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Kingston bridge (part two)
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In the late seventeenth century John Aubrey described the bridge in his Perambulation of Surrey. He noted that 'In the middle of the bridge are two fair seats for passengers to avoid carts and to sit and enjoy the delightful prospect'. One of the curiosities of the bridge was a ducking stool at the Kingston end of the bridge, used for punishing nagging wives. It was last recorded as being used in 1738.

As traffic increased and the bridge deteriorated, it was recognised that a new bridge was required, and in 1825 Parliament gave permission to Kingston Corporation to build a new stone bridge 100 feet upstream of the old bridge. It was designed by Edward Lapidge, the Surrey county surveyor, and built by William Herbert. The first stone was laid by the Earl of Liverpool, the High Steward of Kingston, on 7 November 1825 and the work took nearly three years. The bridge is 382 feet long and was originally only 25 feet wide. It consists of five elliptical arches of brick, and the facades and balustrades are of Portland stone. Originally a circular tollhouse stood at each end. The bridge was opened in July 1828 by the Duchess of Clarence, who was later to become Queen Adelaide.

The local population were most unhappy at paying what they felt were extortionate tolls, and there were many protests. On 12 March 1870 the bridge was made toll-free, an occasion commemorated by a plaque carved into the stone in one of the alcoves. Celebrations were planned and the Lord Mayor of London accepted an invitation to attend. When, at the last moment, he sent word that he could not come, the Mayor of Kingston went to the Mansion House in person and persuaded him to return with him. There were two days of celebrations, with military bands, a banquet and a firework display. On the second day, a Monday, all the local schoolchildren were given the day off. During the festivities, the tollgates were taken down and burnt on Hampton Green.

Kingston was the first Thames bridge that trams were allowed to cross. Parliamentary approval was granted to London United Tramways to run the service in 1901 and the double track was installed in 1905, with the service starting the following year. Although there was much local support for the service, there were many protests from others that the bridge was too narrow for the trams to operate safely. This proved to be the case, and there were a number of accidents, including one in which a cyclist was killed. In 1909 Basil Mott, the distinguished engineer, was asked to report on the matter, including the cost of widening the existing bridge or replacing it with a new structure. Fortunately for posterity, the county councils of Surrey and Middlesex chose the first option, so as to preserve the architectural character of the bridge.

The cost of the work was estimated at £110,000, of which London United Tramways contributed £10,000. From 1911 to 1914 engineers Mott & Hay carried out the work, adding 30 feet to the upstream side, but keeping the original look of the bridge. There was no ceremony for its reopening because of the outbreak of the First World War. In 2000 the bridge was widened again, adding another 20 feet to allow for a bus lane down the centre of the bridge and cycle lanes on either side of the road, but again the original appearance of the bridge was maintained. It was reopened on 29 June 2001 by the Duke of Kent.
In the 1980s some of the stonework of the medieval bridge was excavated, and the remains can still be seen through a window in the basement of the John Lewis store, by the riverside walk.

Today the bridge is very busy, with a constant flow of traffic, but it is still a very handsome bridge and one Kingstonians are very proud of. It is worth taking a short detour upstream on the Surrey bank to see another historic bridge, the twelfth - century stone Clattern Bridge over the river Hogsmill.


Kingston bridge (part two)

The present Kingston Bridge.



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