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Hungerford bridge (part one)
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The present bridge is an oddly successful combination of an ugly nineteenth-century railway bridge with two modern hi-tech footbridges attached. Rather confusingly, the present structure is known by three different names. It is best known as the Hungerford Bridge, its original name, but it is also called the Charing Cross Railway Bridge after the railway station it serves. The new footways are officially known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges, though few people use the name.

The first bridge on the site was an elegant and popular suspension footbridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunei. It was built to serve the Hungerford Market on the north bank of the river, which had been built by Sir Edward Hungerford in 1682 on the site of the gardens of his family home, which had burned down in 1669. Selling fruit and vegetables, it was meant to compete with the more famous Covent Garden Market, but it was never a serious rival and nearly closed down in 1815.To give it a higher profile, Charles Fowler, architect of the central market building at Covent Garden, was commissioned to build a modern two-storey building, and in 1833 it opened with great celebrations, including a balloon ascent and a firework display.


Hungerford bridge (part one)

Isambard Kingdom Brunei's elegant design for the Hungerford Suspension Bridge. Charles Fowler's classical market building can be clearly seen.



The Hungerford Market Company later commissioned Brunei to build a bridge in the hope that it would attract new custom from south of the river. Brunei was still only twenty-nine, but he was already busy working on a number of major schemes, including the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, so he did not treat the bridge as being of any great importance. In 1835 he wrote in his diary: 'Suspension bridge across the Thames — I have condescended to be engineer of this, but I shan't give myself much trouble about it. If done it will add to my stock of irons.' Although it was to be a pedestrian rather than a vehicular bridge, and only 24 feet wide, it still offered a considerable challenge, as the Thames at this point was wider than the Avon Gorge, and Brunei's design included a number of innovations.

At 1,462 feet long, the bridge was one of the longest suspension bridges built at the time. It was of three spans, the central one of 676 feet, with two shore spans of 343 feet. To spread the load, Brunei built wide foundations to support the two massive brick and stone piers, out of which rose the Italianate towers. The suspension chains went through the top storey of the towers, running over saddles that rested on special rollers, lessening the effect of the horizontal pull on the towers' structure. There were two chains on each side, one above the other, and, to make the bridge as light as possible, he varied the thickness of the links.

Work started on building the bridge in 1841. The contractor was William Chadwick, who had worked with Brunei on his celebrated Maidenhead Railway Bridge, which had opened in 1839. The bridge opened with little ceremony on 1 May 1845, when, at 11.30 a.m., the directors and friends, along with about two hundred engineers and other important people, inspected the work. Prince Albert had had a private visit a few days earlier. At midday the general public were allowed on to the bridge and, according to The Times, over 35,000 people paid the halfpenny toll to cross it on the first day.



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