London, Volume 3

Knight, Charles


LVI.-Westminster Bridge.

LVI.-Westminster Bridge.




The metropolitan world of the present and the latter half of the last century seems to have been seized with a very sudden and sweeping determination to get rid of a variety of circumstances which however annoying or mischievous in themselves, had been borne most patiently by our forefathers from time immemorial. It is truly surprising to walk through the principal thoroughfares of London and mark how entirely everything in the shape of street magnificence, street cleanliness, or street comfort that meets the eye, belongs to the existing or the preceding generation. Let accident or necessity take us where innovation has not yet appeared,--to any of those spots or districts, growing smaller and fewer every day, which yet preserve for our instruction a few glimpses of the overhanging houses, the alley-like streets, the din, the, danger, and the filth surrounding the whole like another atmosphere, which so recently characterised London generally,--and it seems difficult to understand how senses of vision, hearing, or smell, constituted like our own, could have ever regarded such nuisances with complacency. It may be supposed that only the poorer and less prominent neighbourhoods or thoroughfares were of this kind: so far, however, was this from being the case, that the highway to, and precincts of, the chief courts of justice, of the houses of legislature, and of the great Abbey, the foremost objects of attention to all foreign visitors, the constant places of resort of all the most distinguished Englishmen, were but a century ago in a condition


which we should say or now but faintly emulates. Our evidence will satisfy the most incredulous. On the , Lord Tyrconnel, in moving

for leave to bring in a bill for the better paving and cleansing the streets within the city of


and the liberties thereof, and for preventing nuisances therein,


It is impossible, Sir, to come to this assembly, or to return from it, without observations on the present condition of the streets of Westminster-observations forced on every man, however inattentive, or however engrossed by reflections of a different kind. ..... The filth, Sir, of some parts of the town, and the inequality and ruggedness of others, cannot but in the eyes of foreigners disgrace our nation and incline them to imagine us a people not only without delicacy but without government--a herd of barbarians or a colony of Hottentots.

From other notices also we learn that the Houses of Parliament were obliged, from session to session, to publish an order for the keeping clear the way for the members ;[n.82.1]  and that when the Monarch came by land to visit them it was necessary to throw fagots into the ruts to enable the unwieldy vehicle of state to pass along with moderate ease. Who that now passes from into would suspect he was traversing the very localities which Lord Tyrconnel had in view in his description? And the reformation of the evils more particularly referred to by the noble lord, connected with the surface of the ground, is but a type of the greater changes that have here been wrought. Let us imagine ourselves following some foreign visitor from the City to a century ago. As soon as he turned the corner at he entered a narrow street occupying the right side only of the space now forming and , and which, nowhere very broad, measured in some parts scarce eighteen feet. Continuing his route between the walls of on the left and the Park on the right, near he stopped to admire the stately proportions of the Banqueting House, almost the only part of the famous Palace which the fire of had left entire; or to take a last look of Holbein's beautiful gate, which he would hear was likely before long to be removed--the among all the buildings and places to be swept away. Thinking of this gate, he would care little for the absence of the other, also belonging to , which had stood but a few years before at the corner of and , and over which Henry VIII. had been accustomed to pass from the chambers of the Palace to regale himself with the pleasures of his tennis-court, his bowling-green, his cock-pit, or his tilt-yard, or merely with a simple walk in the Park. As the stranger passed along (presenting here and there to this day the same aspect as of old) he had reason to be thankful if he got safely through without injury to person or apparel from the confused throng of pedestrians, horsemen, carts, and coaches jammed together in that narrow space; still more fortunate was he if some occasion of public ceremony, such as the King going to open parliament, had not drawn him thither. It makes 's sides ache to think of being borne along with such a procession through such a place. Forgetting for a moment the disagreeables of the way and the astonishment they bred in him, he would find the neighbourhood an interesting . Near the end of (which then extended to some little distance on the other side of the


present , which was not yet in existence) he beheld the place rejoicing in the name of Thieving Lane, through which felons had been formerly conducted (somewhat circuitously, in order to avoid touching of the Abbey, where they must have been freed) to the Gate-house or Prison of the Abbot of , standing just by the beginning of ; and close by was the famous Sanctuary itself, occupying the space where now stands the . From the road to the Abbey and the houses of Parliament diverged to the left towards the Thames; but then, again turning to the right, passed between and the old decaying houses which stood on that pleasant green sward we now see opposite the former, with the statue of Canning conspicuous in front. This part was called Lane, and a lane truly it was, hemmed in closely by the old


and by parts of the ancient Palace of , where, among other curiosities about shortly to disappear, our visitor would see old prisons of the regal habitation, known respectively as Heaven and Purgatory, in the last of which

was preserved the ducking-stool which was employed by the burgesses of


for the punishment of scolds. The lady,

he would be informed, if he was curious in such matters,

was strapped within a chair fastened by an iron pin or pivot, at


end of a long pole, suspended on its middle by a lofty trestle, which, having been previously placed on the shore of the river, allowed the body of the culprit to be plunged

hissing hot into the Thames.

