The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 2

Allen, Thomas


Westminster Bridge.


An act of parliament was passed in the year , for building a bridge across the Thames, from New Palace-yard , to the opposite shore in the county of Surrey. This act was not obtained without great opposition from some of the inhabitants of the city of London and the borough, and also from the watermen of the Thames; but private interest was obliged to give way to public advantage, and this great undertaking was carried into effect under the sanction of the legislature.

The ballast-men of the Trinity-house were employed to open a large hole for the foundation of the pier, to the depth of feet under the bed of the river; and this being finished and levelled at the bottom, it was kept clear by a proper enclosure of strong piles. In the mean time, a strong case of oak, called a caissoon, was prepared, of the form and dimensions of the intended pier in the clear: this was made water-proof, and, being brought over the place, was secured within the piles.

In this wooden case the stone was laid on the -, by the earl of Pembroke. The caissoon was above the high-water mark, and sinking gradually by the weight of the prodigious blocks of stone, the men could work below the level of the water, as conveniently as on dry ground. Thus the middle pier was formed, as were all the rest in the same manner, and when finished, the sides of the caissoon being taken asunder, the stone work appeared entire.

The last stone of the bridge was laid on the , by Thomas Lediard, esq. in presence of several of the commissioners; and on the of the same month, about o'clock at night, it was opened by a procession of several


gentlemen of the city of , the chief artificers of the work, and a great number of spectators, preceded by trumpets, kettledrums, &c.

Westminster-bridge is generally allowed to be of the finest in the world. It was built by Mr. Charles Labelye, a native of Switzerland, but a naturalized subject of England, and consists of semicircular arches, besides a small at each end. The ascent to is very easy, and there is a semi-octangular recess over every pier, with benches in them for the accommodation of passengers. of them are covered over head with semi-domes, viz. the middle and extreme ones on each side. These recesses are supported by solid buttresses rising from the foundations, which form the angular extremities of the piers below. Over the central arch are pedestals in the balustrades, intended for groups of ornamental figures, which were never carried into execution. The dimensions of this noble structure are as follow:

Length of the bridge from shore to shore1,223
Width of the centre arch76
The rest decrease regularly four feet in width on each side 
The width of the two small arches, at the abutments, is each about20
Width of the raised footways, on each side7
Heighth of the balustrade within, six feet nine inches. 

At the sides of each abutment, there are large flights of steps down to the river, for the embarking and landing of goods and passengers.

The foundation of this bridge is laid on a solid and firm mass of gravel, which lies at the bottom of the bed of the river, but at a much greater depth on the Surrey than on the side; and this inequality of the ground required the heights of the several piers to be very different, as some have their foundations laid at feet, and others at feet under the bed of the river. The piers are all feet wider at their foundation than at the top, and are founded on the bottoms of the before-mentioned caissoons.

The materials of the piers are much superior to those commonly used on such occasions; the inside is generally filled up with


chalk, small stones, or rubbish ; but here, the piers are the same within as without, and consist of solid blocks of Portland-stone, many of which are or tons weight, and none less than a ton, except the closers, or small ones, intended for fastening the others, of which is placed between every of the larger ones. These blocks are perfectly well wrought for uniting; they are laid in Dutch terrace, and fastened together with iron cramps run in with lead. All the iron-work is, however, entirely concealed, and so situated as not to be in the least affected by the water.

The soffit of every arch is turned and built quite through, the same as the fronts, with large Portland blocks, over which is built, bounded in by the Portland, another arch of Purbeck stone, or times thicker on the reins than over the key; so calculated, that, by the help of this secondary arch, together with the incumbent load of materials, all the parts of every arch are in equilibrio. Thus each arch can stand singly, without affecting or being affected by any of the others. Between every arches, there is also a drain, so contrived as to carry off the water and filth, which in time might penetrate, and accumulate, in those places, to the great detriment of the building.

Though the greatest care was taken of laying the foundation deep in the gravel, and using every probable method to prevent the sinking of the piers, yet all this was in some degree ineffectual; for of them sunk so considerably, when the work was near completed, as to retard the it a considerable time. gave work; but the commissioners immediately ordered the arch, on the side where it had been sunk, to be taken down; and then caused the base of the pier to be loaded with an incredible weight of iron cannon, till all the settlement that could be forced was made. After this the arch was rebuilt, and has ever since been equally secure with the rest. The whole expence of erecting this bridge amounted to , ; which was raised as follows:

An account of the several sums played for and lost, or absolutely granted, for building this bridge, and procuring the several conveniences requisite thereto.
1741Granted by Parliament20,000
1742 Do.20,000
1743 Do.25,000
1744Granted by Parliament15,000
1745 Do.25,000
1746 Do.25,000
1747 Do.30,000
1748 Do. 20,000
1749 Do. 12,000
  Total 389,500Maitland's History of London, ii, p, 1350.


[] The alcoves on this bridge have another convenience, says the author of the Percy History of London, besides that of affording a shelter from the rain. When a person whispers against the wall of one of them, the sound is very distinctly conveyed across to the corresponding alcove on the opposite side. Two friends may thus carry on a very pleasant tête-à--tête, at forty feet distance from each other.

[] Lambert's London, vol. iii, p. 20l.

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 Title Page
 CHAPTER I: History of London, from the Accession of William and Mary, to the reign of George the Second
 CHAPTER II: History of London during the reign of George the Second
 CHAPTER III: History of London from the Accession of George the Third, to the year 1780
 CHAPTER IV: History of London continued to the Union
 CHAPTER V: History of London from the Union to the Jubilee, 1809
 CHAPTER VI: History of London from the Jubilee to the Peace of 1814
 CHAPTER VII: History of London continued to the accession of George the Fourth
 CHAPTER VIII: Account of the Civil Government of the City by Portreves, Bailiffs, and Mayors, with a list of the latter...
 CHAPTER IX: An account of the Aldermen and Sheriffs, with a list of the latter
CHAPTER X: Lists and brief Accounts of the various Officers and Courts within the City
CHAPTER XI: Some account of the Ecclesiastical Government of the city of London, with a List and Biographical Notices of the Bishops of the see
CHAPTER XII: Some Account of the Military Government of London, and the Artillery Company
CHAPTER XIII: An Account of the twelve principal Companies of the City of London
CHAPTER XIV: An Account of the Companies of the City of London, alphabetically arranged
 CHAPTER XV: An Account of the River Thames
CHAPTER XVI: Historical and topographical account of London Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, Southwark Bridge, and the Thames Tunnel
CHAPTER XVII: Topographical and Historical Account of the Tower of London