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Richmond bridge (part two)
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The foundation stone was laid in 1774.The bridge is of Portland stone and has five elliptical river arches and, because of the steepness of the roadway, it has always had a distinctive hump in the middle. Originally there were small Palladian tollhouses at each end; there are now recesses where they stood, with seating for weary pedestrians, added in 1868. On the Richmond side was an obelisk giving the distances to Blackfriars, Westminster and London Bridges, as well as more local places; it is still there today, though it was removed for safe keeping during the Second World War. The bridge opened to pedestrians in September 1776 and other traffic was able to use it from January 1777. The bridge was not actually finished, but by now the ferry had ceased to operate. In fact, work on the bridge took so long that there was no official opening ceremony. The bridge was much praised for its simple elegance, and many artists, including Rowlandson, Turner and Constable, were inspired to paint it.

The money to finance the construction of the bridge had been raised by an unusual method, two tontines. This method of raising funds was the invention of an Italian banker, Lorenzo Tonti, who first used it in France in 1653. The shareholders who paid into the fund received dividends only during their lifetime. The shares were non-transferable, so on the death of a shareholder the dividends were shared out among the surviving investors. After the death of the last subscriber in 1859 the bridge became toll-free.

Richmond bridge (part two)

Photograph of Richmond Bridge by Henry Taunt, с. 1870.

Fortunately, there was enough money from investments to continue with the upkeep of the bridge until 1927, when ownership passed to the counties of Surrey and Middlesex.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the bridge was proving inadequate for the increase in motor traffic, and a 10 mph speed limit was imposed. There were proposals to widen the bridge, but there was much opposition to this on artistic grounds. A decision on improving the bridge was deferred in the 1920s, when plans were put forward to build a new bridge a little way downstream as part of the Chertsey Arterial Road scheme (the future Twickenham Bridge), as the authorities wanted to wait and see what effect it would have on local traffic.

The new bridge opened in 1933, but Richmond Bridge was still unable to cope with the traffic, so in 1934 it was decided to widen it by 11 feet and to strengthen the foundations. Work began in 1937 and, although construction was interrupted by the start of the Second World War, the bridge reopened in 1940. Each stone on the upstream side was removed and numbered, so that when they were replaced the bridge looked much the same as before. However, a number of subtle changes were made to the structure which are at first hard to spot, especially from a distance. The roadway was made more level by lowering it at the centre and raising it at the Richmond end, removing the dip before the hill.

Richmond bridge (part two)

Richmond Bridge. In the stonework under the arches you can see where the bridge was widened in the 1930s.

In addition, at the Surrey end a new parapet was added above the original balustrade, which is now little more than a frieze against the original stonework. The join between the old and the new sections of the bridge can clearly be seen under the arches.

In 1962 there were plans to replace the old gas lamps with modern fluorescent lighting, but the proposal was turned down as being out of keeping with the character of the bridge, and the lamps were converted to electricity instead. This elegant structure is now the oldest Thames bridge in Greater London, and it must be hoped that it will last for many more years, forming a splendid backdrop to Richmond's lively riverside scene.

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