When the fervour of her passion was supposed to have subsided by a few admonitory duckings, the lever was balanced by pulling a cord at the other end, and the dripping Xantippe was exposed to the ridicule of her neighbours.

[n.83.1]  The different buildings we have mentioned rendered Lane so narrow that it has been thought worthy of note that palisades became absolutely necessary between the footpath and the roadway for the safety of passengers, And when --strange contrast of magnificence and meanness!-the royal vehicle with its gorgeously caparisoned horses floundered along this miserable road, it had, after setting down the king at the entrance to the , to drive into the court-yard of Lindsey or Abingdon House, then standing at the west corner of Dirty Lane (now ), in order to be able to turn. Wherever the visitor looked it was the same. The beautiful architecture of Henry VII.'s Chapel required an effort in order to get to see it; and Hall was in a still worse condition, some of the niches of the lower part of its front being hidden behind public-houses[n.83.2]  and coffee-houses, which were propped up by it, and which but for its support would have spared all trouble of taking down. The gate of the Woolstaple opposite the Hall, the last remains of the establishment to which old owed so much, he would be too late to see, as it had lately (in ) been removed-and noticeable was the occasion of that removal. The last relic of the old monopolising principles of business, which confined certain advantages to certain places, was displaced to make room for a structure which, long desired, was at last only achieved by a triumph over similar principles, and which was to open to a new career of


improvement, not less important and much more brilliant than even the Staple had done, which originally raised from a village to a town: in a word, our stranger, stepping from the Palace Yard into a narrow lane leading to the water (the site of which now forms side of ), beheld the work in progress which was the immediate cause of all the changes that rumour said were about to be made in the route through which he had passed-he beheld the rising but unfinished piers and arches of the BRIDGE.

The change wrought on the other side of the Thames has been still more extensive, though none of the interest attached to the removal of ancient and well-known buildings belongs to it. In lieu of the present , and the streets ramifying from it in all directions, gardens extended nearly the whole way to Common, It will be seen from what we have stated that the present approaches of the Bridge formed no part of the ancient route used by travellers in crossing from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore at this part of the Thames.

Those who may have occasion to cross the river by a wherry from the stairs at the foot of the fine old gateway of to on the opposite side, are landed on a shelving slope directly opposite the end of , and a little southward of the church of St. John the Evangelist. At the top of the slope stands a little wooden house; that is the old ferry-house, and the place is that of the old horse-ferry. Directly opposite, some yards or so from , is an opening to an obscure street, still known as ; and , if not both, of the houses, which then formed considerable inns, still stand there, where travellers were accustomed to wait for the return of the boat, or for better weather than prevailed at the moment of their arrival, or to stay all night and sleep there if the day were far spent and themselves somewhat timid. How primitive all this seems! can hardly be satisfied that we are really speaking of the Thames at , and a time so little removed. The horse-ferry, it appears, belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury from time immemorial, by whom it was leased at a rent of at the time of its suppression on the opening of the Bridge. Both the archbishop and the lessee received compensation.

We have incidentally referred to the opposition long shown to the project of a better mode of transit over the river, more in accordance with the skill and enterprise and capital of the eighteenth century, as well as with the demands of industry, trade, and commerce. The obstinacy of the principles which actuated the opposers may be judged from the long duration of the contest which our local reformers had had to maintain. Their movements took place so early as the reign of Elizabeth, and were followed up during almost every succeeding reign, and particularly during the periods of James I., the Charles', and George I., in each of which the matter was brought before Parliament. On of the latest of these unsuccessful attempts the petition presented to the House was met by a counter-petition from the Londoners, who exhibited great alarm and anxiety on all such occasions, and now remonstrated in language that might imply they felt the very existence of the trade and welfare of London depended on keeping without a bridge for ever. The Company of Watermen also warmly opposed the project, saying it would be highly


prejudicial to its members, by greatly lessening, if not totally destroying, several ferries between and the Temple, which they had power to work on Sunday, and which produced a very considerable sum yearly, for the benefit of poor, aged, decayed, and maimed watermen and their widows. This opposition was somewhat more rational, and was rationally set aside by compensation. It excites a smile to read of some of the other enemies of the proposed Bridge: side by side with the petitions of the City of London, the Borough of , and the Watermen's Company, was the petition of the On the reading of the Bill in the the petitions from all these parties came pouring in together, and the similarity of their language shows that their unanimity was indeed wonderful. It

will be a great prejudice to the navigation of the river of Thames, so as to render it dangerous, if not impracticable,

says the City; it

will tend to obstruct the navigation of the river Thames,

says the Company of Watermen; it

will greatly obstruct the navigation of the said river,

say the lightermen and bargemen: but these last had an additional horror in store. It


they add gravely,

endanger the

lives of the petitioners

and the

loss of goods or merchandise

by them carried.

