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The Difficult passage across the Thames in C18th & C19th

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series River Thames

Crossing the River Thames has always been a challenge

The River Thames in a way defines London, it certainly delineates it. The supply side of the south feeding the financial, retail, governmental northern bank, easy access was needed but an ever growing problem. More bridges are planned for crossing the Thames but what about the past?

Crossing the Thames

Tower Bridge Looking East

The growth in London east and west of the Tower in the early 19th century was phenomenal but different in every aspect.

  • To the west, grand dwellings, white collar businesses and government buildings,to the east, an entirely different picture, a melee of docks, warehousing and manufacturers and the workforce, packed into dense housing, lined the banks of the river.
  • The tidal flow to the east of the Tower became one of the greatest ports in the world. It was said, that the Thames could be crossed, bank to bank, merely by stepping from one boat to another, such was the congestion of the craft.
  • The needs of business and it’s adjunct population bore down on the mighty river Thames and took control of it’s flow, already complicated by tide and weather.
  • Getting across it was a secondary need to maintaining a free flow for water traffic and the wealth it was bringing to the city, so bridges were seen as an irritation to those who had to navigate the waters.

The river was at bursting point, more and more people and goods plied back and forth from north to south bank via steamboats, rowboats and horseferries.

  • As the population over spilled the confines of the city, the population on the southbank, at the end of London Bridge grew.
  • Trade across the river expanded and London Bridge struggled to cope. It soon became obvious that more crossing points needed to be created and soon London became awash with a multitude of proposals for bridges and tunnels.
Crossing the Thames

A medley of Thames Bridges

The Thames had to be crossed.

The question was, how was it to be achieved? The engineering capability began to emerge during the Industrial Revolution. Developments such as waterproof cement made effective tunnels possible, the Brunel’s mighty achievements in creating tunnels, pumping stations, the list is endless. Some schemes were successful others not but the need for a crossing overcame the problems. There are 33 bridges that cross the Thames from Teddington to the open sea and 22 tunnels.

Crossing the Thames

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

 

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