Hungerford Bridge


Above: Photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot, about 1854, shortly after the bridge was opened. This is one of the earliest photographs ever taken in London. The image is copyright.

Towards the western end of the Strand is the rectangular site on which Charing Cross Station stands. The site was owned from 1422 by the Hungerford family – whose country seat is at Hungerford, in Wiltshire. A large house stood there, along with gardens extending to the side of the Thames. In 1669 disaster struck when the house burned down. The owner at that time was Sir Edward Hungerford. Not able to rebuild, he decided to open a fruit and vegetable market on the site, in rivalry to Covent Garden Market which had been established on the north side of the Strand. The market was never a great success but it struggled on until the land was purchased by the railway company in 1861 to build Charing Cross Station.

Having explained how the name of Hungerford comes to be associated with the Strand we need to take a step back to 1841 when it was decided that a pedestrian footbridge should be built, spanning the Thames from Lambeth at one end to join up with Hungerford Market at the other. The bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who decided on a suspension bridge for the site since it only had to carry the weight of pedestrians. The bridge was constructed 1841-45, with a centre span of 676 feet (206 m) which was the most notable part. The total length was 1352 feet (412 m). It was a clever and advanced design, one of the longest in the world at the time.

The great day – Friday 18 April 1845 – finally arrived when it was publicly opened. The bridge was supported by two tall suspension columns each mounted on a pier standing in the Thames. Until Joseph Bazalgette constructed the Victoria Embankment, 1862-70, both piers stood some distance into the river. When the embankment was built out into the Thames on the north side, the newly constructed river wall extended as far as the north pier. The south pier is in its original position, relative to the South Bank.


Above: View looking towards Lambeth from the Westminster side of Hungerford Bridge showing a paddle steamer moored with its stern towards a brick pier of the bridge. Passengers gained access to the boat by walking along the footbridge, down stairs inside the brick pier, through the brick archway, along a gangway and onto the stern of the boat.

Doorways at either end of the red-brick piers gave access to river boats (via a staircase from the footpath of the bridge and they can still be seen today. To give some idea of how large Hungerford Suspension Bridge was, it should be pointed out that the central span was half as long again as that of the central part of the Albert Bridge. Overall, Hungerford Bridge was nearly twice the length of the Albert Bridge.

In 1861 the bridge was demolished – after only 15 years of use – in preparation for Charing Cross Railway Bridge which was built on the same site. The two brick piers were retained and used as two of the supports for the new railway bridge. The chains from the old Hungerford Bridge were taken to Bristol and used to support the Clifton Suspension Bridge which crosses the Avon Gorge.


Above: View looking east (telephoto) from near Westminster Bridge on the Victoria Embankment, showing one of the access doorways at the centre of the red brickwork, originally for pedestrian access to river craft.

Around the year 2000, new walkways were added to each side of Charing Cross Railway Bridge. They have certainly improved the sight of the rather boring railway girders. Since completion of the new walkways (known as the Jubilee Bridges) in 2002, the new footbridge supports have rather obscured the view of the brick doorways.


This entry was posted in /Lamb, /Stra (Wes), /Thames, Victoria Embankment. Bookmark the permalink.

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