How, in the name of common sense?

might have been well asked; but the thing was too farcical to be worthy of any serious notice. Assured, however, of compensation, as all the parties were who had the slightest right to it, before the Bill was passed, there seems to have been an intense bitterness of feeling excited; and if we may judge from a clause in the Act, some danger was apprehended that, in the failure of all fair means, foul would be resorted to. The clause in question provides that persons wilfully destroying or damaging the said bridge should suffer . The Act passed, after counsel had been heard for and against the measure, on the , by a vote of to . It was odd enough that, whilst the debate was going on, the Thames, as if anxious to know what was determined in a matter so nearly affecting its interests, came up almost to the very doors of the Parliament House, and left the lawyers in Hall a foot deep of water to wade through. The site chosen for the Bridge, after much consideration, was from the Woolstaple or thereabouts, in the parish of St. Margaret, , to the opposite shore in . The erasure of the last vestige of the once celebrated market for wool, to which, generally in common with a few other places, all staple commodities were obliged to be brought and weighed for the payment of the customs, now followed, and demands a few words of notice.

It seemeth,

says Stow, speaking of matters as they remained to his day,

that the merchants of the staple be the most ancient merchants of this realm, and that all commodities of the realm are staple merchandises by law and charter, as wool, leather, wool-fels, lead, tin, cloth,

&c. So early as the time of Edward I. the staple was held at , and princely were the merchants who belonged to it. The church of St. Margaret, erected by the Confessor, to prevent a too great concourse of people to his new and beautiful abbey, was almost entirely rebuilt by them in the reign just mentioned: a noticeable circumstance, because they could hardly have been permanent inhabitants of the parish; with every change of the locality or localities of the staple-and such changes were continually taking place--they must have shifted too. Thus,


during the reign of the Edward, in year the staple of wool was appointed to be at Canterbury only, for the honour of Thomas a Becket; and yet but years later the woolstaple of Bruges, on the continent, was removed to several places in England, among which was again chosen. The general reason of these changes, with trifling differences as to the individual case, is pointed out by Stow in connexion with this last-mentioned occurrence. It was done, he says,

to the great benefit of the King, and loss unto strangers and merchants.

The staple at that time, he adds, began on the next morrow after the feast of . It is positively ludicrous to follow the Kings of that period through the turnings and windings of their policy with respect to the staple, seeing

As from a tower the end of all,

the addition of a few extra thousands into the royal pocket. In the of Edward III. the staple of wool was again removed from England to the continent, Calais being now the favoured place. -and- of our best and wealthiest merchants were appointed the farmers; and the record of this incident gives an additional illustration of the rank and consequence of this class in the century. Every merchant had a train of men at arms and archers, and all at the King's cost. Into the subsequent shiftings to and fro it were useless to enter; we therefore conclude our notices of the woolstaple by observing that, at the time of Henry VI., there were wool-houses at , which were granted by that King to the Abbey; that the boundaries of the staple extended from to Tothill, within which the court of the staple alone had jurisdiction, consisting of a mayor and constables (chosen by the merchants), associated with alien merchants, and
others, alien and native, to act as mediators; and, lastly, that the staple fell into disuse, like its fellows in other places, as commerce increased, and became


informed by better principles. We may now pursue without interruption the history of the erection of the structure that forms our subject.

The mode of raising the money required was by lottery, that ever-ready resource of the last century, when new works had to be built, or old ones that had failed in their object to be paid for, and which statesmen did not hesitate, as in the present instance, to adopt as the readiest mode of obtaining finances for extraordinary occasions. The act authorised the raising of ; from which the prizes having been paid, the residue, calculated at , was for the new work. In casually turning over the pages of the Act, after a glance at the title, would suppose some curious mistake had been committed, so much is there about the lottery, and so little about the Bridge. Page after page is filled with minute details, describing who are to be the managers of the lottery, the form of the oath to be taken, the number and form of the tickets, including those distinguished as

