London bridge (part eight)

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Blackfriars Bridge (part two)
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Mylne's original design was highly ornate, with bas-reliefs and statues of naval heroes, but these were dropped to keep the cost down. The bridge that was actually built was more restrained, but still very classical, and was much influenced by the work of Mylne's Italian teacher, Piranesi. It was built of Portland stone, which is a beautiful material, but rather soft, and parts of the structure, especially the cutwaters, can be seen in William Marlow's painting of around 1790 to have been damaged by ice of passing barges. The bridge had nine arches, the piers being decorated with pairs of Ionic columns, above which were elegant refuges for pedestrians. The total cost of the bridge, including the approaches, was 230 000 pounds. On the northern bank, this had included covering over the Fleet Ditch, which had become an open sewer by this time (the Fleet river still empties into the Thames via an outflow pipe visible today at low tide). Mylne had designed wide approaches on both sides of the river, including, on the south side, Surrey Street (now Blackfriars Road), which terminates at St George's Circus, where the obelisk designed by Mylne, which shows distances to various London landmarks, can still be seen.

Blackfriars Bridge (part two)

A highly ornate design by Mylne for his new bridge, which was not carried out.

The tolls, a halfpenny for pedestrians on weekdays, and a penny on Sundays, brought in a healthy income, but they were very unpopular with the public. During the Gordon Riots in 1780, the tollhouse was burnt down and the account books were destroyed. Although the original intention was for the tolls to be collected until the bridge was paid for, the weekday toll was discontinued in 1785, though the Sunday toll continued until 1811. From reports in The Times, it would appear that the rate of suicides and attempted suicides from the bridge increased substantially after it was freed from toll, thogh never reaching the levels at Waterloo Bridge.

Sadly, Mylne's bridge was to last for less than a hundred years, as the Portland stone was quickly eroded by the river and the pollution from the Fleet river, while the score of the tidal Thames undermined the foundations. The increased flow of the river was caused by the changes to London Bridge, which no longer held back the power of the Thames. In 1971 The Times carried “a very curious letter from Blackfriars Bridge to her Repairing Committee”, in which the bridge complains that “Your inattention to your duty has exposed me to the derision of every waterman... Indeed I am quite ashamed of my nakedness from top to bottom, in such a tattered condition is my clothing”. Repairs were carried out in1793, when the damaged masonry was replaced by Aberdeen granite, a much harder stone, and one which was to be much used in building later bridges.

There had also been many complaints about the state of the roadway, which was always full of potholes, causing many accidents. In 1824 the road surface was macadamised, using a new invention consisting of small pieces of granite bound with gravel, offering better drainage. This method, invented by John Loudon McAdam, had already been used successfully on Westminster Bridge, and he supervised the work himself. At the same time the steep gradients were levelled and the bridge approaches raised. Although the new road surface had its critics, traffic over the bridge increased, and business on the two adjacent bridges at Southwark and Waterloo, both still charging tolls, suffered as a result.

Despite these improvements, the bridge continued to deteriorate, and in 1832 a thorough survey was carried out by James Walker, the engineer who built Vauxhall Bridge. His report confirmed that extensive repairs were required and, under his supervision, work began in 1835. This included refacing much of the stonework with granite and strengthening the piers. The original columns were also replaced by granite ones, and the open balustrade was replaced by a plane parapet. The work took six years to carry out, as only one river pier could be repaired at a time so as to keep the river clear for navigation.

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