Helix Bridge, Paddington Basin

Above: The Helix Bridge seen from its western side. It is seen spanning the Paddington Basin. Although it may not look like it, there is another stretch of the canal behind the bridge.

The Helix Bridge was completed late 2003, designed by sculptor Marcus Taylor and engineered by the Sheffield-based firm Davy Markham. It spanned the arm of the canal and could be retracted, to allow canal barges to pass through. The mechanism to operate the bridge was mounted under the raised steps at the northern end which made the bridge retract by the spiral and the glass exterior rotating. The walkway inside the glass remained horizontal at all times.

It was one of the most unusual footbridges anywhere in London. The old Paddington Basin, which had once seen heavy use by narrow boats bringing materials for use or storage into the warehouses alongside, was being redeveloped at the start of the 2000s – to become office accommodation as well as small business units, cafes and restaurants. The footbridge provided pedestrian access to both sides of the basin for workers and for residents in the new blocks of luxury housing that were then being built. The only traffic on the water was from occasional narrow boats being used for leisure activities.

Above: The Helix Bridge in its ‘open’ position seen during one of the weekly tests to check on the mechanism which is hidden from view below the steps on the left.

Bridge engineers seem to like designing footbridges because such bridges really only have to be strong enough to support their own weight. The additional weight of a few pedestrians is only a very small percentage of the total weight of the bridge and therefore they can be elegant structures. Bridges designed for cars and lorries have to carry more weight and are not such a delicate structure.

Sadly the Helix Bridge was not considered to be suitable and it was removed around December 2013. At the time of writing (2017) a temporary bridge is in place. Plans are in hand for a new type of lifting bridge to be erected on the same site. It is a great shame that the Helix Bridge is no more because its unusual design added a point of interest to a part of the Paddington Basin that is otherwise surrounded by rather overbearing office buildings.


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