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A brief walk down Hammersmith Bridge

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This post is for my father, who's retiring this month, after spending nearly 45 years in a brilliant career as a civil and structural engineer - a career that took him all over the world and made him one of the best known and regarded names in his field in India and abroad. His MSc thesis was on bridges. I'm sure he'll have an opinion on this bridge too when he sees this. :)
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One of the things I love about London is how small and large pieces of history litter the city wherever you look. Sometimes a simple street corner will reveal layers - peel after peel of interesting stories - if you only care to look and listen. Sometimes history will manifest itself in a grand architectural monolith that persists - oblivious of change all around it, resistant to destruction, defying centuries full of instances of human madness. Of several such examples around London, the Hammersmith Bridge is one.

The first time I saw this bridge, about two years back, I was startled by its very greenness. My very first reaction to it was somewhere along the lines of "Oh God, what a monstrosity", but there's something about this bridge that grows on you. (Grows, greenness - ha ha! Alright, never mind.)


(click on pictures to enlarge)

Hammersmith Bridge



Hammersmith Bridge



The bridge has a very interesting history. It was the first suspension bridge across the Thames, commissioned by an Act of Parliament in 1824, designed by William Tierney Clarke. In that incarnation, it was a stone bridge with two towers with Tuscan arched entrances standing over two brick piers. The bridge was hugely popular for watching the famous University Boat Race on the Thames, and started to become alarmingly overloaded with traffic and people. It was closed down in 1884 and rebuilt by Sir Joseph Bazalgette (hailed by many as the builder of modern London) to its current incarnation in 1887. The new bridge, which to date, still rests on the same brick piers of Tierney Clarke's structure now had a wrought iron structure, clad in ornamental cast iron casings that were redecorated in its trademark green and gold.



Hammersmith Bridge



Hammersmith Bridge



Hammersmith Bridge



Hammersmith Bridge_March095



Hammersmith Bridge



However, it's not all been smooth sailing for the bridge (river, boat race, sailing...haha! OK, no more!). Over time it has had several structural enhancements as it grew older and as traffic increased. It now has a 7.5 ton limit on traffic and has a barricaded entrance for buses which ensures that at no point does the load on the bridge become dangerous.



Hammersmith Bridge



Hammersmith Bridge



And then there were the bombings. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) and its offspring seem to have a particular grouse against this bridge. (At this point I am resisting a very strong urge to crack yet another pertaining to the colour green and the Irish...).

In 1939, the IRA planted a bomb in a suitcase, which was discovered and calmly chucked over the rails into the river by passerby Maurice Childs, a hairdresser from nearby Chiswick. The resulting explosion sent up a 60 feet high column of water and Mr Childs recieved an MBE. A second bomb however, did explode, causing damages but repairs were soon made. The next attempt came in 1996, again, by the Provisional IRA, which was foiled. In June 2000, however, a bomb planted by the Real IRA exploded causing extensive damage that led to the bridge being closed for two years.



Hammersmith Bridge


It was in this phase of repairs that lighting was installed along the bridge, and it looks pretty dramatic at night, all lit up. I'm afraid I don't have a shot of it at night, but I'll endeavour to update this post with one soon. (Time to have a late eveing pint at one of the riverside pubs next to the bridge).


Hammersmith Bridge


What I do have for you instead, is a shot of rowers practicing for the boat race, who passed underneath just as I was in the middle of the bridge. Talk about serendipity. The 2009 race starts on March 29th.



Hammersmith Bridge



Legend has it that at the opening of construction in 1825, the then Duke of Sussex, Augustus Frederick performed an elaborate ritual: He fixed a brass plate engraved with glowing praises for all those involved over one of the coffer dams that had been filled with nothing less than gold coins and a silver trowel. As it was fixed, he poured corn over it, grandly enunciating:

"I have poured the corn, the oil and the wine, emblems of wealth, plenty and comfort, so may the bridge tend to communicate prosperity and wealth"

Ahem. And I thought Indians tended to be overly ritualistic and grandiloquent.



Hammersmith Bridge



Hammersmith Bridge



Colourful history and resilience of the bridge aside, I still cannot make up my mind about it. I don't hate it, but I certainly do not love it either - I'm not sure the swirly green and gold trimmings are to my taste. What do you think?

10 comments so far:

simonk said...

I actually live just down the river from the bridge and I really like it. Its different from a lot of the other London bridges. I ahd no idea about its history though, especially the IRA stuff, very interesting!

M@ said...

Great post! I like the bridge. It connects the wonderful London Wetlands Centre to the pubs of Hammersmith riverside. Now that's a good day out.

I got a good snap of the bridge at sunset.

Alex Ingram said...

I've lived in Hammersmith for a few years now and I find the bridge an utterly inspiring structure and a nice nod to the past of the place. It was my first destination when the snow started coming down.

B. S. Bhatnagar said...

Shilpa,
Thanks for your rich tributes. The post of Hammer Smith Bridge is beautiful. This Bridge is vary old and was first opened in year 1827.Later it was upgraded and reopened in 1887. It is a suspension type bridge and has limited load carrying capacity. Extansive repairs to upgrade its load carrying capacity were carried out in years 1973 to 1976.
Love,
Papa

पीयूष भटनागर said...

quite and interesting tale of the bridge.....this inspires me to look at some of the bridges around providence which have some history to them.

SloganMurugan said...

They took care to decorate it. These days, they are so purely functional.

Shipra Chauhan said...

great post- the historical perspective make it an interesting read. quite overawed.

do not understand the choice of green! (and do not care for it much)
was there a basis for choosing that color?

P.S: would love to see a b&w pic too.

Flaneurbanite said...

simonk: I had no idea of the history until I started researching this post. Very interesting, to say the least! :)

Alex: The bridge is indeed a very interesting study - not least because of its history and its resilience. Thanks for dropping by.

SloMo: They did, indeed!

Shipra: The green is what makes me ambiguous about it. Not sure why they chose it. Didn't come across anything. Sorry, no black and white pictures on hand! Will try to click some next time I visit. :)

Farzana Rasheed said...

Hey - this is cool. I just blogged about the green bridge too and used the very same words - what a monstrosity! It is a greeeeen bridge.

You're right, though, the bridge does grow on you in a weird way. It's part of my regular walk.

Flaneurbanite said...

Hi Farzana,
Thanks so much for dropping by! I just read your post and couldn't help smiling at your observation about the bridge - the greenness of Hammersmith bridge shocks you into a slow, reluctant submission, doesn't it? Read a bit of your blog and really enjoyed it - glad to make your blog-acquaintance! :)

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