The last bridge in London I walked over was the Tower Bridge. It is by far the most elaborate bridge across the Thames. I had assumed it was also the oldest of the bridges I walked in London. It turns out that this was a false assumption. The current Tower Bridge was built in the 1890s. According to the dates I found online, Southwark Bridge (see Aug 5 post) is the oldest existing bridge I walked having opened in 1819.
The Tower Bridge is the last bridge across the Thames before it empties into the sea. The view downstream gives some indication of this as there are no bridges in sight and the views from all the other bridges showed either another vehicular bridge, underground bridge, or pedestrian bridge. That the Tower Bridge is the end of the bridges over the Thames is somewhat surprising to me because as the crow flies the mouth of the river is nearly forty miles away and as the river flows is even farther. There are some tunnels under the river between the Tower Bridge and the sea, including at least one pedestrian tunnel. I considered walking the pedestrian tunnel, but the idea of walking through a tunnel under a river seemed long, dark, and scary, and as I had already walked myself off my feet, I chose not to.
Some of the oldest parts of the city are near the Tower Bridge. The northern shore is where the infamous Tower of London is located. The Tower itself was built in 1078. Crossing the bridge and turning right are several very narrow, medieval-like lanes. Yet right near this old fabric is a very new development, situated almost directly across the Thames from the Tower of London, which from this view seems to include the controversial Shard skyscraper. The Shard is located near the end of the London Bridge so I believe there must be some separation between the new buildings in the foreground and the skyscraper. I understand that there is some controversy over the building as many people believed it was too close to the older fabric of the city where they wanted to maintain the historical building heights. In the midst of the historic neighborhoods I observed this skyscraper looms up as the current tallest building in Europe. According to an article about the official opening of the building on July4, one of the many features of this building is “double-decker lifts.” I feel like that is the kind of thing that I’m going to have to see it to believe it. How would a two-story elevator work? And why would you want a two-story one? I think it would only complicate things.
So ends the story of my journey walking across 13 bridges in London. Hope you’ve enjoyed it! For those interested in bridges, stay tuned as I continue to walk bridges in Pittsburgh and other cities. For those interested in London, I plan to post about the adaptively reused churches I found in London in the near future.
The Southwark Bridge had the most, or at least slowest, vehicular traffic of any of the bridges I walked in London. It was also the only one with a painted bike lane. I believe this lane is part of London’s Cycle Superhighway system. These bike lanes are intended to make bike travel to central London from the surrounding areas easier (see website). I really liked the bright blue color of these lanes. It is highly visible and makes it quite clear this is not a place for cars. Of course I am sure it costs a lot to paint miles of bike lanes solid.
The little domes on this building had been visible to me long before I saw the rest of the building. I was in anticipation for several days to learn what it was. I assumed it would be something really interesting like a church built by Eastern European immigrants, in which case its prominent location on the waterfront would led to a fascinating story, I’m sure. Consequently I was a little disappointed to learn that it was only a train station. (Note: I learned what the building was while on the Southwark Bridge, but the view above was taken from the London Bridge on the other side of the station from Southward Bridge.)
In this view upstream, the Millennium Bridge, which was so photogenic from the other angles (see Aug 2 post), becomes invisible against the background of the Blackfriar’s Rail Station spanning the Thames (see Blackfriar’s Bridge post).
The Millennium Bridge is the first of two pedestrian bridges that cross the Thames. The second, the Jubilee Bridge (click to see post), opened 3 years later in 2003. While the Millennium Bridge is sadly only one color, I think it was probably the most photogenic bridge I walked in London. Although I like the picture above less for the bridge and more for the buildings behind it, which show the city’s transition from a time when church steeples were the tallest thing around to today when that honor belongs to the skyscrapers.
The location of the bridge was very good. It leads directly to St. Paul’s Cathedral. In some ways I am surprised that it wasn’t until 2000 that a bridge was built at this location. (I picked up some souvenir maps while in London depicting the city in 1520, 1666, 1843 and 1902 and none have a bridge or even ferry boat at this location.) On the other hand, the other side of the bridge connects to the Tate Modern, which didn’t open as the international modern and contemporary art museum until 2000. Before then the site was a power plant from 1947 until 1981 when it became redundant and closed, remaining vacant until the Tate took it.
The views from the Millennium Bridge show two things of interest related to the other city bridges. First, upriver is a view of the first rail station to span the Thames and the longest solar bridge in the world (see July 31 post). Downriver, the Tower Bridge, which I believe is the most iconic London bridge, comes into view for the first time.
I started this post by claiming that the Millennium Bridge was the most photogenic of the London bridges. The views of it above are pretty interesting, but the best shot was the one I took from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral looking down.