the fortunate,

the rolling, the cutting, the drawing, &c. The next year it became necessary to pass a new Act, continuing the lottery; for only had been raised in the time allotted: the sum was then raised from to The tickets were fixed at each, but those who took a certain number had a reduction made., In connexion with lotteries and the Bridge may be mentioned a curious incident, which gives a somewhat amusing glimpse of the legislation of the last century. On the. , whilst the bill for the Bridge was in progress, Henry Jernegan, goldsmith, petitioned the House, stating that he had made a silver cistern, that had been acknowledged by all persons of skill, who had seen the same, to excel whatever of the kind had been attempted in this kingdom; that, after an expense of several on the workmanship alone, exclusive of the weight in silver, and after great hazards in the furnace, and years of application to the raising and adorning the model, the cistern now remained on his hands. Our readers may wonder what this had to do with the building of , as we did ourselves in reading the passage referring to it in the journals of the . But the House, it appears, not only thought the proposed connexion was in due course of propriety, but actually voted an instruction to the committee on the bill to make provision in it for the petitioner-by directing, we presume, the disposal of the cistern by lottery. Whilst the managers of the Bridge lottery were about their magnificent scheme, it was thought, it seems, they might very well undertake the Little-Go of Henry Jernegan, goldsmith. The lottery had better fortune than its predecessor, and funds poured into the hands of the Bridge Commissioners. This body consisted of peers and members of the , to whom was intrusted the direction of affairs,

and who,

says Labelye, the architect of the Bridge (writing at the period of its erection),

notwithstanding their great trouble, care, and wearisome attendance in the discharge of the several important trusts reposed in them by the Legislature, have absolutely no kind of salaries, perquisites, fees, rewards, or consideration whatsoever, except, as a nobleman among them nobly expresses it,

the honour of doing what was thought impossible


Why the erection of a bridge over the Thames should be thought a work of such great difficulty as to be spoken of in these terms, we can now hardly understand ; we have grown familiar with this kind of architectural greatness. But when


was undertaken England had seen no work of corresponding magnitude performed since the building of Old , centuries before, and that structure, making every allowance for the difference between ancient and modern engineering, was a work, by comparison, as easy to build, as it was awkward and dangerous when accomplished. Having referred to the architect of the Bridge, we may here say a few words on him and his publication. He was by birth a Swiss, who appears to have been patronised, if he was not brought over to England, by the Earl of Pembroke, the chief of the acting commissioners, but who became a naturalised subject of England, and proud of his adopted land. He was a man highly esteemed, it is said, for his honour and probity. On the completion of the Bridge he retired to spend his latter days in the more congenial atmosphere of France, where, it has been stated, he would not engage in any work that he thought would offend the English, and there he died in . Such is the entire amount of the biography of this able man that we have met with. Neither Horace Walpole nor Mr. Allan Cunningham mention him among their other notices and lives of architects, in their respective works on the subject. But his biography is the Bridge itself; and no man need desire to have a more honourable or permanent record. Of all the particulars respecting the erection of this great work Labelye has left us a full and interesting account in a publication prepared by him at the desire of the commissioners. We shall borrow pretty largely from its pages, not only because they are so evidently the proper materials, but also on account of the strange and not very creditable neglect with which it has been treated by those who have since written on the edifice; and the consequence has been, the perpetuation of the most absurd mistakes, and the continual repetition of the same errors from writer to another. The author of the account in the edition of Maitland's


published in , was perhaps excusable; he may have written before Labelye's publication appeared (in ). But others since then have gone on copying that account, or, if they did depart from it, it was to add new errors of their own. For instance, in the history we read,

all the piers are laid at a considerable depth under the bed of the river, in a hard bed of gravel, which

never requires piling


and in the

Gentleman's Magazine

for , under the date of , that was driven by a newly-invented machine in the presence of a vast crowd of spectators; whilst Pennant, by a stroke of the pen, reduces the arches from to .

On looking at the spot chosen, Labelye found the width of the river to be about feet, or feet wider than . The line across the water was almost due east and west. As to the water, Labelye saw that he could so place his bridge as to allow the stream of the tide both at ebb and flood to pass straight through the arches, except during the quarter of the flood, when the stream runs from to , and a period when of course large and heavily-laden boats would avoid passing through. He then examined the ground by repeated borings, which satisfied him of the existence of a bed of gravel quite across the Thames, and which was generally so hard,

and, as it were, petrified,

that the boring-drills would not penetrate far into it, and the ballast-men found it difficult to dig when they prepared the foundation of the piers. Most people are aware that the general mode of erecting piers of bridges


is by the cofferdam, a kind of wall of wood formed of piles separately driven in, enclosing the space required, from which the water may then be drawn; but Labelye's method was different, and in England, we believe, at the time, new. He proposed to the commissioners that the foundation of every pier should be laid on a strong grating of timber planked underneath; that this grating of timber should be made the bottom of a vessel, such as is called by the French; that the sides of this caisson should be so contrived as to be taken away after the pier should be finished; that the bed of the river should be dug to a sufficient depth and made level, in order to lay thereon the bottom of the caisson; that wherever the ground under the excavation or pit should prove good, there would be no necessity for piling it; but that, in case the ground under the foundation-pit should not prove of a sufficient consistence, it should be piled all over as closely as necessary; the heads of these piles then to be sawn level, close to the bottom of the pit, and on their tops the grating and foundation of the pier should be laid as is usual in such cases. And this description accurately explains the method followed. The caissons used by Labelye were the largest ever known, containing each loads of fir timber. The piers also he proposed should be built in an uncommon manner. Instead of an outward shell of hard stones, filled in the inside with rubble or brick-work, he determined to build them quite solid, and of large blocks of Portland stone. The stone of the pier was laid by the Earl of Pembroke, , and whilst the latter was in progress many were the predictions of failure; but Labelye heeded them not, satisfied with his own conviction of success, and the knowledge that with the greater part of his opponents their wish with regard to the work was the father to their thought. Still they tried his temper, if they could not shake his confidence, and some of the principal personages appear to have had the ear of the commissioners; and, indeed, among the commissioners themselves there were some who caused the architect great trouble and anxiety.

