Imagine a gothic bridge with turrets crossing the Thames at Lambeth, but made from iron. That was the proposal back in 1847, to replace the ferry that had long operated in this part of the Thames.

Lambeth Palace Iron Bridge

There had been attempts to build a bridge at Lambeth before, with Parliamentary approval granted in 1809, but the funds couldn’t be raised, and then in 1828 Parliament rejected two proposals, one for a stone bridge, and the other for a suspension bridge, and again another company was authorised in 1836 but failed to deliver.

So, the impetus for someone to design a bridge was long-standing, and there was support, if not the money, for something to be built.

Hence we come to the Lambeth Palace Iron Bridge.

Designed by Thomas Motley, a Bristol-based ironmonger, the drawing was followed up with a model the following year, and the bridge was modelled loosely on how old London Bridge was built — with shops along it.

The plan was to put an arcade of shops on the upper part, with a carriage and footway underneath.

It was proposed to construct each of the around eight arches of the bridge to be around 70 feet wide, allowing for two lanes of traffic and the pedestrian pavement. The width then allowed for two rows of shops above. There was also a suggestion for the roof of the shops to become another pedestrian walkway, or promenade so people could take in the views.

The design of the bridge would have been quite striking, being in a gothic style that complimented the newly rebuilt Palace of Westminster, with the ironwork contrasting with the stone of the palace.

It was said in the Mining Journal, that the plans had been “inspected and highly approved of by many of the most eminent mathematicians, noblemen, etc,”

It was reported to have said that it was the first of its kind ever to be planned to be built entirely from wrought iron (others had been built from cast iron). The novelty of the material to be used aside, the bridge’s design was fairly conventional. It was reported to be based on the design of a bridge at Newcastle, which could carry a weight of 600 tons.

The use of iron for such a large structure was novel, but not entirely new, as it was noted in the report that wrought iron beams were in use in Paris to carry the weight of building frontages as an alternative to cast iron girders.

Obviously, it was not built.

Lambeth Palace Iron Bridge

In the end, it took another 40 years for anything to be built, and the first Lambeth bridge opened in 1862 as a suspension bridge, but was badly designed with steep approaches and was soon only being used by pedestrians. It was taken down in the 1920s and the current Lambeth bridge was opened in 1932.


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