Hammersmith Bridge

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Hammersmith Bridge
Hammersmith Bridge 2008 06 19.jpg
CoordinatesCoordinates: 51°29′18″N 0°13′49″W / 51.48833°N 0.23028°W / 51.48833; -0.23028
CarriesA306 road
CrossesRiver Thames
LocaleLondon, England
Maintained byHammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council
Preceded byBarnes Railway Bridge
Followed byPutney Bridge
DesignSuspension bridge
MaterialSteel, wrought iron, cast iron, plywood
Pier constructionStone
Total length700 ft (210 m)
Width43 ft (13 m)
No. of spans3
Piers in water2
Clearance below3.5 metres (11 ft) MHWS[1]
No. of lanes2 (motor vehicles)
DesignerWilliam Tierney Clark (first bridge)
Joseph Bazalgette (current bridge)
Constructed byDixon, Appleby & Thorne (current bridge)
Construction start1825 (first bridge)
1884 (current bridge)
Construction end1827 (first bridge)
1887 (current bridge)
Construction cost£80,000 (first bridge)
£82,117 (current bridge)
Opened6 October 1827; 192 years ago (1827-10-06) (first bridge)
11 June 1887; 133 years ago (1887-06-11) (current bridge)
Inaugurated6 October 1827 (first bridge)
11 June 1887 (current bridge)
Closed10 April 2019; 17 months ago (2019-04-10) (motor vehicles)
13 August 2020; 37 days ago (2020-08-13) (cycles and pedestrians)
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official nameHammersmith Bridge
Designated12 May 1970; 50 years ago (1970-05-12)
Reference no.1079819

Hammersmith Bridge is a suspension bridge that crosses the River Thames in west London. It links the southern part of Hammersmith in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, on the north side of the river, and Barnes in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, on the south side of the river. The current bridge, which is Grade II* listed and was designed by civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette, is the second permanent bridge on the site,[2] and has been attacked three times by Irish republicans. It was closed indefinitely to all motor traffic in April 2019 after cracks were discovered in the bridge's pedestals.[3] The closure was extended to pedestrians and cyclists in August 2020.[4]



A group of local people proposed a new bridge at Hammersmith alternative to the need to detour to either Kew or Putney bridges to cross the river.[5] The construction of the bridge was first sanctioned by an Act of Parliament on 9 June 1824,[6] which established the Hammersmith Bridge Company.[7] Work began on site the following year, and was opened on 6 October 1827.[8] Construction of the bridge cost some £80,000 (equivalent to £7.1 million in 2019).[9]

Engraving of the first Hammersmith Bridge, completed 1827

It was the first suspension bridge over the River Thames and was designed by William Tierney Clark.[10][11] A further Act of Parliament was obtained in 1828.[12] The acts also included powers to acquire land by compulsory purchase in order to build approach roads, and required the company to purchase the entire Barn Elms estate (the surplus land was subsequently sold).[7]

Hammersmith Bridge Road in Hammersmith was also constructed with the bridge, together with Upper Bridge Road (now Castelnau) and Lower Bridge Road (now Lonsdale Road) in Barnes. It was operated as a toll bridge, with the toll house located at the Hammersmith end of the bridge.

The bridge had a clear water-way of 688 feet 8 inches (209.91 m). Its suspension towers were 48 feet (15 m) above the level of the roadway, where they were 22 feet (6.7 m) thick. The roadway was slightly curved upwards, 16 feet (4.9 m) above high water, and the extreme length from the back of the piers on shore was 822 feet 8 inches (250.75 m), supporting 688 feet (210 m) of roadway. There were eight chains, composed of wrought-iron bars, each five inches deep and one thick. Four of these had six bars in each chain; and four had only three, making thirty-six bars, which form a dip in the centre of about 29 feet (8.8 m).[13] From these, vertical rods were suspended, which supported the roadway, formed of strong timbers covered with granite. The width of the carriageway was 20 feet (6.1 m), with two footways of 5 feet (1.5 m). The chains passed over the suspension towers, and were secured to the piers on each shore. The suspension towers were built of stone, and designed as archways of the Tuscan order. The approaches were provided with octagonal lodges, or toll-houses, with appropriate lamps and parapet walls, terminating with stone pillars, surmounted with ornamental caps.

In order to increase profits, the company built a floating steamboat pier to the downstream side of the suspension pier closest to Barnes.[7]

By the 1870s, the bridge was no longer strong enough to support the weight of heavy traffic and the owners were alarmed in 1870 when 11,000 to 12,000 people crowded onto the bridge to watch the University Boat Race,[2] which passes underneath just before the halfway point of its 4¼-mile (6.8 km) course.

