Amazingly there are a total of 35 bridges that span the River Thames between Tower Bridge & Hampton Court – my personal favourite is Hammersmith Bridge, which has featured quite a lot in the local London news lately, because it’s falling apart and being viewed as potentially unsafe. My 2nd favourite bridge is the Albert Bridge.
The least used Thames crossing is Southwark Bridge, and the 2nd least used is the ‘Albert Bridge’.
The oldest ‘original’ bridge structure is Tower Bridge – and the 2nd oldest original structure is the ‘Albert Bridge’ – and it is the magnificent Albert Bridge, down in the Chelsea district of the ‘Smoke’, that London Shoes ventured out on a beautifully sunny day last week, to explore and find out more about.
The ‘Albert Bridge’ was opened in 1873 – and it links Chelsea on the northern banks of the River Thames – to Battersea on the southern banks
Plans to build the bridge were originally submitted in 1842 when work on constructing the Chelsea Embankment was commissioned, making a roadway and pedestrian pathway wide enough to support the design and structure of a new bridge.
In 1860 ‘Prince Albert’ suggested that this new crossing should be a ‘Toll-Bridge’, because it would be so profitable that the revenue from it would easily pay for the bridge’s construction in no time at all.
In 1864 Parliament passed an Act for construction of this new bridge to start.
A ‘Rowland Mason Ordish’ (1824-1886) was the engineer commissioned to design and oversee the construction of the new bridge crossing.
Rowland Ordish was very much the authorities ‘favourite’ architect of that particular time – his previous works being:- The Albert Hall ‘Dome’ – St. Pancras Station – the Crystal Palace – Holborn Viaduct – Derby Market Hall – the Franz Joseph Suspension Bridge-Prague – the Cavanagh Buildings-Singapore & the Esplanade Mansions-Mumbai.
With a particular love of the new popular bridge fashion of the time, Ordish decided that this new Albert Bridge should be a ‘suspension’ bridge. His design involved loads of wire rope, support cables (eg known as ‘stays’) and wrought iron structures, to support and hold up the middle of his bridge, to prevent it from falling into the Thames.
Construction of Ordish’s new bridge finally got underway in 1870 and took 3 years to build at an over-budgeted cost of some £200k (£17.9 million in today’s money).
The bridge dimensions were:– 41 ft wide / 710 ft long / 384 ft high.
It rested on 4 massive cast iron towers that were unusually positioned outside of the bridge itself, to avoid any potential roadway obstructions.
At each entrance to the new bridge there stood 2 ‘toll-booths’ with barriers across the road to prevent people from entering without paying a fee.
The ‘Albert Bridge’ finally opened in 1873, 10yrs after its initial authorisation – but it was decided not to have a formal ceremony for its official opening, because it was felt a bit embarrassing as it had taken so long to get built – and also, because its cost had gone so much over budget, the authorities need to recoup ‘Toll’ income from it as soon as possible.
The ‘Albert Bridge’ was very soon mocked and nicknamed “The Trembling Lady”, because it would vibrate terribly when people used it.
The ‘Trembling’ was especially prevalent when troops from the nearby Chelsea Barracks used to march back and forth across it.
It wasn’t long before there were serious concerns about the overall safety of the Albert Bridge – and it started to get some very negative and damaging reports in the media, where it was described as ‘an accident waiting to happen’.
There were even large notices displayed at both ends of the bridge that instructed the military troops to ‘break-step’ (eg march out of sequence) when crossing the bridge – and amazingly, these notices are still in situ on the bridge to this very day.
The Albert Bridge was also a disaster financially – as in its first 9 months of being open it only took just over £2,000 – as Londoner’s were a tight bunch of gits in those days, and would go out of their way and add time onto their journey’s, to use a ‘free’ bridge, rather than part with their hard-earned cash to cross the ‘Albert’.
Prince Albert himself could see that, this bridge named after him, being a toll-bridge – was going to be it was a complete waste of time – and so proposals were put to Parliament to sort this mess out.
In 1877 the ‘Metropolitan Toll Bridge Act’ was passed which handed over the ownership of the London bridges between Waterloo and Hammersmith to the ‘Metropolitan Board of Works’ – and as a result, all these specific bridges were operated ‘toll-free’.
In 1879, the Albert Bridge also became toll-free – however, its 4 original toll-booths still stand on the bridge to this very day – the only bridge in London that has its original toll-booths still in situ.
By 1884 fears about the safety of the Albert Bridge were still a concern, and so the Government commissioned London’s ‘king of the sewers’ Sir Joseph Bazalgette, to conduct a full inspection and thorough survey of the bridge, and produce a report detailing its faults, and his recommendations for rectifying them.
Bazalgette’s report detailed a load of design and safety problems – the main issues being that the majority of the iron supports were corroding, and also, the wooden deck of the bridge was rotting away – as a result of all the Chelsea set in the north, walking their dogs across the bridge to Battersea Park on the south side – on route, their dogs were taking a piss on the bridge, and their urine over time, had badly rotted away the wooden decking.
