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Albert bridge (part one)
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The elegant and delicate-looking Albert Bridge is one of London’s best-loved bridges, especially at night, when it is lit up like a Christmas tree, but, despite its popularity, it is extremely lucky to have survived into the twenty-first century, as it has been threatened with replacement on more than one occasion.

The Albert Bridge Company was created in the 1860s to build a new bridge linking Chelsea to Battersea, which was a rapidly expanding suburb. There were already two bridges nearby, but it was felt there was still money to be made from charging tolls to cross the river at this point. An Act of 1863 failed, as the owners of the old and dilapidated Battersea Bridge, understandably, opposed the new bridge, as it would take away trade and affect their revenue from tolls. A clause in the successful Act of 1864 forced the Albert Bridge Company to pay £3,000 a year in compensation to the owners of Battersea Bridge when their bridge was complete, thus being financially responsible for two bridges instead of one.

The bridge’s designer was Roland Mason Ordish, an engineer who built the Holborn Viaduct, worked on the Crystal Palace and helped design the roofs on St Pancras station and the Royal Albert Hall. The bridge was to be built using the ‘rigid chain suspension principle’ that he had patented in 1858, using steel rods instead of the conventional chains. Work on the new bridge was delayed until Parliament agreed the plans for the new Chelsea Embankment proposed by the Metropolitan Board of Works along the north side of the river, which would affect several aspects of the bridge’s design.

Albert bridge (part one)

Engraving from the Illustrated London News in 1872, showing the building of the Chelsea Embankment, with the Albert Bridge under construction.

While these problems were being resolved, Ordish used his new method in building the Franz Joseph Bridge in Prague (which was replaced by a modern bridge in the 1950s).The time limit for building the bridge set out in the Act of Parliament ran out in 1869, but it was extended, and another contractor offered to build the bridge, but still nothing happened. Finally Ordish returned to build it and work began in 1870. It was expected to take just over a year to build and to cost about £70,000. In fact, it cost almost twice as much, and the bridge did not open until the end of 1873, ten years after it was first proposed. It had been planned to hold a joint opening ceremony when the Embankment was finished but, as the owners were keen to start collecting tolls, the bridge opened in August 1873 without ceremony.

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