaced a ferry service, which could carry horse and carts as long as they weren't heavily laden; otherwise, it meant a lengthy journey to the nearest bridge at the time, which was Kingston Bridge, much further west.
Despite being a long way from the city itself, the area was and remains a fashionable middle-class area due to its river connections. Commissioners overseeing the bridge project included the landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown. It has been preserved in artwork by both Constable and Turner. Alcoves occupied by benches are the sites of former toll booths. Tolls were abolished on Richmond Bridge in the 19th century.
In 1987, the yacht of the National Car Parks founder, Sir Donald Gosling got wedged beneath Richmond Bridge at high tide. A bust of Bernardo O' Higgins, the first president of Chile, stands in a park at the Richmond end of the bridge where he was a student in the 18th century.
Teddington Lock Footbridges
Teddington lock has two bridges, a suspension bridge and an iron girder bridge with a small island in the middle. Opened in 1889, it is also a listed construction. A quiet neighbourhood, particularly since the nearby TV studios ceased broadcasting, both bridges connect to the Thames path.
Kingston Railway Bridge
The Kingston Railway Bridge runs from Waterloo and serves the what is known as the Kingston loop line. Built in 1907, the bridge replaced a 19th-century construction. The area was once the site of two power stations which have now gone to make way for parkland and accommodation.
There is no agreed date of when the first bridge in the area was built, but it is believed that the wooden bridge here contributed to the success of Kingston as a market town. 16th-century chronicler John Leland claimed the bridge existed in Anglo-Saxon times, though other claims are that it was built in the late 12th century.
The area was a strategic stronghold during the War of the Roses, and the bridge was destroyed several times. The current bridge was built of Portland stone and opened in 1828 by the future Queen Adelaide.
Hampton Court Bridge
Serving Henry VIII's former palace, the bridge was a ferry crossing in Tudor times. The first bridge opened in 1753. After two more bridges, the third described as an eyesore according to contemporary critics, the current reinforced concrete structure faced with Portland stone and red bricks to complement the palace, was designed by Edwin Lutyens and opened in 1933. Despite there being further river crossings along the Thames, Hampton Court Bridge is the furthest upstream of the Greater London bridges and therefore the last one on this list.
© 2018 DJ Hurst