We need not wonder, therefore, at the tone of gratification in which he records the completion of different parts of his work, showing as they did from time to time the success that awaited the whole. It was on the , he tells us,

the festival of St. George, the


pier was entirely completed, having been executed with all the success that could be desired, without loss either of life or limb, and attended with a much less expense than would have attended any other method of building the piers; to the great mortification of many evilminded persons, especially some disappointed projectors and artificers, who, without knowing what was really intended to be done, or being capable of putting it in execution, roundly asserted everywhere that this method of building was entirely impracticable, or at least would prove so expensive, that the charge of laying the foundation of


single pier would amount to more than the whole amount of the superstructure!

In excavating the foundation for the pier a copper medal was found, about the size of a halfpenny, in tolerable preservation, having the head of the Emperor Domitian on side, and a woman with a pair of scales and a cornucopia on the other. Labelye, mentioning the occurrence, says,

it is easily accounted for, if it be true that there was a ferry about this place in the time of the Romans; and there are many things which confirm this opinion.

By the time they got to the pier the work proceeded with great celerity, and that part of the bridge was finished in days.



Up to this period the intention of the commissioners was to erect a timber superstructure of very peculiar and ingenious construction, which the curious reader may find engraved in the

Gentleman's Magazine

for , and which was the design of a Mr. King. But though they thus far gave way to the busy whisperers who said a stone structure would be too expensive, the whole thing too hazardous, and (very likely) the architect too unfit, they allowed Labelye, as we have seen, to commence in his own mode, wisely considering that, if the foundation and the piers were duly cared for, it would be easy at any time to replace the timber of the remaining part with stone. But an accident gave Labelye the power of carrying out his entire design, and the metropolis a bridge worthy of it. This was the great , which, commencing on Christmas-day, , continued with extraordinary severity for several weeks. The Thames soon began to be impassable on account of the floating masses of ice, which, gradually becoming fixed, gave a strangely wild and picturesque character to the scene. The river appeared like a far-stretching snowy field, covered with huge icy rocks. People began to pass to and fro, then booths were erected, until the whole became a kind of continued fair, and the printing presses scattered about were busily employed in diffusing records of so novel an occurrence. The frost was as extensive in its sphere of operations as it was severe. In Ireland persons passed across the freshwater lake Lough Neagh on the ice, a distance of miles. In Poland and Lithuania the very bears and wolves were driven from their hiding-places into the open country, and became a new calamity to the inhabitants. Trees were split, bread and most other eatables had to be thawed by the fire before they could be cut, water still liquid froze in the very act of pouring it from vessel into another, and stood up in the glass like an icicle; the warm blood stiffened in the veins; persons were found dead on the highways, and some of the poor even in their houses. The damage to the shipping, &c., on the Thames was very great; vessels with valuable ladings sunk, and others, with lighters and boats innumerable, were greatly injured. The works of the bridge were not destined to escape. All the piles then standing, in number, were torn away from their strong fastenings, and above half of them snapped in , and other mischief of less importance was done. But the apparent evil was in this case a great good. It set the minds of the commissioners to work to re-consider their purpose. Whilst the frost continued no advance could be made, and, says Labelye,

during that interruption some commissioners observed at the Board that the goodness of the method made use of in building the piers was then sufficiently tested; that the public in general was highly disgusted at the thoughts of having a wooden bridge,

and spoke freely of its disadvantages, among which was the liability of

being carried away or greatly damaged by any future heaps of ice, such as was then on the frozen Thames.

The subject of the repairs of a wooden bridge was now agitated, and that soon decided the question. Its contractors declined undertaking to keep it in repair at any fixed price. Before the labourers were able to recommence the work, on the discontinuance of the frost in , Labelye had obtained the sanction of the commissioners to a bridge of stone, with arches, and abutments, all on what was then esteemed a peculiarly grand scale; the former, for instance, increasing from a span of feet (excluding the small abutment arches) on each side, to of for the centre arch, and the piers from feet


broad to . The entire length of the bridge was to be feet, its breadth .