The Metropolitan Board of Works purchased the bridge from the Hammersmith Bridge Company in 1880 under the Metropolis Toll Bridges Act 1877,[14][7] and transferred the approach roads to the local authorities (Fulham District Board of Works and the Parish of Barnes). The tolls were removed from the bridge on 26 June 1880.[7]

There were no immediate plans to replace the bridge, which remained sound, until a boat collided with it in 1882 causing damage, and leading to an Act of Parliament[which?] in 1883 authorising the construction of a replacement.[15] In 1884 a temporary bridge was put up to allow a more limited cross-river traffic while a replacement was constructed.[2]

1880s construction[edit]

The current Hammersmith Bridge was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and rests on the same pier foundations constructed for Tierney Clark's original structure. The new bridge was built by Dixon, Appleby & Thorne and was opened by the Prince of Wales on 11 June 1887.[16] With much of the supporting structure built of wrought iron, it is 700 feet (210 m) long and 43 feet (13 m) wide and cost £82,117 to build (equivalent to £9.2 million in 2019).[9]

With the abolition of the Metropolitan Board of Works on 21 March 1889, ownership of Hammersmith Bridge passed to the new London County Council.

20th century[edit]

Near midnight on 27 December 1919, Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood, a South African serving as an airman in the Royal Air Force, dived from the upstream footway of the bridge into the Thames to rescue a drowning woman. Although Wood saved her life, he later died from tetanus as a consequence of his injuries. His act of bravery is commemorated by a plaque on the handrail.

The IRA's first attempt to destroy Hammersmith Bridge was on Wednesday 29 March 1939.[17][18] Maurice Childs, a women's hairdresser from nearby Chiswick, was walking home across the bridge at one o'clock in the morning when he noticed smoke and sparks coming from a suitcase that was lying on the walkway.[17] He opened it to find a bomb and quickly threw the bag into the river. The resulting explosion sent up a 60-foot (18 m) column of water. Moments later, a second device exploded causing some girders on the west side of the bridge to collapse and windows in nearby houses to shatter. Childs was later awarded an MBE for his quick-thinking. Eddie Connell and William Browne were subsequently jailed for 20 and 10 years respectively for their involvement in the attack.[18]

On 1 April 1965 the bridge was transferred to the Greater London Council (GLC) when it took over from London County Council.

The Local Government Act 1985 dealt with the abolition of the GLC, and transferred non-trunk road bridges in their entirety to one of the two London boroughs that each bridge lay within – the choice of borough to be decided between the two councils, or failing agreement, by the Secretary of State for Transport. In addition to the bridge, the London borough taking responsibility also gains 100 yards of approach road from the other borough. For Hammersmith Bridge, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham took responsibility.

On 26 April 1996, the Provisional Irish Republican Army attempted to destroy the bridge after installing two large Semtex devices on the south bank of the Thames. Though the detonators were activated, the bomb, the largest Semtex bomb ever found in Britain at the time,[18] failed to ignite.[11]

At 4:30 am on 1 June 2000 the bridge was damaged by a Real IRA bomb planted underneath the Barnes span. Following two years of closure for repairs the bridge was reopened with further weight restrictions in place.[19]

Structural problems[edit]

Hammersmith Bridge and riverside, seen from the Hammersmith bank
Hammersmith Bridge, seen from the Westminster to Kew tourist boat
Rowing crews racing under Hammersmith Bridge
End details

Hammersmith Bridge has long suffered structural problems and has been closed for lengthy periods on several occasions, due to the weight and volume of road traffic now common in inner London, which the bridge was not originally designed to support.

The bridge was refurbished in 1973 with replacement steel trusses, improvements to the mid-span hangers and new deck expansion joints. New deck timbers were installed and surfacing was changed from wooden blocks to coated plywood panels. These panels were subsequently replaced in 1987.

In 1984 the Barnes-side tower bearings failed under a heavy load and had to be replaced.

In February 1997 the bridge was closed to all traffic except buses, bicycles, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and pedestrians to allow further essential repair works. Structural elements of the bridge had been found to be corroded or worn, in particular cross girders and deck surfacing, as well as some areas of masonry.[20]

The bridge re-opened in July 1998 to all road users, subject to a 7.5-tonne (7.4-long-ton; 8.3-short-ton) weight restriction and with a priority measure in place for buses. Local bus flow was controlled by traffic lights, and routes (such as the number 72) were required to convert from double-decker buses to smaller single-deckers to reduce the load on the bridge.

As part of the renovations following a bomb attack in 2000, the bridge received a complete new paint job restoring it to the original colour scheme of 1887, and new lighting was installed.

