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Bridges I

View along the Thames 1791

View of the City of London engraved by Eastgate for Barlow's General History of Europe. 1791

The viewpoint is from a platform suspended at about 200 feet (60 metres), looking west. The arm of the Thames which turns south in the middle distance has been shortened as a map of the area clearly shows that Westminster Bridge is closer to the north turn than the south, though some account has to be taken of the fact that the Thames, though it has turned, is still going away at this point. The viewpoint could have been provided by a tall ship, whose masts went to a height of up to 220 feet. The boat in the foreground is clearly out of proportion, and it is this more than anything else that gives the scene the look of a toy town. 

The three bridges are (from nearest to furthest) London, Blackfriars and Westminster.

The London Bridge shown is the old London Bridge, opened in 1209. It acquired houses either side, which became unsafe and were demolished by 1762. At the same time that the houses were demolished, the central arch was widened to allow easier access to shipping. It was the only bridge across the Thames until 1750.

Celia Fiennes describes it around 1701 thus:

'The Bridge is a stately building all stone with 18 arches most of them bigg enough to admit a large barge to pass it; its so broade that two coaches drives a breast, and there is on each side houses and shopps just like any large streete in the Citty, of which there are many and well built, even and lofty, most has 5 if not 6 degrees...'

And César de Saussure in 1725:

'At the end of the street in which the Monument stands, is the bridge over the Thames, which is made from stone. Here are the dimension I have been given: it is 800 feet long, 30 feet wide and 60 feet high. It is supported on 19 arches each of which has a span of 20 feet. On either side of this bridge, houses have been built which form a pretty street, so that a stranger who finds himself here does not realise that he is on a bridge at all. Nevertheless, there is a place in the centre where there are no houses, and here it is possible to enjoy the pleasure of casting an eye over the river, to discover above the bridge countless boats of all types, and to admire below it a great number of merchants’ vessels at anchor. At the end of the bridge on the London side, there is a wheel which pumps water and distributes it to various parts of the town. Most interestingly, this wheel turns in both directions, according to whether the tide comes in or goes out, so that it is always working.'

The bridge shown here was replaced by 1831 by a bridge running slightly to the west of the already existing bridge. Some of the stone from the old bridge was used in the construction of Ingress House on the banks of the Thames at Greenhithe (recently restored), the house famously mentioned by the Shah of Persia on his visit to London in 1898 as the only thing worth comment in the approaches to London from the east. Still, if he sailed past Greenwich, which he must have done, this does not say very much for his powers of observation. The 1831 bridge, also of stone, was replaced in 1973, and the materials sold to an American who reconstructed it in Arizona, where it stands to this day.

Blackfriars Bridge was completed in 1768. It was an elegant structure of Portland stone described more fully in Bridges II. It was replaced in 1869 by the bridge that stands there presently.

Westminster Bridge was completed in 1750, against a deal of opposition from the ferrymen. This bridge became dangerous in 1846, when some of the piers gave way. It was closed and replaced by 1862.

On the north bank of the Thames, from far to near, can be seen St John's in Smith Square, Westminster Abbey, St Pauls Cathedral, the Custom House (just east of London Bridge) and the south west corner of the Tower of London. On the south bank, in the far distance, Lambeth Palace and Lambeth marsh: between London and Blackfriar's Bridges, St Saviour's (with the four spires): just east of London Bridge, St Olave's and just to the south of that, St Thomas and Guy's Hospitals. The many spires show the location of some of the churches built after the Great Fire in 1666 and in response to Queen Anne's Commission for the Building of Fifty New Churches (of which just ten were actually built) set up in 1711. 


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