New bridges to the west
By the beginning of the 19th century, London was growing at an unprecedented rate, and its links with the south bank of the Thames were clearly no longer adequate. Several proposals for a new London Bridge were considered, including a bold design from Thomas Telford, but the matter was shelved.
In the meantime, several new bridges were built to the west. The first to open after the end of the Napoleonic Wars was James Walker's iron Vauxhall Bridge (originally called the Regent's Bridge), completed in 1816.
|The original Vauxhall Bridge (1816). © NMM|
Vauxhall Bridge should have been built by John Rennie, one of the finest civil engineers of the era.
|A medal commemorating John Rennie (1761-1821). © NMM|
He had started a bridge in Vauxhall in 1811, but Walker's design was preferred as the cheaper option.
|Old Waterloo Bridge from the South Bank, by W.L. Wyllie. © NMM|
Despite this setback, Rennie completed two other bridges in London.
These were Waterloo Bridge, opened in 1817, and Southwark Bridge, opened two years later.
Building Rennie's bridge
Rennie was the obvious man to build the new London Bridge. He prepared a design for a massive bridge of five arches, which required huge quantities of stone.
|Stone for New London Bridge. © NMM|
Unfortunately, he died in 1821, before the work had begun. Happily for London, his son (also John Rennie) built the bridge to his designs.
|Lighters used for lifting the centres of the New London Bridge. © NMM|
Work began in 1824, and took seven years to complete.
Rennie's fine bridge was opened with all the usual pomp on 1 August 1831, with King William IV and Queen Adelaide presiding over the event.
|The opening of the new London Bridge. © NMM|
As the City (and London as a whole) was so dependent on the Old London Bridge, it was not demolished until January 1832, five months after Rennie's bridge had opened.
|Demolition of Old London Bridge. © NMM|
|London Bridge and Southwark Cathedral, by W.L. Wyllie. © NMM|
Rennie's bridge was a total success. It allowed a far greater volume of traffic to cross the river, and was a huge improvement on the old London Bridge.
Although it was functional and built to the highest standards of the time, it was also a very attractive structure.
It became a favourite subject for London's artists, particularly William Wyllie, who painted it many times.
The bridge under threat
|People and carriages crossing London Bridge at night, by W.L. Wyllie. © NMM|
Despite the success of Rennie's bridge, it eventually failed to cope with the demands made upon it.
Not even Rennie could have imagined how rapidly London's traffic would grow.
Despite the building of many other bridges to the west (and Tower Bridge to the east), London Bridge became busier all the time.
By the end of the 19th century, the bridge could no longer cope with the volume of traffic. It was widened in 1902.
|London Bridge (from the City). © NMM|
The bridge replaced
By the 1960s, the traffic was too great for Rennie's bridge. As it could not be widened again, it was dismantled and replaced with a functional bridge, opened in 1972. However, the bridge lives on - it was re-erected in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.