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Kew bridge (part one)
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A ferry is known to have operated from Brentford to Kew for many centuries, and it is even possible that its origin goes back to the Roman period. In 1659 a second ferry went into service near the site of the present Kew Bridge. It was run by Henry Tunstall and his son Robert and was originally set up to service the family's limekiln business. However, they soon went into competition with the Kew Ferry by accepting passengers, and before long the Tunstall family was operating both ferries.

In 1730 Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Augusta, made Kew Palace their country home and, as they enjoyed entertaining, the ferry was in greater demand than ever and soon became known as the Royal Ferry. In 1757 Robert Tunstall obtained an Act of Parliament to build a bridge to replace the ferries. The bridge, built by John Barnard, the master carpenter who had worked on Westminster Bridge, had two brick and stone arches on each bank with seven wooden river spans, the central one 50 feet wide. Although not quite finished, the bridge was opened three days before the official opening to allow the Dowager Princess of Wales and her son, the future George III, to use the new bridge. When the bridge opened to the public on 4 June 1759, three thousand people crossed it. As it was the only Thames bridge between Fulham and Kingston, it was to prove extremely popular, even though the toll for a coach and four was 1s 6d and for pedestrians a halfpenny.


Kew bridge (part one)

Watercolour of the first, wooden Kew Bridge painted by Paul Sandby in 1159.



Even before it was built, watermen complained that the wooden bridge would be difficult to navigate, and so it proved. It was regularly damaged by barges, and the cost of repairs was high, making it uneconomical to run. In 1782 Robert Tunstall's son, also called Robert, was granted permission to replace it with a stone bridge. The £16,000 needed to build it was raised through a subscription scheme known as a tontine (a system that is explained in the chapter on Richmond Bridge). The designer of the bridge was James Paine, who had recently built the new bridge at Richmond. Its location was about 100 feet downstream of the wooden bridge, which remained open while the new bridge was being built. It was constructed of Portland and Purbeck stone, had seven arches and had steep approaches, like the bridge at Richmond, but without a hump in the centre. Paine had wanted the bridge to be ornate, with sculpture, triumphal arches and Doric tollbooths, but because of the shortage of funds his design had to be simplified. The bridge was only 18 feet wide, which was to cause problems a century later. The bridge was opened on 22 September 1789, when George III and Queen Charlotte led a procession of coaches over it, but Paine was unable to attend the ceremony through ill health and he died later that year.


Kew bridge (part one)

This prehistoric flint axe, found during construction of the present bridge, was presented to Edward VII when he opened it. It has been set in a brass mount in the form of the new bridge.



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