Ancient laws about bridges and bales of straw will be enforced for the next few months as repair works are carried out on Wandsworth Bridge.

A law, whose origin is a bit murky requires that any bridge over the Thames that is open to river traffic but has its clearance reduced must hang a bundle of straw from the bridge as a warning to boats.

It is suggested that the rule stems from olden times when straw was carried into London on boats, and if a skipper of a boat could see straw on the underside of London Bridge, then the tide was probably too high and knocked some straw off a previous boat to pass through.

Whatever the origins of the law, it’s still in effect, and next week will be enforced.

Starting next Monday (21st Dec), contractors working on behalf of Wandsworth council will start erecting scaffolding in the main middle span of Wandsworth Bridge. The scaffolding will be completed by the end of January, and remain in place until around October 2021.

As the clearance for boats will be reduced slightly, the famous bale of straw is needed.

The works are being carried out by VolkerLaser and their work involves concrete and steel structural repairs, and corrosion protection. The bridge will also be repainted to improve its appearance and to protect its steel structure.

As an aside, the rather drab blue colour scheme – was chosen when the bridge opened in 1940 to help camouflage the bridge from air raids.


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  1. Simon Judge says:

    If anyone is interested, at night a white light is displayed..

    There are some good photos of Thames sailing barges overloaded with straw, but they would obviously not get under London Bridge.

  2. Liam says:

    I wonder if anyone else has alternative roots for where the bale of straw hanging on a rope came from. I suppose it’s 3 dimentional and this can’t be obscured as a flag might be if the wind were blowing straight through the arch. It’s heavy enough to stay put, as opposed to a length of rope across the arch. It could also be quickly thrown over the side from the street above and not require river access to initiate an arch closure.

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