The same originality of thought and independence of action that excited the fears of the timid, and appeared to justify the doubts and censures of the hostile, in the commencement, with the piers and foundations, were still more strikingly shown when the superstructure began to appear.

In order to give the utmost strength to the arches of the bridge,

says Labelye,

I designed their construction very different from the common way of building such arches; for, in order to destroy or counterbalance the thrust or lateral pressure with which all arches (even the semicircular ones) do endeavour to separate or overset their piers, every arch of

Westminster Bridge

(except the


small ones at the abutments) is double. The


arch is semicircular, built with great blocks of Portland stone, from




feet in height or depth; over which there is another arch built with Purbeck stones, bonded in with the under semicircular arch. This upper arch is of a particular figure or curve,




times thicker in the reins, or towards the bottom, than at the key or top. Both these arches, taken together, do form a kind of arch which can be demonstrated to be in


in all its parts. By means of these secondary arches, and the proper disposition of the superincumbent materials, every arch of

Westminster Bridge

is able to stand by itself, independent of the abutments or any other arch. I asserted, above


years ago, that arches thus constructed must have that property, as a necessary consequence, from a mathematical proposition as clearly demonstrated as any


proposition in Euclid or Apollonius; and the truth of my assertion has since been put out of all doubt, for when, by the settling of the western


-foot pier, in


, it became necessary to take down the


adjoining arches, and to rebuild them, all the other arches, even the next to them on each side, stood firm and well (though unsupported on


side); nor were they at all affected by


severe shocks of earthquakes that were felt in London in February and

March, 1749

, to the great amazement of many, and to the no less confusion and disappointment of not a few malicious or ignorant people, who had confidently asserted, and propagated the notion, that upon unkeying any


of the arches the whole bridge would fall.



here referred to, however, had had a great triumph when the accident Labelye mentions occurred to the western -foot pier. The Bridge was thought to be almost finished in , and preparations were making for the opening, when suddenly the pier in question began to sink, and it became necessary to take down of the arches. In a spirit of bitter indignation Labelye records the annoyance this unfortunate and, to him as well as other persons, incomprehensible circumstance caused him.

Notwithstanding most of the considerable bridges of which we have any account have, in the course of their building,/met with some accident like this, it is certain that never was an accident so much taken notice of. It was very sincerely deplored by all those who had any good nature or public spirit, and as heartily rejoiced at by those of a contrary disposition, such as the watermen, ferrymen, and a great many others: nay, by some who were fed and maintained by the commissioners with much better bread than they ever deserved or ever could earn.

The arch being removed, heavy weights were laid on the pier, consisting of some [n.91.1] 


tons of stone in blocks, and iron cannon condemned as unserviceable; and Labelye was going on to add tons more when he was stopped by the commissioners, who were frightened by the representations of a

wicked cabal bent upon mischief for mischief's sake.

These persons must have been hard pushed for arguments before they could have talked in the following ludicrous style:-- They told the commissioners that the further loading might not only be dangerous to the adjoining arches, but crush the centres and make them fall into the river, and even draw after them These men must have been born diplomatists. Was ever so magnificent a phrase made out of such small materials! This was the only instance in which the commissioners prevented Labelye from following his own designs. After some delay the affair was settled by a sort of compromise, Labelye adopting another plan for the repair. Recent circumstances enable us to add a useful appendix to this narration. An extensive reparation of the Bridge has been for some time going on, having for its object to strengthen the foundations of the pier undermined by the flow of the Thames since the removal of Old ; to lower the roadway in the centre and raise the approaches; and (there is little doubt) to widen the Bridge, for the preliminary step of lengthening the base of the pier is already in progress. In making these alterations much interest has been excited among professional men by the knowledge that the cause of the sinking of the pier in would now most probably be discovered. They have not been disappointed.

On the removal of the ground within the sheet piling the projecting part of the timber bottom of the caisson was found to be broken and separated from that part underneath the pier: this had arisen from the space intended for the caisson not having been dredged sufficiently large to receive it, so that it was resting on the slope of the excavation, the centre part being hollow, until the weight of the masonry broke away the sides and allowed the pier to settle on the loose sand and gravel which had run in; the level of the blue clay being nearer the surface at this pier than the adjoining


, the excavation was principally in that material, and its intense stiffness will account for the dislocation that took place in the timber-work.

[n.92.1]  Such was the cause of the accident which gave Labelye so much annoyance and postponed the opening of the Bridge for years. It was observed that the caissons were found in so perfect a state, that the fir retained even its resinous smell.

