Above: View looking north at the staircase as you approach it from the eastern pavement on London Bridge.
Today’s London Bridge is only the third bridge to be built of stone in over eight centuries at this position on the Thames. The present bridge was opened officially in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. It does a good job for the traffic because it provides six lanes – three in each direction – to drive over it. It does a good job for the pedestrians as well, with wide pavements either side. It often seems that the pavements serve two purposes – firstly, for those who want to walk over it for work or pleasure; secondly, it acts as a great vantage point for tourists who gather to take pictures of Tower Bridge in one direction and St Paul’s Cathedral in the other.
Some time in the late 1990s a plan was put forward to allow people to walk beside the Thames on the Tooley Street side of the Thames, then cross Tower Bridge and walk back along the north (City) bank and eventually returning to their starting point by walking over London Bridge. This took some time to negotiate. One obstacle was the Custom House who have a forecourt along the riverfront. They firmly said ‘No’ to the idea of pedestrians walking across their land so the City of London built a public walkway on the outside of the Custom House property so that people could keep within view of the river. The policy of the walkway between the Tower of London and Thames has been to allow people to use it but only when the Tower of London was open to visitors. They did not allow 24-hours access but they changed their rules and allowed people to use the footpath up until 10.00 pm each evening which was a good compromise.
At least a decade has gone by since the walkway was operational without solving another very simple problem. People who walk over Tower Bridge want to get onto the riverside path as soon as they can. There were always steps at the northern end. An ingenious solution was found for the south side – probably some time in the 1980s or 1990s – by adding new stone steps.
Now for access from London Bridge. There have always been stone steps from Southwark Cathedral to the west side of London Bridge (at the southern end). In the 1980s the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) built another flight of stone steps for access to the east side (also at the southern end). The problem has been at the northern end of the bridge. Access was provided using a very long flight of stone steps through a rather poorly lit route on the east side (at the northern end). They were so obscure that many visitors never noticed that they were there. Once at the bottom of the steps it was then possible to join the riverside path.
During last year (2015) a new solution was worked out for people walking over London Bridge (at the northern end) to join the riverside path directly from the end of the bridge. It took over a year to complete the work but it is now completed and it has just opened to the public. Its a graceful stainless steel spiral staircase. It seems the easiest of solutions and could have been erected decades ago. The pictures in this article were taken on the second day of its opening and it was in use by many pedestrians – using it as if it had always been there. To take pictures with nobody on the staircase it was therefore necessary to wait several minutes for a moment when nobody was on the staircase.
Above: View looking towards Tower Bridge of the information panels mounted on the staircase. They are mid-way between bridge level and footpath level.
The staircase is very elegant and, at the moment, it shines in the sunshine. Whether it will be just a shiny this time next year we shall have to wait to find out. Although it is a spiral staircase, it has level parts on it as you use it, thus providing vantage points at different levels from which you can admire the views. It also has information panels, also in stainless steel, explaining to the visitor that the old medieval bridge (with houses on it) was even more famous than the present one.
Above: View looking west at the staircase from the riverside path. Part of Fishmongers’ Hall can be seen through London Bridge.
In ‘marking their homework’ the City should be congratulated for such a splendid staircase. It will make access so much easier for those walking to work or just strolling around the riverside at the north end of London Bridge.