Victorian London - Thames - Bridges - Westminster Bridge

see also Henry Holland Burne in The Early Years of Queen Victoria's Reign

Westminster Bridge, 1855 [ILN Picture Library]

Westminster Bridge is a noble edifice, erected from a design of Monsieur Labelye, a native of Switzerland; it is universally allowed to be one of the finest in the world it is a stone structure, 1223 feet in length, and 44 feet in width; and consists of thirteen large, and two small arches the whole is surmounted by a lofty balustrade, the continuance of which is interrupted by twenty-eight semi-circular octangular recesses, twelve of which are half domes; from under one of these, in the stillness of tie eight, an echo, pronounced in a whisper, may be distinctly heard on the opposite side. Some very pleasing views are commanded from both sides of this beautiful structure.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, the second stone bridge in point of time over the Thames at London, 1223 feet long, by 44 feet wide, was built by Charles Labelye, a native of Switzerland, naturalised in England. The first stone was laid Jan. 29th, 1738-9, and the bridge first opened for foot-passengers horses, &c., Nov. 18th, 1750. It consists of fifteen arches, the centre being 76 feet wide, and is built on caissons or rafts of timber,- floated to the spot destined for the piers, and then sunk, each containing 150 loads; and of a form and size suitable to the pier intended to be erected. It was formerly surmounted by a lofty parapet, which M. Grosley, a French traveller, has gravely asserted was placed there in order to prevent the English propensity to suicide ; but the real intention of Labelye was to secure a sufficient weight of masonry to keep his caissons to their proper level. In his treatise on this bridge he asserts that it contains twice the number of cubic feet of stone as St. Paul's Cathedral. But the system of building on caissons, however ingenious, has since, in the case of Westminster Bridge more especially, been found to be wholly erroneous. The bed of the Thames on which the caissons rest became undermined so much by the body of water and increased velocity of the tide, after the removal of old London Bridge, that more than one of the piers gave way in 1846, and it was found necessary, (Aug. 15th, 1846), to close the bridge for carriages ; and on the 27th of the same month to close it to foot-passengers. Portions of the enormous masonry about it were then removed, including the lofty parapet, with its numerous overhanging alcoves, and the bridge itself at the same time considerably lowered. At present it is allowed to remain only until another can be substituted - for which Mr. Barry has given an elegant design - or until the Thames may wash it entirely away. ... The bridge cost 218,800l., and the approaches, including Great George-street, &c., 170,700l., making in all 389,500l.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

WESTMINSTER BRIDGE. The new bridge, of iron, designed by Mr. T. Page, architect of New Chelsea Bridge, is 915 ft. long, 85 feet wide, and consists of seven bold elliptical arches, with three flood arches on the Lambeth ride. The central arch has a span of 120 ft. ; the first from the centre, on each side, 115 ft. the second, 104 ft. 6 in. ; and the third, 94 ft. 6 in. There are two footways, of 15 ft. wide each ; two tramways at the sides, of 7 ft. 6 in. wide ; and two roadways for the light traffic, of 20 ft. each.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

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Westminster Bridge varies very much in appearance with the state of the tide. It is always rather a cardboardy-looking affair, but when the river is full, and the height of the structure reduced as much as possible, there is a certain grace about it. When, however, the water is low, and the flat arches are exposed at the full height of their long lanky piers, the effect is almost mean. Except, however, for the excessive vibration arising from lightness of construction, it is one of the best, from a practical point of view, in London, the roadway being wide and the rise very slight.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge - photograph


The view from the Surrey side, west of the graceful Westminster Bridge is a striking one. In our picture, to the left, is seen the east end of the House of Commons and of the Terrace, with the Clock Tower. At the corner of the block of buildings in the centre is St. Stephen's Club, much frequented by Conservative legislators. The large structure in the baronial style to the right is New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, of which a nearer view appears on page 95. Westminster Bridge, built by Page in 1856-62, consists of seven iron arches on granite piers, and the arch through which the barges are passing has a span of 120 feet. It was from the bridge which the present one superseded that Wordsworth had the view which inspired one of the most familiar of his sonnets.

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George Birch, The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896

see also A.R.Bennett in London and Londoners - click here