The semi-octagonal turrets must not be passed without a few words. Labelye says they were not only built for their evident accommodation to passengers desiring or obliged to stop without interfering with the roadway, or for the relief they afford to the eye in breaking so long a line, but for the additional security they gave to the bridge, by strengthening the parts between the arches, and thereby offering so much more weight to repel the lateral pressure. He calls the common idea, that the more an arch is loaded the stronger it will be, a vulgar error.--Presuming that the architect ought to be a fair judge of his own intentions, we may with confidence repel the satire of the French wit or traveller referred to by Pennant, M. Grosley, who, in his

Tour to London,

assures us that the cause of their erection was to prevent the suicide to which the English have so strong a propensity, particularly in the gloomy month of November; for, had they been low, he thoughtfully observes, how few could resist the charming


opportunity of springing over! whereas, at present, the difficulty of climbing up these heights is so great that the poor hypochondriac has time to cool, and, desisting from his purpose, think proper to give his days their full length, and end them-like a good Christian in his peaceful bed. Maitland mentions a more serious purpose to which these recesses might have been put, and that gives us a pregnant illustration of the social state of the neighbourhood in the last century. He says they might have

served for places of ambush for robbers and cut-throats,

but for the establishment of a guard of watchmen specially appointed for the security of the passage during the night.

We walk the public streets with so much danger in these hours,

he continues,

that this provision was extremely necessary.

Altogether, at this time was certainly a pleasant neighbourhood to live in, where you could not move in the day without the danger of stumbling in some deep rut, or of having some carriage-wheel rubbing off its superabundant mud on your clothes as it passed you; whilst at night there were the additional comforts of unlighted ways and lurking robbers; and, night and day, intolerable stenches stealing across your path, in every possible variety, each suggestive of its own agreeable origin. How much do we not owe to the Bridge! But for that structure there is no saying how much longer would have remained lagging behind its neighbour city in the path of improvement. The writer of the account of Middlesex in the

Beauties of England and Wales,

mentions a peculiarity of these recesses, which we have not ourselves tried, but which some of our readers may. He says,

So just are the proportions, and so complete and uniform the symmetry, that, if a person whispers against the wall of the alcove on


side of the way, he may be plainly heard on the opposite side, and parties may converse without being prevented by the interruption of the street or the noise of the carriages.


The work was finally completed in , having been erected, as Labelye informs us, without turning of the whole or any part of the river, without stopping, or even hindering, the free navigation single moment, and without having any sensible fall under its arches. Great was the triumph of friends, melancholy the disappointment of enemies. By the former it was emphatically designated as the noblest bridge in the world, and the public voice ratified the judgment. A day of public rejoicing, on the occasion of the opening, was named by the commissioners, which, by an odd piece of neglect, was discovered, when too late, to fall on a Sunday. They then determined to commence at o'clock on the Saturday night, and hurry the thing over, so as to avoid scandal. Accordingly on the , or rather the , just after midnight, a procession was formed of gentlemen of , Labelye and his chief assistants, and a large concourse of spectators, who enjoyed the novelty of such a torchlight ceremonial. These were preceded by kettle-drums and trumpets. Guns also fired from time to time. All the next day the Bridge was like a fair. The cost of the whole edifice, including the

several conveniences requisite thereto,

was, according to Maitland's work, , which was raised from no less than lotteries; but Labelye gives the entire cost, on what he believed to be good information, for all the materials delivered, work done, and labour of all sorts in and about , at only. The difference is


probably to be accounted for by the circumstance that the same commissioners had the care reposed in them, by successive Acts of Parliament, of all the great improvements we have pointed out as following the erection of the Bridge, and some portion of their expenses may be included in Maitland's estimate. of the most interesting features of Labelye's pamphlet is the variety of curious illustrations he gives of its size, and the quantity of materials used, &c. He does this evidently with all the gusto of an artist-retiring in this direction, then in that, from the painting on his easel, in order that he may enjoy his favourite picture in all lights. As the result of his inquiries, he tells us that above worth of stone and other materials are always under the ground, or concealed by the water; that each of arches is wider than the largest hall in Europe--that of adjoining, of which he gives a careful admeasurement; that the quantity of stone in the middle arch only, above the piers, and exclusive of all its ornaments, is full tons more than was used in the Banqueting House, ; and, lastly, that the whole Bridge contains nearly double the quantity of stone materials to those employed in the erection of . Even these notices add to our comprehension of the high character of the structure, which a writer in a scientific publication of the present day says was

unquestionably the greatest and most difficult work that had ever been attempted in this country.

