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Battersea bridge (part one)
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A horse ferry had operated here since at least the sixteenth century, but the last owner, John, Earl Spencer, decided that more money could be made from a bridge. In 1766 Spencer obtained an Act of Parliament for a stone bridge, but he could not persuade enough people to invest in it, so a wooden one was built instead. It was designed by the young Henry Holland, who was later to become a celebrated country-house architect, and built between 1771 and 1772 by John Phillips, whose uncle,Thomas, had built the bridge at Putney half a century earlier.

In November 1771 the bridge was opened, for pedestrians only, in a grand ceremony. Carriages were unable to pass over it until the following year, after the chalk and gravel surface had been added. The bridge consisted of nineteen narrow spans and it was therefore not easy for boats to pass under it, and there were many accidents during the bridge’s existence, including a number of deaths. The roadway was only 24 feet wide, so it was not very practical for those passing over it either. Investors did not make much money from the tolls, as the bridge was constantly being repaired because it was so often rammed by passing barges. Indeed, after the severe winter of 1795, shareholders received no dividend for the next three years. To improve the navigation, four of the openings were turned into two larger ones by inserting iron girders. Battersea Bridge was the first Thames bridge to be lit when oil lamps were installed in 1799, and they were replaced by gas lamps in 1824.The wooden fences on either side of the bridge were often breaking and between 1821 and 1824 they were replaced by safer iron railings 4 feet high.

Battersea bridge (part one)

Old Battersea Bridge, a watercolour by Walter Greaves, a Thames boatman who was one of the first pupils of the artist Whistler, who is probably the top-hatted figure crossing the bridge.

Although the bridge was extremely inconvenient for anyone using it, it was considered to be very picturesque and was painted by many artists, including J. M.W. Turner, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Walter Greaves and, most famously, by the American artist James McNeill Whistler, who made his home in Chelsea for a number of years. He painted this stretch of the river on many occasions, often working from sketches made at night in a boat. His most striking image of the bridge is Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge, now in Tate Britain, which depicts it as very much higher than it was in reality. The painting was inspired by the bridge, but Whistler uses its general form to create a Japanese-style picture, quite unlike his earlier, more realistic depictions of it. A statue of Whistler was erected in a small garden on the north side of the bridge in 2005.

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