Following the submission of his report, Bazalgette was commissioned to make the necessary repairs to the Albert Bridge. He reinforced the suspension ‘stays’ with steel chains and laid a completely new timber decking, and because he felt that the bridge was not fully strong enough to cope with constant weight being carried across it – he initiated a weight-limit restriction of 5 tons.
However, this was at a time when there was a rapid increase in motorised transport, and as a result, the traffic passing across the Albert Bridge soon increased – making it a safety concern once again.
Fast forward 40yrs and those safety concerns surrounding the Albert Bridge were still an issue.
In 1935 the weight limit for the bridge was reduced even further down to 2 tons.
In 1957 the London County Council proposed to completely demolish the Albert Bridge and build a new one.
This proposal was opposed considerably by a well-supported protest group headed by Poet Laurette ‘Sir John Betjamin’ – who liked the bridge and its history just the way it was. The protest group got their way, and the Albert Bridge remained untouched.
In 1964, the bridge was so congested with traffic which, as a result, had a knock-on effect to the roads on the northern banks of the Thames at Chelsea and its southern banks at Battersea.
As a result, a ‘traffic-flow’ experiment was introduced, which allowed only northbound traffic during the day and only southbound traffic during the evening and throughout the night.
In 1972 extensive re-strengthening work was undertaken to the bridge – where 2 large concrete piers were positioned in the Thames, to support the middle of the bridge. Also, the structures main girders were replaced and a new lightweight road-tile decking was laid, completely replacing any of the old wooden decking.
In 1973, a proposal was put forward by the Greater London Council to turn the Albert Bridge into a public park with pedestrian access only!!!
Once again – a protest group headed up by Sir John Betjamin and also acclaimed actress Dame Sybil Thorndyke – and another protest group set-up by the RAC and headed by iconic London actress Dianna Doors – all fought to oppose these plans from going any further – a protest which they won.
In 1990 the ‘tidal-flow’ traffic system across Albert Bridge was dropped – and it converted back into a 2 way traffic system.
In 1992 the Albert Bridge underwent an extensive ‘paint-job’ make over – to make it much more visible to passing boats in foggy weather, as for some geographical reason, a lot of fog seems to gather around the Albert Bridge stretch of the River Thames.
In 1993 the Albert Bridge was decorated with 4,000 low voltage bulbs so that it could be lit-up and more visible at night.
In the late 1990’s traffic islands were installed at both entrances of the Albert Bridge, for the specific purpose of restricting large vehicles. The 2 ton weight limit still applied, but this didn’t (and still doesn’t) go down to well with the ‘Sloanies’ (the Sloane Rangers) zooming about in their 4×4 ‘Chelsea Tractors’.
In 2011 the Albert Bridge was closed for most of the year so that it could be re-painted, with 3 layers of paint, at a cost of £7.2 million. It was re-opened later in the year, with a formal ceremony that included 2 dogs ‘Prince’ & ‘Albert’ from the nearby world famous Battersea Dogs Home.
Today, the Albert Bridge is a Grade II listed London landmark – which sees only around 19,000 vehicles per day crossing it, making it the 2nd least used London road-bridge after Southwark Bridge.
The Albert Bridge still continues to deteriorate and cause concern – and the dogs on route to & from Battersea Park, still take a leak on it.
Albert Bridge has been a bit of a movie star in the past, appearing in films such as ‘Clockwork Orange’ / ‘Absolute Beginners’ / ‘Sliding Doors’ – and it even has a song named after it – the well know Pogues track ‘Misty Morning Albert Bridge’.
So – that’s the Albert Bridge for you.
Before jumping on the tube and heading back home , I crossed the Albert Bridge one last time, and entered the beautiful ‘Battersea Park’ located immediately as you leave the bridge on its southern banks – and sat down to chill-out whilst having a nice cuppa and a small packet of biscuits purchased from the park café.
Battersea Park opened in 1858 – it is a 200 acre area of public parkland that used to be an old ‘dueling’ site.
The very first football match played under ‘Football Association Rules’ took place in Battersea Park in 1864.
In WW1 & WW2 it was the ideal site for anti-aircraft weaponry and air-raid shelters.
It was one of the main sites of the Festival-of-Britain in 1951 and, since the 1950’s it has been the site of the famous annual Battersea Fun-Fair.
Now – not many people are aware of this, but I was actually born in Battersea south west London (the dark-side), some 63 & a half years ago.
For the first 5yrs of my life, before moving to the east of London, I lived in Battersea – near the River and right close to Clapham Junction station – and, when I was a baby, my dear old late mum Gladys, would often take me to Battersea Park to get me out and about in the fresh air.
The day I did this particular blog, I had completely forgotten that it was the 13th anniversary of my mum’s passing (in 2007) – it was only when I was sitting on a bench in Battersea Park having a cuppa, that it suddenly came to me, what day it was. How significant was that to find myself in the same park that I used to go to with my mum, some 57 years ago – very spooky – I sometimes think that there are unseen forces working amongst us.
Anyway – that’s the historic and magnificent Albert Bridge for you – well worth having a walk over if you’re ever down Chelsea or Battersea way.
Hope you enjoy the accompanying photos.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to support this blog