27 April 2009

Thames Crossings 12: Battersea Bridge

Downriver from Wandsworth Bridge is Battersea Bridge, London's narrowest at 40 feet wide. Opened in 1890, it's another Bazalgette design. It replaced a structure painted by Turner and Whistler. They were impressionists, so we have no idea what the old bridge looked like, but we know how it felt.

The late Victorians generally get a bad press, being portrayed as a bunch of misogynist empire-grabbers who sent kids up chimneys, covered up table legs, and wrote terrible popular songs. But - and here I'm with otherwise ludicrous buffoon Jeremy Clarkson - they brought an engineering vision and passion to serve all society. Not just the rich educated white middle class, but all educated white middle class.

Battersea Bridge for example may be an overengineered, clunky thing bristling with lampposts and fussy faux-gold designs, but it's lasted, it's reasonably handsome, and it's a whole lot more characterful than the 20th-century concrete yawns of Twickenham or London Bridge, say.

The greatest achievement of British Victorians was of course the standard diamond bike frame with pneumatic tyres, which dates from exactly the same period as the bridge – the late 1880s – and is similarly unchanged, sturdy and reliable. So I can forgive them their rambling piano concertos and absurd facial hair.

On the north side you can cycle along the embankment promenade the couple of hundred yards to the spidery ironwork of Albert Bridge. On the south side you have to take a road away from the riverside.

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