“The Thames shouldered its way past Blackfriars Bridge, impatient with the ancient piers…”*

*J. G. BALLARD, in Millennium People (2003).


Jacqueline Banerjee writes at The Victorian Web:

“Blackfriars Bridge, EC4, a Grade II listed road bridge for pedestrians and vehicles crossing the Thames from Blackfriars on the north to Southwark on the South Bank. Designed by Sir William Cubitt’s son Joseph (1811-1872), whose most notable work was for the Great Northern Railway. Cubitt’s colleague was a “Mr. H. Carr, M. Inst. C.E.” but despite Cubitt’s request, Carr’s name was not given in the records (“Obituary”). The five-arched bridge was built from 1864-69, using both cast iron and wrought-iron, granite, brickwork, and Portland stone.

The bridge has a number of ornamental touches, as required by the committee in charge. In particular, the piers have elaborately carved capitals, with birds and a floral design by John Birnie Philip, and there are floral studs on the ironwork of the arches and criss-crossing “trellis” over them, with a foliate pattern on the cornice above. Another ornamental touch is the Gothic style of the balustrade along the top (see listing text). Less happily, at the design stage there was a “Battle of the Bridge,” over whether it should have three or five arches: according to Cubitt’s obituarist, this is what resulted in “cross traffic” at the north end and the “awkward shoulder” on the south end.

Nevertheless, after much wrangling the bridge was successfully completed and opened by the Queen on the way to opening the Holborn Viaduct, on 6 November 1869. Unfortunately for Cubitt, perhaps, this last major work of his was upstaged by the next item on the royal agenda that day. The Times report did describe the bridge as “another grand avenue of approach from south to north, equal, if not superior, to existing communications across the Thames at Westminster and London-bridge,” but added, with some enthusiasm, “London has many bridges but only one Viaduct.” Cubitt, described in his obituary as a self-effacing man, might not have minded that his achievement was somewhat overshadowed.

Cubitt’s was not the first bridge at this spot. Looking at the history of this Thames crossing, the Survey of London tells us:

In 1756 the Mayor, Aldermen and Commons of the City of London obtained authority by Act of Parliament to build a bridge at Blackfriars, the third bridge across the Thames to be erected in the London area. It was designed by Robert Mylne. The first pile was driven in 1760; it was made passable as a bridle way in 1768 and was opened to traffic in 1769. It was made free of toll in 1785. Mylne’s bridge lasted just over 100 years. Its decay was hastened by the increased scour in the bed of the river following the rebuilding of London Bridge.

Similarly, there were two railway bridges here, this time of course both from the Victorian era. The first was again designed by Joseph Cubitt, here working with F. T. Turner, and it was built 1862-64 in the run-up to the new road bridge, and for many years crossed the river in tandem with it. It was built to carry the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (see Weinreb et al. 72-73). This bridge was taken down in 1984.

“As part of the Thameslink Programme, the platforms at Blackfriars station have been extended across the Thames and partially supported by the 1864 bridge piers. The project is designed by Will Alsop and built by Balfour Beatty. The work also includes the installation of a roof covered with photovoltaic solar panels. It is the largest of only three solar bridges in the world (the others being Kennedy Bridge in Bonn, Germany, and Kurilpa Bridge in Australia). Other green improvements include sun pipes and systems to collect rain water.” (Wikipedia)

The only Blackfriars Railway Bridge that we see today is the one designed later in the period by John Wolfe Barry in partnership with Henry Marc Brunel (1842-1903), Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s second son. This one was built from 1884-86. It too has five wrought-iron arches faced with cast iron, but since it now has solar panels above it, it looks rather different from the way it looked in the past. This one was originally built to carry the Holborn Viaduct Station Company Railway over the river.”

From: Cathedrals of Steam (2020), by Christian Wolmar:

“This spate of railway development did not meet with universal
approval. The most controversial aspect was the construction of
a key link over the Thames through Blackfriars. The first section
of the Metropolitan Railway completed in 1863 had its terminus
at Farringdon, which could also be reached by Great Northern
services running underneath King’s Cross station. The London,
Chatham & Dover, whose services at the time terminated at a
station called Blackfriars, which – unlike a successor of the same
name – was on the south bank of the Thames,

“It was opened in 1864 with the name Blackfriars but closed less than five years later when it was replaced by the station now called Waterloo East (originally named Waterloo).In 1886 the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) opened a station on the north bank of the river called St. Paul’s – this was renamed Blackfriars in 1937.The former entrance to the South Eastern Railway Blackfriars station under the railway bridge on Blackfriars Road itself is still clearly visible. In 2005 the bricked-up former street-level entrance and original wording were restored. At track level, widening of the viaduct on its north side is the only indication of its site. In July 2009 planning permission was granted for a café to be built over the entranceway to the station.” (Wikipedia)

saw this as an opportunity to run services further north using the Metropolitan’s tracks. Amazingly, the Chatham obtained Parliamentary authorisation to build Blackfriars Bridge and to run a line to Ludgate Hill, a few hundred yards further north, which opened in the summer of 1865, and the following year the connection with the Metropolitan was completed, giving London its first north-south connected rail route.”




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