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Blackfriars Bridge (part six)
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The widened bridge was officially opened on 14 September 1909. At 105 feet wide, it was the widest road bridge in London, and still is. The Lord Mayor was driven in his splendid gold coach from the Mansion House to a pavilion on the north side of the bridge. After the customary speeches, he declared the bridge open and drove the first tramcar across the bridge, to great cheers from the assembled crowds. The public tram services began that afternoon. It had been hoped that the subway would open at the same time, but there were delays because of the need to re-route the various pipes and sewers encountered. It was finally opened by the Lord Mayor 29 November and was to prove a great benefit to commuters, especially to those using the Underground and the trams. It was one of the first pedestrian subways built in London and is still in use today. The tram service ceased to operate in 1953, when the tracks were removed from the bridge.


Blackfriars Bridge (part six)

Blackfriars Bridge today, with St Paul's Cathedral and other City buildings forming a backdrop.



During the 1960s a vehicular underpass was built under the north end of the bridge. During its construction, the remains of a first-century AD Roman ship were uncovered in the Thames mud, and Blackfriars Bridge was a perfect vantage point for interested spectators to watch the archaeologists working on the excavation. The boat still carried some of its cargo of ragstone, brought up from Kent for use as building material. Parts of the wooden ship were lifted from the mud and preserved at the Guildhall Museum. Some of the finds can now be seen in the Museum of London's Roman Gallery, including a copper coin with the image of the goddess Fortuna, which, in a traditional Roman custom, had been placed under the mast give the ship and its crew good luck.

The most dramatic event in the history of Blackfriars Bridge occurred on 18 June 1982, when the body of Roberto Calvi was found hanging from scaffolding underneath the northernmost arch of the bridge, his pockets filled with bricks and thousands of pounds in foreign currency. Calvi was the chairman of the Vatican's bank, the Banco Ambrosiano, which had recently been in difficulties, and he was referred to as “God's Banker”. He had been involved in a number of financial scandals, and he was also a member of the notorious “Propaganda Due”, or P2, Masonic lodge, whose activities had been instrumental in bringing down the Italian government in 1981. Calvi had been found guilty in Italy of currency offences but had jumped bail to come to London on a false passport (which was found in his pocket) and had been staying secretly in Chelsea Cloisters. Why, then, was his body found so far from Chelsea? Members of P2 referred to themselves as Frati neri,or Black Friars, so it has been suggested that there was symbolism in the choice of the bridge. There were strong suspicions that Calvi had been murdered by members of the Mafia, but the inquest verdict in July was suicide. The Calvi family challenged the verdict and in March 1983 it was overturned in the High Court and a new inquest was ordered, which returned an open verdict. Some years later a Mafia informer alleged that Calvi had been killed by the Mafia and so, in 1998, Calvi's body was exhumed, and forensic tests suggested that he may indeed have been murdered. In 2005 five people, including a Mafia boss went on trial in Rome accused of his murder, but in 2007 they were acquitted as there was insufficient evidence to convict them. The mystery is therefore no nearer a solution.


Blackfriars Bridge (part six)

One of the upstream piers of Blackfriars Bridge, with its ornately carved capital depicting the wildlife of the Thames.



There are a number of interesting things to look out for on and around the bridge. In the pedestrian underpass on the south side, the history of the road and railway bridges is illustrated on the tiled walls. On an island in the middle of the road on the south side is a dragon marking the boundary of the City of London. Although the borough and parish boundaries in London run down the centre of the Thames, the City's jurisdiction here includes all of the bridge, as it was build by the City. Alongside the bridge on the south side is the Dogget's Coat and Badge public house, which commemorates the annual river race competed for by apprentice watermen every July. The race starts, not at Blackfriars Bridge, but at London Bridge.


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