Lambeth Bridge toned down the color schemes a bit by using only two main colors, compared to the three or more colors found on the Vauxhall and Albert bridges (see June 20 and June 16 posts). Also, the character of the area surrounding Lambeth Bridge changed from that surrounding the bridges I crossed previously. There was much more of the older, classic London around Lambeth Bridge. The southern shore combines the old and new. On the left, looking from the bridge is the historic Lambeth Palace, the site of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London residence since the 13th century. (This accounts for the building’s religious appearance. I had assumed when seeing it in person that it was some kind of church, so when I looked it up from the comfort of home and saw it was a palace I was initially disappointed at my error.) To the right across the street from the Palace, is a sleek, modern, glass building housing the Parliament View Apartments. In retrospect, I regret not taking a picture that includes both the Palace and the apartments in one frame.
The views up- and down-river from the bridge correspond to the sites at the southern end of the bridge. Downriver, the side corresponding to the old Lambeth Palace, the view is dominated by old London architecture particularly the Houses of Parliament. At the same time the upriver view is dominated by newer architecture, like the Parliament View Apartments upriver from Lambeth Palace.
I would like to add a correction to my post on the Battersea Bridge where I identified the tower under construction, also visible in the Lambeth Bridge upriver photo above, as the Shard. In the Battersea Bridge post, I identified the building as the Shard because it was the only tower under construction in London on which I could find any information on. Also, one of the photos labeled as the Shard looked similar to this building. However the Shard is closer to central London. Today I learned that the complex next to the tower is the St Georges Wharf Apartments, which are rented by the night. Based on the style of architecture of these buildings and the tower and their proximity to each other, I have a suspicion that they are related. It would probably be a good thing if the tower was an expansion of the apartments because the current apartments are completely booked. Out of curiosity, I searched multiple dates between now and June 2013; none of them had any availability.
The Albert Bridge, opened 1874, was my favorite London bridge. Who came up with the idea to paint a bridge pink? The color scheme looks perfect for a nursery and really bizarre for a bridge particularly one named after Prince Albert. According to Wikipedia, this color scheme is rather new, the bridge having been painted pink, green, and blue in 1991 to increase the visibility of the bridge in foggy and other low visibility conditions. This is one of those incidents where the facts are disappointing–I had been imagining all sorts of reasons for the color scheme, including that these three colors were Prince Albert’s favorite or that these colors were chosen specially to symbolize aspects of Prince Albert’s personality or accomplishments.
As this sign indicates, the Albert Bridge is not the most structurally sound and the force of troops marching in step could be enough to bring the bridge down. Despite the structural deficiency of the bridge, it is one of the only bridges across the Thames in London to be still the original structure (more or less). It has been renovated and reinforced on multiple occasions, but never demolished and rebuilt.
It seems possible to create a convincing argument for how the Albert Bridge symbolizes Prince Albert. The bridge is unstable and the colors are not traditionally considered masculine. Prince Albert was a man who struggled as the husband of Queen Victoria. This marriage suffered from tensions between the idea that the man was the “head” and “ruler” of the family and the fact that in this case the woman was the head and ruler of an entire empire, so how could her husband be the head and ruler of her? (Particularly since he was German and the ruling British classes were very suspicious of and against any influence from the Germans. “Victoria and Albert” (2001) is a good film about the love and tension in this marriage.) Prince Albert had to deal with feeling less manly and powerful, at times, than he wished, while the bridge named after him is less strong and serious-looking than most other bridges.
Most of the buildings visible from the Albert Bridge were of new or modern construction and appeared to be used mostly for residential or office use. One industrial site was visible to the west past the Battersea Bridge in the form of a factory near Chelsea Harbor. There were also many boats parked in the Thames near the Albert Bridge; I don’t know if they were houseboats, fishing boats, or something else.
The Battersea Bridge was the first bridge in London that I walked across. The bridge, built in 1890, connects the London neighborhoods of Kensington & Chelsea (north of the river) and Wandsworth (south of the river). The north side had traditional, classic architecture, but the south side had some newer developments. From the bridge looking west, I saw a bridge for the tube and several modern developments. To the east, I saw the Albert Bridge, the Battersea Power Station, and the Shard tower then under construction.
I enjoyed this bridge. I appreciated its simple, yet stately design. The traffic was low, though this might have had more to do with the time of day (Sunday afternoon) than any other factor. There were two sights near the bridge that particularly caught my attention. The first was a statue of Sir Thomas More on the north side, with gilded face and hands, a style not familiar to me. The second was a seemingly random statue of a flying goose just off the south end of the bridge.
The name of Battersea intrigued me, so I did a Google search to try and find the origin of the name. The result was that there is no known origin. The possibilities included an Anglo-Saxon term meaning Badric’s Island, battles that were fought in the river at low tide when the river was fordable, and an evolution of spellings from a term meaning St Peter’s water or river.