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Hammersmith Bridge
Photograph: Shutterstock

London’s bridges are, literally, falling down

Hammersmith, Vauxhall, London and Tower Bridges have all been closed this year

Alexandra Sims

In a city that’s constantly transforming at dizzying speed, many of London’s bridges have remained much the same as when they were first built more than 100 years ago, but now some of the city’s most famous are starting to crumble. 

During London’s heatwave in August, Hammersmith Bridge was closed to all users for the foreseeable future after the fierce heat caused a ‘sudden deterioration in key parts of the suspension structure’. It’s thought three years of repairs are needed to get the handsome span back into shape again. 

Vauxhall Bridge, opened in 1906, is closed until November for ‘vital’ repairs; Wandsworth Bridge is partially closed until November for refurbishment; London Bridge is closed to car traffic during the day while it receives urgent repairs; and even Tower Bridge was closed for a brief spell in August after its drawbridge became jammed. 

According to experts, bridge closures are becoming more common due to heavy traffic flows and climate change.

Dr Luke Prendergast from Nottingham University told the BBC that the capital’s bridges are being loaded with more traffic than they were ever meant to be able to withstand. Intense weather is adding to the deterioration. The 133-year-old Hammersmith Bridge, for example, is partly made of cast iron, which can shatter in extreme temperatures. Micro-fractures were first discovered in it back in 2014, when ‘decades of unchecked corrosion [were found] riddled throughout’.

Funding for repairs is also a problem, with no one organisation responsible for London’s bridges and local councils often unable to pay for the extent of the repairs. Hammersmith and Fulham council leader Stephen Cowan has said that £163 million is needed to fully restore the bridge and it costs £2.7 million a year to simply stop additional deterioration. 

However, London’s bridges have always had Jenga-like tendencies. London Bridge has been in many precarious states of semi-collapse for most of its history (the nursery rhyme refers to the time the Viking leader Olaf Haraldsson pulled it down in 1014). But, despite this, it’s still been in pretty much the same place for nearly 2,000 years.

London’s bridges definitely have staying power, so we won’t stop holding out on them yet.

In other news: What would a Tier 2 lockdown look like for London?

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