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Introduction (part four)
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There was much criticism of the new railway bridges because, whereas most road bridges were elegant structures designed to enhance the cityscape, the new railway bridges were more functional and cheaply built to save the railway companies money. They were often plain lattice-girder structures, of a type that was soon to be built, mostly by British engineers, all over the world.

For years there had been complaints about the tolls charged on the privately owned bridges, which the general public felt were an infringement of their freedom. Serious discussions about the problem began in the 1850s and in 1877 the Metropolitan Toll Bridges Act became law, allowing the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) to buy up the bridges and free them from tolls. The first ceremony, to free Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges, was a low-key affair, but it proved to be so popular that subsequent ceremonies were carried out, with considerable pageantry, by the Prince and Princess of Wales, who were welcomed by throngs of Londoners lining the streets, and many more wanting to be among the first to walk across the emancipated bridges.

Somewhat surprisingly, only two new bridges were built in the twentieth century, at Twickenham and Chiswick as part of the Great Chertsey Road scheme in 1933. It was the age of the internal combustion engine, and many bridges could not cope with the extra volume and weight of traffic and had to be either strengthened or replaced. All three of Rennie's bridges were demolished. Southwark was replaced in 1921, and his masterpiece, Waterloo Bridge, which had started to collapse, was rebuilt during the Second World War. London Bridge, which had been widened in 1902, was finally replaced in the late 1960s by an even wider bridge, though Rennie's bridge was shipped over to the United States to become a tourist attraction.

During the Second World War the bridges were considered to be a target for enemy bombers, and disguised pillboxes were set up by some of the major bridges to defend them. Several temporary bridges were erected in case any of the permanent ones were destroyed or badly damaged.
The Millbank Bridge was located near Tate Britain, and another was built between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. Fortunately London's bridges survived virtually unscathed, despite the constant bombardment, and after the war the temporary bridges found a new use spanning rivers in various Commonwealth countries.

At the opening of the twenty-first century two pedestrian bridges were built. Lord Foster's innovative Millennium Bridge between St Paul's and Tate Modern opened in 2000 but it was found to wobble and had to be closed for safety reasons. After many tests and the installation of dampers to stop the movement, it reopened in 2002 and is proving very popular, though it is still called the 'wobbly bridge'. For years there had been discussions about ways of improving the eyesore that was the Hungerford Railway Bridge, and a pair of striking pedestrian footbridges, known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges, were attached to the sides of it, opening in 2003. They too have been hugely successful and offer wonderful views up and down the river.


Introduction (part four)

The Freeing of the Bridges from toll was a hugely popular move, and people couldn't wait to be the first to cross them, as shown here in an engraving from Illustrated London News when Putney Bridge was freed.

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