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Lambeth bridge (part two)
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The bridge opened on 10 November 1862, the birthday of the Prince of Wales, and tor the first week it was toll-free. The bridge's construction had cost less than £50,000, so it was expected to be a financial success, but it was not universally admired. Dickens called it 'on the whole, the ugliest ever built', and The Times admitted that 'it was not a handsome structure'. Unfortunately there were also rumours going around that the bridge was unsafe and many people refused to use it.The toll revenue was therefore well below expectations, and much of it came from pedestrians.The Metropolitan Board of Works bought the bridge in 1879 for £36,000, though the bridge company had demanded £100,000. On 24 May 1879 it was freed from tolls by the Prince and Princess of Wales, along with four other bridges, in a popular act which saw the streets thronged with spectators.

Lambeth bridge (part two)

Lambeth bridge (part two)

The Prince of Wales freeing Lambeth Bridge from tolls in 1879.

Unfortunately, as Barlow was an inexperienced bridge-builder, and as he had been forced to build the bridge on the cheap, it was not long before serious problems became apparent. Within ten years of its freeing, it was clear that the bridge was in a poor state, with badly corroded ironwork, because it had not received any anti-rust treatment when it was installed. In 1887 Sir Benjamin Baker, the engineer of the Forth Railway Bridge, inspected the bridge and found that the anchorages in the abutments were failing, and repairs were carried out. By now it was clear that the bridge was unable to cope with the extra traffic and needed replacing, but the London County Council, which now owned the bridge, decided that the replacement of Vauxhall Bridge had to take priority. By 1900 gates had been installed at each end of the bridge so that it could be closed if it became too crowded. In 1905 the LCC had to impose a 2.5-ton weight limit on the bridge, and traffic was forced to cross it at a walking pace. In 1910 they banned all vehicular traffic from using the bridge, so that it became a footbridge for the last years of its life, and the gates were often closed if it was felt the bridge was getting too crowded.

Proposals for a new bridge were discussed for years by the LCC, but money was not available for such an undertaking. In 1912 and 1913 they made applications to Parliament for permission to rebuild it, but they were rejected, as it was felt that the design was unsympathetic to that of the Palace of Westminster, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury came out against it. Then the war intervened, and not until the 1920s was a new bridge seriously considered again, though by now it was needed to take pressure offWestminster and Vauxhall Bridges, which were becoming more and more congested. Parliamentary approval was granted in 1924, though nothing happened for a few years, while discussions continued over the design proposed for such a sensitive site. The project also got caught up in the wider discussions about river crossings in London, which led to the report of the Royal Commission on Cross-River Traffic in 1926. In some quarters there were people who questioned the need for the bridge at all, and Lord Lee of Fareham, the chairman of the Commission, said that it 'started from nowhere, went nowhere, and did not contribute in the slightest degree to a solution of any item of the traffic problem'.

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