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Pytney bridge (part two)
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Work on the bridge, to be known as Fulham Bridge, began in March 1729, and it was opened to traffic on 29 November of the same year, although the Prince of Wales had already crossed it a week earlier. The bridge was 786 feet long and 23 feet wide, including a footpath 4 feet wide on the downstream side. It had twenty-six spans of varying widths, from 14 to 32 feet, the large central one being known as Walpole’s Lock in honour of the Prime Minister. The piers were protected by triangular structures, which also held refuges for pedestrians. To connect the two High Streets without crossing the river at an angle, which would have been expensive and dangerous, the bridge curved round in front of Putney church.

The bridge was financed by a private company, and so tolls had to be charged to recoup the cost of construction and future repairs. There were tollhouses at each end of the bridge, a small brick building on the Putney side, but a much more substantial structure on the Putney Fulham side, built over the carriageway like a gatehouse, and which also provided space for the owners to hold their meetings. Each tollhouse had a bell, so that the toll collectors could call each other for help if anyone refused to pay.
With the opening of the new bridge and the improvement in the area’s roads, there was a huge increase in road traffic, both private carriages and stagecoach services, bringing in a healthy income in tolls from the beginning. However, the bridge being wooden, much of the revenue was spent on structural repairs, as it was regularly hit by passing river traffic. In 1757 a build-up ofice badly damaged one of the piers, and in 1871 a barge caused so much damage that the three central arches had to be replaced by an iron girder.

One of the saddest events to happen on the bridge was the attempted suicide in 1795 of Mary Wollstonecraft, the early feminist writer and mother of the author of Frankenstein. Mary had discovered that her American lover was being unfaithful to her and, realising that they would never be reconciled, decided to end her life by drowning herself in the Thames. She rowed upriver in a boat, first planning to jump off Battersea Bridge, but there were too many people there. By the time she reached Putney it was raining hard. She walked up and down the deserted bridge for about half an hour, so that her clothes would be thoroughly soaked, then jumped off the bridge. She would undoubtedly have drowned if two passing watermen had not seen her jump and pulled her out of the water. Her brief, tragic life was cut short less than two years later, despite a brief but happy marriage to William Godwin, when she died soon after giving birth to the future Mary Shelley.

Pytney bridge (part two)

Bridge and Village from Fulham, British School, с. 1750. Note the large toll-house at the Fulham end, with its bell to call for assistance.



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