|Maintained by||Wandsworth London Borough Council|
|Preceded by||Hammersmith Bridge|
|Followed by||Fulham Railway Bridge|
|Total length||700 feet (210 m)|
|Width||75 feet (23 m)|
|Official name||Putney Bridge|
|Designated||7 April 1983|
Putney Bridge is a Grade II listed bridge over the River Thames in west London, linking Putney on the south side with Fulham to the north. The bridge has medieval parish churches beside its abutments: St Mary's Church, Putney is built on the south and All Saints Church, Fulham on the north bank. This close proximity of two churches by a major river is rare, another example being at Goring-on-Thames and Streatley, villages hemmed in by the Chiltern Hills (the Goring Gap). Before the first bridge was built in 1729, a ferry had shuttled between the two banks.
The current format is three lanes southbound (including one bus lane) and one lane (plus cycle lane/bus stop) northbound. Putney High Street, a main approach, is part of a London hub for retail, offices, food, drink and entertainment. Putney Embankment hosts Putney Pier for riverboat services immediately south-west of the bridge as well as the capital's largest set of facilities in rowing. The Pier in the sport marks one end of the Championship Course.
The north side of the bridge is 120m west-southwest of Putney Bridge Underground station, which is in the park-sandwiched Hurlingham neighbourhood of Fulham. Parkland to the west includes the gardens of Fulham Palace, historic home of the Bishops of London. On the south side of the bridge are St Mary's Church and a rounded glass-prowed ship-shaped 21st-century building, Putney Wharf Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Putney.
The first bridge of any kind between the two parishes of Fulham and Putney was built during the Civil War: after the Battle of Brentford in 1642, the Parliamentary forces built a bridge of boats between Fulham and Putney. According to an account from the period:
The Lord-Generall hath caused a bridge to be built upon barges and lighters over the Thames, between Fulham and Putney, to convey his army and artillery over into Surry, to follow the King's forces; and he hath ordered that forts shall be erected at each end thereof to guard it; but for the present the seamen, with long boats and shallops, full of ordnance and musketeers, lie there upon the river to secure it.
The story runs that "in 1720 Sir Robert Walpole (the following year considered the first Prime Minister) was returning from seeing George I at Kingston on Thames and being in a hurry to get to the House of Commons rode together with his servant to Putney to take the ferry across to Fulham. The ferry boat was on the opposite side, however and the waterman, who was drinking in The Swan, ignored the calls of Sir Robert and his servant and they were obliged to take another route." Walpole vowed that a bridge would replace the ferry.
The legal framework for construction of a bridge was approved by an Act of Parliament (the Fulham and Putney Bridge Act) in 1726. Built by local master carpenter Thomas Phillips to a design by Royal Navy Surveyor Sir Jacob Ackworth, the first bridge was opened on 29 November 1729. In its first guise, from 1729 to 1886 it was slightly down river to the north, and in many official records was also known as Fulham Bridge. It was the only bridge between London Bridge and Kingston Bridge at the time. It was a toll bridge with tollbooths at either end of the timber-built structure.
In October 1795, Mary Wollstonecraft, philosopher and early women's equality advocate, allegedly planned to commit suicide by jumping from the bridge, because she had returned from a trip to Sweden to discover that her lover was involved with an actress from London.
The bridge has been the starting point for The Boat Race since 1845 when the course was revised. The competitors are currently 32 men of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge with two crews of first and second eights. Women's eights competed in an equivalent race for the first time in 2015, having since 1927 competed a shorter varsity race in Henley also in the early spring.
The bridge was badly damaged by the collision of a river barge in 1870. Although part of the bridge was subsequently replaced, the entire bridge was then demolished to make way for construction of the current bridge.
The Metropolitan Board of Works purchased the bridge in 1879, discontinued the tolls in 1880, and set about its replacement.
In 1886 construction of the stone bridge that stands today, on a new alignment, was completed. A new road – Putney Bridge Approach – was laid to connect the northern end of the new bridge with Fulham High Street at its junction with New King's Road; in consequence the southernmost stretch of Fulham High Street was reduced to a cul-de-sac. The bridge was designed by civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette as a five-span structure, built of stone and Cornish granite. Bazalgette also designed London's sewerage system, and the bridge integrates two of his five outfall sewers running perpendicular to it. It was constructed by John Waddell of Edinburgh, whose tender of £240,433 (equivalent to £25,762,783 in 2021) was accepted on 15 April 1882. It is 700 ft long (210 m) and 43 ft wide (13 m), and was opened by the Prince (later King Edward VII) and Princess of Wales on 29 May 1886. In 1933, the bridge was widened to its present three carriageways. Putney Bridge Approach was widened in consequence, further encroaching on the churchyard of All Saints Church, Fulham.
The stone marking the downstream end of the Championship Course is used for all boat races through Putney in Olympic-class rowing boats. These include the Wingfield Sculls and the UK's main Head of the River Races, just west of the bridge, rather than at the bridge itself, under which the centre of its middle arch would provide an advantage if starting underneath it, as all races are competed with the tide.
On 14 July 2014, Putney Bridge closed for three months, except to pedestrians and dismounted cyclists, to undergo "essential repairs" by Wandsworth Council "to better protect the bridge from damage caused by water penetration, which has contributed to the poor road surface". The bridge reopened on 26 September that year.
On 5 May 2017 an unidentified jogger on the bridge pushed over a woman, where an approaching bus narrowly avoided hitting her. Irish playwright Sonya Kelly wrote a play, Once Upon a Bridge, inspired by the incident which was produced by Druid Theatre in 2021.
- Historic England (7 April 1983). "Putney Bridge (1079799)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
- Faulkner, Thomas (1813). An Historical and Topographical Account of Fulham: Including the Hamlet of Hammersmith. T. Egerton.
- Putney Bridge on Londonhistorians.org
- "Putney Bridge: Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide". thames.me.uk. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
- Wardle, Ralph. M., ed. (1979). Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft. Cornell University Press. p. 317. ISBN 978-0801411649.
- "Women's Boat Race set for men's course from 2015". BBC. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
- 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 11 June 2022.
- "A bridge too far". Evening Standard. 25 March 2008. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
- "Injunction stops Putney Bridge drilling". Wandsworth Guardian. 13 December 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
- "Getting around while Putney Bridge is closed". Metro: 50. 15 July 2014.
- "Putney Bridge jogger assault investigation case closed". BBC News. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
- "The unsolved mystery of the Putney Pusher". Wired. 14 October 2021. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
- "Once upon a bridge-Sonya Kelly on her new Druid play". Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 11 February 2021. Retrieved 7 October 2021.