We have purposely left our mention of the abutments of the Bridge to the conclusion of our paper. These are certainly noble and stately works, and Labelye knew it, and was proud of them, and takes pains to enumerate their several advantages; but we here transcribe the passage only for the sake of remark, at its conclusion, which shows how earnestly he had thought about a subject which yet remains a standing reproach to the metropolis--the state of the Thames banks, made only the more glaring by the glorious works that connect them. Of the abutments Labelye says,

The stairs and causeway are properly placed for the conveniency of water-passengers; and the loading and landing of goods will be at all times out of the indraught of the arches, besides leaving convenient room for boats, and for the watermen to ply for fares, without embarrassing the streets leading to and from the Bridge. Lastly, these abutments may in time lead the way to the making of most useful and beautiful quays along the river, between high and low water mark, than which nothing can more contribute to the trade and ornament of the city and liberty of


, and to the preservation and improvement of the navigation of the river, which would thereby have always sufficient stream to clear its bed from sand, mud, and shoals; and would always retain water enough for working and navigating of boats, and other crafts and vessels, and for the loading and unloading them at all times with ease.

We have here in brief the essence of all the reports and pamphlets that have been since issuing from time to time on this fruitful subject; and, considering how few there must have been who then shared in such comprehensive views, it is a valuable illustration of the architect's mind. And what he so much desired, we who are now living shall yet most probably see accomplished; and the Thames, which in itself has experienced no improvement deserving the name of , from the time the ancient Britons, under the direction of the Romans, made those admirable embankments which remain secure to this hour (for such is the origin ascribed to them by a -rate authority, the President of the Institution of


Civil Engineers), will have commercial utility and artistical ornament at last added. of the river would give the completing touch to the magnificence which surrounds this Bridge. Here is , with a historical memories; there the new Houses of Parliament, the beautiful buttresses of which already begin to overtop the Bridge; and the Abbey. In other directions, the graceful Bridge of , and the perfectly beautiful and splendid Waterloo, meet the eye. But amidst all this, there are the slimy and black shores of the river, remaining almost as uncared for-now that it is the daily medium of supply to some of the most necessary of the wants of of the largest town populations in the world--as it was when the ferries of and London (the last immortalised by Mary Overy),[n.95.1]  included most probably the entire amount of communication between the shores, and when the occasional vision of a Roman-built galley (in which we may imagine our coasting-trade to have commenced) drew forth the sight-seers of primitive London. We are, we hope and believe, on the eve of amendment. A Report has just appeared from the pen of Mr. Walker, the eminent engineer before referred to, which promises greatly to forward the



devoutly to be wished.

A passage from this document, describing in detail the particulars of the improvements projected, with a fair likelihood of being carried into execution, and which will make a reality of Labelye's ideal perspective, will be interesting to our readers. Mr. Walker says--

As regards the embanking of the river, it might be sufficient to say that the recommended line does not interfere to prevent the formation of any of the terrace or road schemes, which is the case; but, as our attention has been drawn to the road improvements upon the banks of the river above

Vauxhall Bridge

, it would be improper not to refer to this as a result of the projected embankments, which Mr. Cubitt will probably be the


to carry into effect on an enlarged scale, upon the estates of the Crown and the Marquis of


. So far as we have been able to judge from the opinions of those most largely interested, there appears a probability that a carriage-way will be formed along the bank of the river from


nearly to the new Houses of Parliament. The east side of


is the


interruption. If upon the site of the worst part of


, the property of the Dean and Chapter, or upon the vacant Crown land round the Penitentiary, a basin or dock was formed, with an entrance near the horse-ferry, for the trade of the present

Millbank Street

Wharf, the houses in that street, which are of value chiefly as connected with the wharfs, might be taken down, and the site of them, with the embanked ground of the river, applied to form a terrace attached to the Houses of Parliament. The view of the river from the drive would be uninterrupted from


until reaching the Houses of Parliament, when the road would necessarily leave the water-side for Palace Yard,

Parliament Street

, and


. It might then turn down

Whitehall Place


Scotland Yard

, whence it could be carried upon arches springing from piers in the new embanked ground, down to

Blackfriars Bridge

, and thence by a direct street to

St. Paul's

and the

Royal Exchange

, or might fall into some of the new and improved streets in progress or projected by the City authorities. A splendid communication would thus be formed from


, or from above it,

along the river, into the heart of the City. It may be some time before all this can be accomplished; but it would be easy to show that from




, and from


to Blackfriars, it would not be a very difficult or expensive work, that it would not interrupt the trade of the wharfs between


and-Blackfriars, and that the proposed line of embankment would be in furtherance of this object.



[n.82.1] This form is, indeed, still retained.

[n.83.1] Smith's Antiquities of Westminster, vol. i. p. 262.

[n.83.2] The two public-houses which concealed some portion of the Hall were only removed in the beginning of the present century, when the fragments of eight figures, in niches of exquisite workmanship, were discovered.

[n.91.1] All the accounts we have seen but Labelye's own give the weight as 12,000 tons, which he himself refers to as a mistake of the daily newspapers and monthly magazines.

[n.92.1] Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, May, 1841.

[n.93.1] Beauties of England and Wales, vol. x., part 4, page 529.

[n.95.1] See the account of St. Mary Overies, vol. i. p 113.