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Hammersmith bridge (part five)
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Unlikely as it may seem, Hammersmith Bridge has been a regular target for terrorists of the Irish Republican Army. The first attempt was on 29 March 1939, when they planted two bombs on the bridge. Maurice Childs was walking over the bridge at one o’clock in the morning when he noticed a car stop in the middle of the bridge, then drive away. He noticed a suitcase lying on the suspension chains, which he threw into the river, where it exploded, causing only superficial damage to the bridge. A second bomb, which went off a few seconds later on the other side of the bridge, damaged the balustrade and some suspension rods and broke windows in nearby houses. Later that morning two Irishmen were arrested on Putney Bridge; they were tried, found guilty and sentenced to a long stretch in prison. The bridge was closed while repairs were carried out, including the installation of a massive brace on the upstream side, which can still be seen today. Childs was awarded the MBE for his bravery. In 1996 the IRA planted two more bombs on the south side of the bridge but, although the detonators went off, the devices failed to explode. A third attempt by the IRA to blow up the bridge in 2000 also failed, but the bridge was closed for five months for repairs.

As the bridge has the lowest clearance of any of London s bridges, it has often been damaged by passing ships. It has also proved unable to bear the weight of modern traffic, and it has been repaired and strengthened on a number of occasions, while its weight limit has been reduced.

Hammersmith bridge (part five)

The Metropolitan Board of Works’ colourful coats of arms, which adorn the anchorages at each end of Hammersmith Bridge.

During the 1950s there were renewed threats to replace it, but the London County Council had other priorities and nothing happened. In 1973 the bridge was strengthened after damage was caused, it was claimed, by heavy vehicles ignoring the 12-ton weight limit. More serious damage was caused in 1984, when four of the suspension rods snapped, and the bridge was closed for five weeks while it was repaired. It reopened with a 3-ton weight limit. In 1997 it was closed for two years to all vehicles except buses while it was further strengthened. Some local residents, especially on the Barnes side, wanted the bridge to be kept permanently closed, but it reopened in November 1999, with a 7.5-ton weight limit, which is still in force. There are now special traffic lights for buses at each end of the bridge, to ensure that only one crosses in each direction at any one time. Despite all the work carried out on it, the bridge still shakes very noticeably when traffic crosses it.

In the centre of the upstream handrail of the bridge is a plaque commemorating the bravery of Charles Campbell Wood, a young Royal Air Force lieutenant who, in 1919, dived into the Thames to save a woman who had tried to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge. The woman made a full recovery, but the officer died later from his injuries.

Beside the path on the north side of the bridge is a metal notice with the London County Council’s 1914 Thames bridges bylaws, which lists the penalties for a number of offences against the bridge, such as damaging lamp standards or climbing on it.

Hammersmith bridge (part five)

General view of Hammersmith Bridge

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