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Charing Cross (Hungerford) Rail Bridge
River Thames, Charing Cross, London, UK
Charing Cross (Hungerford) Rail Bridge
associated engineer
Sir John Hawkshaw
date  6th June 1860 - 11th January 1864, 1882
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  TQ304803
ICE reference number  HEW 197
photo  London Metropolitan Archives
A wrought iron lattice girder rail bridge built in place of Brunel's Hungerford Suspension pedestrian bridge. The footbridge bridge had proved unprofitable and the new one brought trains into Charing Cross Station. It remains in continual use, now flanked by a pair of modern cable stayed footbridges.
The present bridge was built to give the South Eastern Railway access to the north of the Thames from a new station at Charing Cross, under the provisions of the Charing Cross Railway Act, passed on 8th August 1859. The Act also authorised the demolition of the existing Hungerford Suspension Bridge at the site, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) and opened in 1845.
The nine-span new rail bridge, designed by John Hawkshaw (1811-91, knighted 1873), measures 412.2m between the original brick abutments. Six 46.9m spans of wrought iron pin-jointed lattice trusses cross the river and three 30.5m spans of plate girders at the south east end, which narrow as they approach Charing Cross Station and carry some of the platforms.
Before the bridge was commissioned, every 152.4 tonne lattice girder was tested with a uniformly distributed load of 406.4 tonnes. Holes through the girders were drilled, not punched, using a machine capable of drilling all the holes through one series of plates simultaneously. The technique ensured accurate hole drilling and considerable savings in labour costs.
Hawkshaw’s design was realised as two separate bridges side by side, each bounded by longitudinal trusses. The downstream (north) bridge is wider, with trusses at 15.2m centres. The upstream (south) bridge trusses are at 8.8m centres, leaving a gap of 5.8m between the two bridges.
The twin structure incorporates the two red brick piers (Middlesex and Surrey Piers) that once supported the suspension towers of Brunel's bridge. Further piers were created by sinking cast iron cylinders through the river bed, to 21.3m below high water level. The cylinders are 4.3m in diameter below the river bed, tapering to 3m in diameter above water. They are constructed in flanged cast iron plates, filled with concrete below bed level and lined with brickwork above.
Each pier consists of four columns connected at head level by transverse plate girders. The longitudinal trusses rest on metal roller bearings at the brick piers and at the south east (Surrey) abutment, but on metal plates and granite capping blocks above the cylinder piers.
Each longitudinal truss is formed from six 46.9m long lattice girders. The girders are 4.3m deep with parallel lattices held between top and bottom flanged members some 190mm deep. All girders are divided into 14 equal sections 3.35m long by vertical bars and diagonal cross bracing in the longitudinal plane, with the two layers connected transversely by horizontal and diagonal struts.
Deck beams at 3.35m centres span transversely under the main girders and originally cantilevered 2.9m on the outer sides of the twin bridges to provide two tolled footways. The structure was built to carry four railway tracks, with the top of the rails 9.45m above high water level.
Construction commenced on 6th June 1860, and the new Hungerford Bridge opened on 11th January 1864. Almost immediately, its design was criticised as ugly.
In 1882, the bridge was widened to accommodate six railway tracks by modifying the upstream (south) bridge and removing the footway. Pedestrians all used the downstream footway. Later (date unknown) the structure was altered by constructing a deck between the two bridges, known as the middle road, to carry an additional central railway track.
By 1908, RIBA president Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924) suggested relocating Charing Cross Station to the south bank of the Thames and replacing its rail bridge with a road bridge lined by arcaded buildings. In 1916, proposals were made for strengthening the north side of the bridge and another road bridge scheme was put forward by architect Edwin Thomas Hall (1851-1923).
Further alternative road bridge designs were offered in 1917 by William Douglas Caröe (1857-1938), in 1924 by Paul Waterhouse (1861-1924) and several more in the late 1920s. In January 1930, the London County Council (Charing Cross Bridge) Bill was put before parliament and eventually rejected. In July 1931, any ideas for a replacement bridge were quashed when government backing for 75 percent of the cost was withdrawn owing to Britain’s “serious economic situation”.
Between October 1978 and September 1979, the original downstream (north) river spans were renewed. All the riveted wrought iron lattice girders, the iron rail supports and decking were replaced in welded high yield steel. From January to May 1980, the middle road received similar refurbishment.
In 2002-3, two new cable stayed footbridges were constructed, one on either side of the bridge (Golden Jubilee (Hungerford) footbridge). The single downstream footway on the rail bridge was closed. Brunel’s original south east (Surrey) pier was restored.
Supervising engineer (1882 widening): Francis Brady
Contractor: Cochrane & Co, Dudley
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH LondDNB

Charing Cross (Hungerford) Rail Bridge