So there it is, looking quite dashing and desperately trying to look busy and important. But before I go on to slate SB (sorry, can’t be ‘arrised to type Southwark Bridge forever, SB will do.) here’s a bit of ‘istoree (as our delightful Scouse friends would put it) on London’s Bridges in an effort to explain SB’s sad plight.
Until 1750 London really only existed north of the Thames, with only the areas around the southern end of London Bridge in any way developed. After years of planning and prevarication, Westminster Bridge became the 2nd bridge to span the Thames (within the environs of London at the time) in 1750 and Blackfriars Bridge 19 years later. As a small aside, and relevant to my occupation, resentful watermen were paid £25,000 as compensation for the impact the bridge would have on their trade. These forerunners to London cabbies were well know for their “colourful” language and were fiercely protective of their trade. Ring any bells? These bridges and the subsequent road developments that linked them to Southwark paved the way for the remarkable expansion of London in the 100 years from 1750. To illustrate this growth in a way that I could never get across on paper, have a look at these excellent online maps from MOTCO; 1746 shows just how small in area London was at that time, 1862 shows the expansion of the city aided by the railway bonanza of the 1840’s. But I digress slightly, so here’s the rest of the stuff about bridges. Westminster & Blackfriars had both been huge successes and this success convinced others to follow suit in the early 19th century. It took 2 new acts of Parliament to clear the way for these bridges to be erected and Vauxhall Bridge (originally called the Regent Bridge) was first up in 1916. Waterloo followed in 1817 (originally called the Strand Bridge but finally named after the battle that took place during its construction) with SB trailing behind in 1819. Being the last of the three erected it could, literally, have been a bridge too far. Sorry, very lame. At it’s conception the developers bottled out of clearing the area south of the river known as The Mint. A notorious area, know for its poverty and crime, it was named after it’s historical industry. Southwark Bridge Road, built as part of the bridge development, took a westerly detour at its southern end to avoid The Mint; the bend in the road still exists today. Squeezed between Blackfriars and London Bridges, SB was always likely to struggle in its attempts to justify its existence. This wasn’t helped by the fact that SB was a toll bridge. With thousands of commuters arriving at the southern railway termini every day, they naturally headed for the free bridges, leaving SB quiet and not a little redundant. The City of London eventually bought the bridge in the later 19th century and removed the toll, thus helping to revive it’s fortunes and self esteem. But the seeds for it’s slow demise had already been sown.
Present & Future
All in all then, SB has had a chequred past and perhaps I should show it a bit of sympathy. But it’s useless. It is defunct. It is a deceased bridge. It doesn’t go anywhere I need to travel too. Driving around town for umpteen hours a week, you’d think I’d be popping back and forth over Southwark Bridge all the time. But no, I’m not sure I can even remember the last time I drove over it. The final nail in the coffin was probably the blocking off at Queen St Place as part of the City’s Ring of Steel, so that when traveling north over the bridge you get forced east or west only. Back in the summer it was closed for the weekend as part of the Thames Festival, and was turned into an excellent pedestrianised food haven. There were no massive tailbacks, no legions of motorists complaining, and no-one noticed. Nobody cared. In 2019, Southwark Bridge will be celebrate it’s 200th birthday, perhaps that will be the time to say thanks for the memories but it’s time to close your doors to traffic? Let’s go back to the Old London Bridge principle and build some key worker houses on it, or maybe take the food theme further and get Gordon Ramsay to put a restaurant on it. Failing that, Boris has shown some flair for “out of the box thinking” (brand new airport in the Thames Estuary?) maybe he could come up with a suitable scheme. Heliport on the doorstep of the City anyone??