London bridge (part ten)

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Twickenham bridge
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A new bridge at Twickenham was first proposed in 1909, but the First World War and the Depression prevented any action being taken. In the 1920s a new Chertsey Arterial Road was formally proposed, which would involve the construction of two new bridges, at Richmond and Chiswick. The new bridge would allow through traffic to avoid Richmond town centre, which was becoming congested, especially around the old bridge, but it would also cut off the town from the Old Deer Park, and this was the cause of much opposition to its construction.

The engineer for the project was Alfred Dryland, and the bridge was designed by Maxwell Ayrton. Ayrton, who is best known as one of the architects of the original Wembley Stadium, was a pioneer of the architectural use of concrete. Ayrton's original design had two massive towers at each end of the bridge, which, with the equally heavy abutments, looked rather like military fortifications. The design met with considerable local disapproval as being totally inappropriate for the setting, and Ayrton was asked to modify the plans. He first removed the towers on the Surrey side, leaving smaller ones on the Middlesex bank, but he was finally persuaded to remove these as well. There was even controversy over what the bridge would be called. It was originally referred to as the new Richmond Bridge, which was understandably abandoned as being rather confusing, and Richmond Council wanted it to be called St Margaret's Bridge, after the name of the area on the Middlesex bank, but finally its current name was agreed upon, as the direction of the bridge is towards Twickenham.

Twickenham bridge

Aerial view of Twickenham Bridge under construction.

Work on Twickenham Bridge eventually began in 1931, a short distance downstream of the railway bridge. The three river spans are each of 101 feet and the distance between the parapets is 75 feet, with a roadway 45 feet wide and footpaths on either side. The bridge was made of reinforced concrete, the first large bridge in Britain to use this new technology. To allow for flexibility, at each end of the arches are special hinges, which have been made a design feature of the bridge and are emphasized by curious Egyptian Art Deco bronze plates. Also in Art Deco style are the lamps and the balustrade, which continues down the staircases at each end. Some red concrete tiles have been added to the staircase walls to add a dash of colour to the dark grey concrete. At both ends of the bridge is a shore arch over the towpath.

The bridge was opened on 3 July 1933 by the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII), the second of the three bridges he opened that day, the others being at Chiswick and Hampton Court.

Between the bridge and the Richmond Railway Bridge are the only visible remains of a foot tunnel under the river, built by the Metropolitan Water Board, probably in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, though for what purpose is now unclear. On each side of the Thames are curious little circular brick buildings, which were once the entrances to the tunnel.

Twickenham bridge

Twickenham Bridge. Note the Egyptian Art Deco detailing above the piers.

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