Often granting crossers terrific views not just of the Thames but also their surrounding areas, many of London’s bridges are famous in their own right for their impressive appearance, eventful histories and outstanding architecture. Quite frankly, if you’re visiting London and anywhere near the river, you’re also bound to be near one of these iconic bridges…
Perhaps the most famous of all the bridges across the Thames, this Victorian neo-Gothic masterpiece was built in 1894, is 244 metres (800 feet) long, coated in 22,000 litres (5,812gallons) of paint and nowadays crossed by a staggering 40,000 people a day. Renowned for its rising roadway to allow river traffic to pass, operated by hydraulics, the bridge’s inner workings can be viewed by popping into its open-to-the-public exhibition, which guides you through the machinery room, takes you through its history and allows you to enjoy views of the city from 45 metres (131 feet) up on its walkways.
Today’s London Bridge is by far not the first to have crossed the river on this spot; in fact, it’s just the latest in a long historical line. The earliest was a wooden Roman version, which was followed by medieval efforts that featured buildings across their entire lengths; the final one of which was commissioned by King Henry II and remarkably lastedfor more than six centuries until 1831. The next was bought by US firm McCulloch Oil Company in 1971 and transferred to Arizona’s Lake Havasu City (urban legend has it that the company’s owner believed he was buying the much grander Tower Bridge). The present London Bridge, highly recognisable for its use in films and on TV to demonstrate the throngs of London commuters that cross the Thames daily, opened in 1973.
Dating back to 1862, the current bridge on this sit is the oldest that still stands in Central London. Fittingly, it was designed by Charles Barry, the same architect behind the construction of the gothic tour de force that’s the Houses of Parliament (although they were co-designed by Augustus Pugin), which stand on the north side of the bridge. Enormously popular with visitors, it connects Westminster with the eastern edge of the South Bank tourist district, meaning attractions such as the London Eyeare particularly nearby.
Built mainly by women during the Second World War, owing to the fact so many of Britain’s able menfolk were away fighting in foreign lands, the present Waterloo Bridge connects the north bank with the heart of the South Bank, with many much loved venues such as the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall and the headquarters and screening rooms of the British Film Industry (BFI) within very short walking distance.In 1967, it was also immortalized in song by the unforgettable Kinks’ hit Waterloo Sunset. The bridge’s predecessor opened on the same spot in 1817 to commemorate the British, Dutch and Prussian victory over Napoleon’s France at 1815’s Battle of Waterloo.
Chronologically the third bridge to have been built in what was then London (now merely Central London); this one opened in 1769 originally with the moniker ‘William Pitt Bridge’ – named after the recent British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder. However, it soon became universally known as simply Blackfriars Bridge, after the name of the Dominican Priory that stood nearby in medieval times. In 1982 it achieved worldwide notoriety when the then Vatican Bank chairman Roberto Calvi was found dead hanging from one of its arches. Initially, it was believed he had committed suicide, having been on the run from the Italian authorities for embezzlement, but in 2002 it was proved that he had, in fact, been bumped off by the Mafia. For enthusiasts of true crime then, this is undoubtedly one of the London bridges to visit.
Opening to great fanfare during the summer of 2000, this pedestrian effort effectively links St. Paul’s Cathedral in The City (north bank) with the Tate Modern gallery and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in Southwark (south bank). A hugely popular crossing point for tourists, especially for those staying nearby and taking advantage of London West End hotel deals, it was at first derided for the tremors people experienced whenever a gust of wind blew down the river; that’s now been totally fixed, its but predictable, somewhat affectionate nickname from then – ‘the wobbly bridge’ – has stuck.
Now an English Heritage Grade II-listed building, thanks in no small part to its enormously elegant and unique suspension bridge-like design, this West London bridge is one of only two major bridges in the whole of the city yet to be replaced – despite many suggestions it ought to be during the last 100 years owing to its supposed struggle to deal with modern road traffic. It connects Chelsea (north side) with Lambeth (west side). At night, it’s illuminated by around 4,000 light bulbs to increase its visibility for river traffic.
Opening in 1827, this bridge soon achieved notoriety thanks to the Boat Race that takes place annually on the Thames between the Oxford and Cambridge University rowing teams, the first of which was held in 1845. Very quickly, Hammersmith Bridge became a prime vantage point for the race; so much so that thanks to the thousands of crowding spectators, fears were raised they could cause damage to the bridge. To alleviate the strain, since 1882 the bridge has always been closed on race-day.
Finally, worthy of note is Kingston Bridge. Why? Well, because on its Kingston side, apparently a ‘ducking stool’ into the Thames once stood, its use being for ‘punishing nagging wives’– it’s recorded to have still be used for this function up until as late as 1738. Yes, really.