Southwark Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month so we thought it a good time to have a quick look at the bridge’s history.
The bridge was a replacement for an earlier three-arch iron bridge built by John Rennie which had opened in 1819.
Known by the nickname, the “Iron Bridge”, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. But the bridge had problems – its narrow approaches and steep gradient led it to become labelled “the curse of the carman [cart drivers] and the ruin of his horses”.
Increasing traffic meant a replacement became necessary and a new bridge, which featured five arches and was made of steel, was designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Sir Basil Mott.
Work on the new bridge – which was to cost £375,000 and was paid for by the City of London Corporation’s Bridge House Estates which was originally founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge and expanded to care for others – began in 1913 but its completion was delayed thanks to the outbreak of World War I.
The 800 foot long bridge was finally officially opened on 6th June, 1921, by King George V who used a golden key to open its gates. He and Queen Mary then rode over the bridge in a carriage.
The bridge, now Grade II-listed, was significantly damaged in a 1941 air raid and was temporarily repaired before it was properly restored in 1955. More recently, the bridge was given a facelift in 2011 when £2.5 million was spent cleaning and repainting the metalwork in its original colours – yellow and ‘Southwark Green’.
The current bridge has appeared in numerous films including 1964’s Mary Poppins and, in more recent times, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
The name of this City of London establishment relates directly to the trade that once existed in nearby environs – namely in sugar.
Located at 65 Cannon Street, the area to the south of the pub was once a centre of the city’s sugar refinement industry.
There were several small sugar refineries there – where raw sugar was taken and transformed into cone-shaped sugar loaves – but these were apparently destroyed when Southwark Bridge was built in the early 19th century.
The now Grade II-listed pub is said to date from the 1830s. More recently, it was part of the Charrington group before becoming one of the O’Neill’s Irish-themed pubs in the late 1990s. It became part of the Nicholson’s group a few years ago.
Held during particularly cold winters when the River Thames froze over, ‘frost fairs’ had been part of London’s history, from the Middle Ages up until the last one was held in February 1814, two hundred years ago last month.
The five day revelry started on 1st February and took place on a stretch of the river between Blackfriars and London Bridge (it was the medieval London Bridge in particular – with its 19 arches and wide piers – which helped to slow the river enough to freeze, something unlikely to happen again with the current bridge).
People began to venture out onto the ice and an impromptu fair started taking shape as tents and booths were established selling all manner of food including roast ox, drinks including alcohol like gin as well as hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and souvenirs to take advantage of the passing traffic (a piece of gingerbread from the fair is a star attraction at the Museum of London’s current exhibition on the fair – pictured right). Some of the tents were known by names (similar to a pub sign), such as the Moscow and the Wellington.
Other attractions recorded include children’s play equipment, a gambling den, and printing presses which produced keepsakes to mark the occasion. There were even reports of sightings of an elephant crossing the river.
Several people apparently died at the fair having sunk beneath the ice by the time the snow turned to rain and the ice began to break up. An engraving of the frost fairs by Richard Kindersley can be found on a pedestrian walkway underneath the Southwark end of Southwark Bridge.
The dates for Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1814 at the Museum of London have been extended until 21st April (there is an accompanying exhibition, Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1684 running concurrently at the Museum of London Docklands). Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
As London undergoes the big chill with much of the rest of the country, we thought we’d take a quick look at the frost fairs which were once held on top of the frozen River Thames.
While records reveal the Thames froze over as far back as the city’s Roman era, the first recorded ‘frost fair’ dates from the mid-16th century (Queen Elizabeth I is said to have attended one in 1564) while the last was held in 1814.
While the lower temperatures played a role in allowing the ice to get thick enough to hold frost fairs on top (the period between the 14th and 19th centuries is known as the ‘Little Ice Age’ in northern Europe), so too did the fact that the Thames was broader and shallower than it is now, not to mention the narrow arches of Old London Bridge (it was demolished in 1831 – for more on this, see our earlier entry) which slowed the waters of the Thames.
The fairs were set up in a range of locations along the river. Descriptions of them talk of a range of activities being carried out on the river’s frozen surface – yes, the use of sleds and skates but also things like bear-baiting, coach, horse racing, dancing and puppet plays as well as the setting up of booths or stalls from which traders sold food, souvenirs, and, importantly, drink.
One of the longest of the fairs – recorded by diarist John Evelyn – was held over the winter of 1683-84 and located between Temple and Southwark. It featured streets of stalls with different traders grouped in different areas. King Charles II himself was a visitor.
During the last and biggest frost fair, held on the river near Blackfriars Bridge, a street known as ‘City Road’ ran down the middle of the Thames and donkeys gave people rides.
There is a frieze depicting a ‘frost fair’ underneath the southern end of Southwark Bridge.
PICTURE: Detail of an image of the Frost Fair of 1684 with London Bridge in the background. Source: Wikipedia.
Seven of London’s bridges are being lit up at night until 10th September in an initiative called “Dazzle”. Being run under the Mayor of London Presents program, it celebrates the 50 evenings of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Here’s just a sample of what you can see…
The most iconic of London’s bridges, Tower Bridge has been a focal point for Olympic celebrations. One of the great structures of Victorian London, it was opened in 1894 and at the time was largest bascule bridge ever built (for more on Tower Bridge, see our earlier post here).
The most recent version of London Bridge, this links Borough High Street in Southwark (you can see Southwark Cathedral in the background) and King William Street in the City and was built in the late 1960s/early 1970s and opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. There have been bridges in this vicinity since as far back as Roman times (for more on the history of London Bridge, see our earlier post here).
The current Southwark Bridge – which links the City of London with the heart of Southwark – dates from 1921 and replaced an earlier bridge designed by John Rennie.
Initially plaqued by the wobbles, the steel suspension walk bridge known as Millennium Bridge is the newest of the bridges that cross the Thames in central London, linking St Paul’s Cathedral on the north bank with the Tate Modern on the south (the looming bulk of which is pictured here). First opened in July 2000, it was closed after concerns over its movement and then reopened to the public in 2002.
Other bridges taking part in Dazzle but not shown here include the Golden Jubilee footbridges, Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge.