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Blackfriars Bridge (part three)
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By the middle of 1850 it became clear that the repairs had been to no avail when one of the piers began to sink, and the bridge was closed for temporary repairs. Wooden centrings were installed to support the two affected arches, some of the stonework was removed from above them to lighten the bridge, and sections of the parapet were replaced in wood, which was given a coat of stone-coloured paint to blend in with the real stonework.

By now it had become clear that the bridge was beyond repair, and that there was little point in wasting more money in trying to maintain it. In 1853 the decision was made to replace the old bridge with anew structure, but no action was taken and the sad ruins of Mylne's once magnificent bridge were to remain in place for many more years. Two new major projects were to force the hand of the indecisive authorities. One was the plan for an embankment from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars, which would reclaim about 130 feet of the river foreshore, changing the flow of water, which would further damage the weak structure of the bridge. The other was a new railway bridge that was to be built across the Thames just downstream of the road bridge for the London, Chatam & Dover Railway.


Blackfriars Bridge (part three)

William Marlow's painting of Blackfriars Bridge in about 1790. The damage caused by passing barges to the cutwaters can be clearly seen.



Twenty designs were sent from many eminent engineers and architects, including Thomas Page and Sir John Rennie. The initial recommendation in early 1862 was to accept Page's plan for a graceful iron bridge of three arches, but the decision as to how many arches the bridge should have was deferred for further discussion. As the new railway bridge had to be a level one, it would need to have more then three spans, and it was important that the two bridges, being so close to each other, had the same number of arches, to enable river traffic to pass through freely. There was, therefore, considerable antagonism between the City of London and the railway company, for whom any delay meant a loss of revenue.

Finally it was agreed that both bridges would have five arches, and the railway company's engineer, Joseph Cubitt, was commissioned to design both. In August 1863 work began on building a temporary bridge downstream of the old road bridge. It was a solid two-tier timber structure with three iron girder spans, the lower level carrying the carriage traffic and the upper one pedestrians. It was finished and tested by March the following year and it opened in June, when the work of pulling down Mylne's tumbledown old bridge was able to get under way.

On 20 July 1865, amid great ceremony, the foundation stone of the new bridge was laid by the Lord Mayor. In December the first stone of one of the piers was laid by William Hawtrey, chairman of the Bridge House Estates. Work on the new bridge went relatively smoothly and quickly. Amazingly, only two workmen lost their lives during the construction, which was quite an achievement, as around forty had died during the building of Rennie's London Bridge. The foundations for the four massive piers were laid more than thirty feet below the riverbed, using wrought-iron caissons. On a layer of concrete, bricks were set in cement, the whole then encased in granite, some of it re-used from the old bridge. Work on three of the piers went without hitch, but there was a six-month delay in building the first pier on the northern side, as the soil was much looser, because of the effluent from the Fleet River, which flowed into the Thames at this point. For this reason the caissons had to be sunk to more than fifty feet below the riverbed before clay was reached. A further delay was caused by having to co-ordinate the construction of the northern approaches with the building of the new embankment and railway. The final cost of the bridge was about 320 000 pounds.


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