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Westminster Bridge (1862)
River Thames, Westminster, London
associated engineer
Thomas Page
date  May 1854 - 24th May 1862
era  Victorian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  TQ303797
ICE reference number  HEW 264
Although somewhat in the shadow of Big Ben as far as London landmarks go, Westminster Bridge is more than worthy of note. Its seven graceful elliptical arches and Gothic embellishments were formally opened on the 24th May 1862 at four in the morning, marking the day and hour of Queen Victoria's birth.
The current Westminster Bridge, designed by architect and engineer Thomas Page in collaboration with architect Sir Charles Barry, replaced an earlier bridge of Portland stone (1750) by Charles Labelye. This earlier bridge was significant in that it was the first permanent bridge to be constructed on the Thames in central London since 1209 when Old London Bridge opened — a gap over over 500 years.
Labelye's bridge suffered heavily from tidal scouring of its foundations brought on by changes to Old London Bridge that altered the tidal flow. When Old London Bridge came down in 1832, the effect was particularly severe. An enormous amount of maintenance was required to keep it going.
By the middle of the 19th century it was obvious that a new bridge was required and Thomas Page's design was accepted. The construction contract was let to C.J. Mare of Millwall and work began in May 1854. However, in September 1855 Mare's business failed, delaying the work considerably.
Page took over the contract himself, using Cochrane & Co. to carry out the work. He managed to get the job done without interrupting the traffic by removing and replacing only half of the old bridge at a time, leaving the other half open. Most of the stone from the old bridge was sold, although some was used for the new abutments.
The bridge is of Gothic design — in harmony with the then new Houses of Parliament completed in 1838 and designed by Barry — and has seven iron-ribbed elliptical spans. The piers and abutments are faced with granite.
The central span is 39.6m, the third and fifth 38.1m, the second and sixth 35m and the end spans each 30.5m. The carriageway was very wide for the time and the gradient much gentler than on the previous bridge. The roadway is now 17.6m wide, with 4m wide footapths on either side. In Page's time there was a kerb down the centre of the roadway. Later, a tramway was installed (removed 1930s).
As built, the bridge was of structural interest since it was one of the first to use Robert Mallet's buckled metal plates — patented in 1852 — as decking material. These have recently been replaced with reinforced concrete.
Sir Charles Barry had won the commission (with Augustus Pugin) to rebuild the Houses of Parliament after they were destroyed by fire in 1834. The newly fashionable Gothic style was used. Barry's contribution to the design of the Westminster Bridge included the Gothic quatrefoils in the spandrels of the arches and the ornamental shields, which display the coats of arms of England and of Westminster.
There are two sculpures of note associated with the bridge. On the north side is the bronze group showing Queen Boudicca driving a scythe-wheeled chariot with her two daughters aboard. It is by Sir Hamo Thorneycroft. On the opposite side is the Coade Lion, so called because it is made of Coade stone — a mixture of terracotta and ground quartz and glass. The lion has had several homes but was originally made for the entrance to the Red Lion Brewery, once located near today's Festival Hall.
Thomas Page also designed Old Chelsea Bridge.
Architectural consultant: Sir Charles Barry
Main contractor: C.J. Mare (to September 1855)
Main contractor: Cochrane & Co. (thereafter)
reference sources   CEH LondCRBB
Location

Westminster Bridge (1862)