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Lambeth bridge (part one)
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Lambeth bridge was built on the site of a horse ferry owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury, whose London home was Lambeth Palace, situated on the banks of the Thames almost opposite the Palace of Westminster. The ferry had operated under licence since at least the early sixteenth century and was one of the few places on the river where one could cross with a coach and horses. It was not always a safe crossing, and Archbishop Laud lost most of his possessions when the ferry sank in 1633 while he was moving into the palace. Both James I and Oliver Cromwell ended up in the Thames when the ferry and their coaches sank.

Understandably, neither the Archbishop nor the watermen operating the service were happy about the proposal for a new bridge at Westminster and they fought for substantial compensation; soon after the bridge opened in 1750 the horse ferry service closed, though a passenger ferry continued for a while longer. The ferry is today commemorated in the street name Horseferry Road.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century Lambeth was beginning to develop and there were a number of attempts to build a bridge on the site of the old ferry, but they all failed, either because they were rejected by Parliament or because the developers could not raise the necessary funds. One of the oddest proposals, from Thomas Motley in 1845, was for a two-tier iron bridge, with shops on the upper level.


Lambeth bridge (part one)

A. E. Pearce's watercolour Millbank from 1912, which shows the first Lambeth Bridge. It comes as a surprise to realise how industrial the north hank still was at this date.



In 1854 a Select Committee recommended the construction of four new bridges over the Thames, including one here, and an Act was passed in 1861 for a suspension bridge at Lambeth. It was designed by Peter William Barlow, who had already had a successful career as a railway engineer but had recently become interested in the design of bridges. His most important contribution to civil engineering was the development of a tunnel shield, with which he built the short-lived Tower Subway. The shield, with modifications, was later to be used to build the deep-level Underground lines.

Barlow's suspension bridge had three equal spans and was built using some of his new techniques. Above the abutments at each end of the bridge were a pair of braced towers, and above the cylindrical cast-iron piers were two more pairs of towers. Between them stretched the suspension chains and, to withstand the strongest gale, the chains were stiffened with vertical and diagonal ties, creating a lattice effect. Unusually, the cables were attached to the towers, making the structure more rigid than with the more traditional method, where the cables passed over rollers. To prevent lateral movement, under the main decking he added two longitudinal boxgirders, with wrought-iron cross-girders laid at 4-foot intervals. The bridge was 32 feet wide, with a 20-foot roadway and two footpaths 6 feet wide. The footpaths were cantilevered out on each side on iron brackets, their paving made of Portland stone from old Westminster Bridge, which was currently being rebuilt.



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