The bridge was declared a Grade II* listed structure in 2008, providing protection to preserve its special character from unsympathetic development.[21]

The bridge was temporarily closed to traffic to allow repairs in early 2014.[22] Further repairs and strengthening works were delayed in November 2016 in a wrangle over funding between Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Transport for London. LBHF leader Steven Cowan said: "There's no way that this council is going to spend anything like that money, the majority of this issue is the responsibility of TfL and we will work with them to make sure the bridge is fit for public purpose".[23]

2019–20 closure[edit]

With funding for a major refurbishment still not resolved, on 10 April 2019, Hammersmith and Fulham Council announced that the bridge would be closed indefinitely to motor vehicular traffic due to safety concerns. Pedestrians and cyclists could continue to use the bridge.[24][25] It was later (24 May 2019) reported that the closure was due to cracks in the bridge's pedestals, the footings which support the structure.[26]

The bridge's closure was extended to pedestrians and cyclists on 13 August 2020 after the structural issues worsened due to a heatwave. River traffic and pedestrian routes under the bridge were also stopped.[4] All of the prohibitions remained in place as of 8 September 2020.[27]

A New York Times article published on 8 September 2020 reported an estimate of £141m (US$187m) to fully repair the bridge and £46m (US$65m) to stabilise it adequately for use by cyclists and pedestrians. Neither the Council or the transportation authority had the funds to proceed. Deficits incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic made it unlikely that the bridge would be repaired in the near future.[28]

On 9 September 2020, the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps appointed a Department for Transport task force to investigate the bridge's condition, and work towards reopening the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, and later enabling the return of motor traffic.[29]

Coats of arms motif[edit]

At both the Hammersmith and Barnes ends of the bridge, there is a motif made up of seven coats of arms. These were painted in their "correct" heraldic colours in the past, but have now been painted in the standard colour scheme. The shield in the centre of the motif is the present Royal Arms of the United Kingdom; the others are, clockwise from the left: the coat of arms of the City of London; the coat of arms of Kent; the coat of arms of Guildford; the original coat of arms of the City of Westminster (with the portcullis); the coat of arms of Colchester; and the coat of arms of Middlesex (in its original form without the crown, identical to that of Essex).[30]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Thames Bridges Heights". Port of London Authority.
  2. ^ a b c Historic England (12 May 1970). "Hammersmith Bridge (1079819)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  3. ^ "Hammersmith Bridge 'closed indefinitely'". BBC News. 11 April 2019. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  4. ^ a b O'Mahony, Daniel (13 August 2020). "Hammersmith Bridge fully closed following fresh safety concerns". Evening Standard. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  5. ^ Cookson, Brian (August 2014). "Hammersmith: London's Prettiest Bridge". London Historians Members' Newsletter – via London Historians' Blog.
  6. ^ 5 Geo. 4. c.cxii
  7. ^ a b c d e "Hammersmith Bridge Company". London Metropolitan Archives. City of London Corporation. DD/0478.
  8. ^ "The Hammersmith Suspension Bridge". The Times (13405). 9 October 1827. p. 2. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  9. ^ a b UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  10. ^ "William Tierney Clark". London Remembers.
  11. ^ a b Weinreb et al. 2008, p. 373.
  12. ^ 9 Geo. 4. c.lii
  13. ^ Drewry, Charles Stewart (1832). A Memoir of Suspension Bridges: Comprising The History Of Their Origin And Progress. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman. pp. 82–88, and endplates. Retrieved 13 June 2009.
  14. ^ 40 & 41 Vict. c.xcix
  15. ^ Paterson, Mike (18 June 2011). "Birthday Greetings: A Bridge Most Fair". London Historians' Blog.
  16. ^ "Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide".
  17. ^ a b Diary of London resident Norah Margaret Morris
  18. ^ a b c "'The windows started shaking'". BBC News. 1 June 2000. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  19. ^ Tran, Mark (1 June 2000). "Dissident republicans suspected in Hammersmith bombing". The Guardian.
  20. ^ "Hammersmith Bridge". hammersmithbridge.co.uk. Archived from the original on 9 December 2007.
  21. ^ "London bridges get listed status", BBC News, 26 November 2008. Retrieved 26 November 2008.
  22. ^ "Hammersmith Bridge closed for urgent repairs". BBC News. 25 January 2014. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Hammersmith Bridge repair works delayed amid funding gap". BBC News. 30 November 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  24. ^ "Hammersmith Bridge Closed". London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  25. ^ Prior, Grant (11 April 2019). "Critical faults force sudden closure of Hammersmith Bridge". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  26. ^ "Hammersmith Bridge closed because cracks in pedestals". BBC News. 24 May 2019. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  27. ^ "London's bridges really are falling down". BD News 24. 8 September 2020. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  28. ^ "London's bridges really are falling down". BD News 24. 8 September 2020. Retrieved 13 September 2020. Johnson won election by promising to spend money on marquee projects like a $130 billion-plus high-speed railway, not a cast-iron relic of Queen Victoria’s reign.
  29. ^ Morby, Aaron (10 September 2020). "Government task force to reopen Hammersmith Bridge". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  30. ^ "Hammersmith Bridge – Part Four". skydive.ru. Retrieved 22 July 2014.


  • Weinreb, Ben; Hibbert, Christopher; Keay, Julia; Keay, John (2008). The London Encyclopedia. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]