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Albert Bridge

Albert Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: November 29, 2014 and May 9, 2018

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
A3031 Over River Thames
London: Greater London, England: United Kingdom
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1873 By Builder/Contractor: Britannia Ironworks of Derby, England and Engineer/Design: Rowland Mason Ordish
Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
384.8 Feet (117.3 Meters)
Structure Length
710.0 Feet (216.4 Meters)
Roadway Width
27 Feet (8.23 Meters)
3 Main Span(s)
Inventory Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This highly ornamented bridge, indeed one of the most richly detailed bridges in London, is also noted for its unique and very early cable-stayed type bridge design. As originally built in 1873, it used the Ordish-Lefeuvre system, which was an early (patented) cable-stayed bridge design. In 1884-7, Sir Joseph Bazalgette altered the bridge design by adding some suspension bridge elements, making the bridge a somewhat hybrid design. The two systems can be seen as the suspension bridge eyebars on top, passing through the finials of the towers, while the cable-stayed original design remains below in the original saddle of the tower. The visual appearance as well as the function of the original design was significantly altered with the addition of a pier in the middle of the main span. Because of this non-original pier, the bridge is sometimes listed as a four span bridge because that is technically what it is now. However, the original design intent and the historically significant design of this bridge is that of a three span bridge. Spans and dimensions listed by HistoricBridges.org reflect the original, pre-1973 layout.

Photo Credit: Bob Dover

Official Heritage Listing Information and Findings

Listed At: Grade II*


List Entry Number: 1358138

Road bridge. 1871-73 to designs by Rowland Mason Ordish. Modified and strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette 1884-87. Restored and central pier added 1972-73, and refurbished in 2010-11.

Reasons for Designation
Albert Bridge, 1871-73, to the designs of Rowland Mason Ordish, modified by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1884-87, is listed at Grade II*, for the following principal reasons: *Architectural interest: a highly elegant bridge with stately Gothic embellishment, designed by a leading C19 engineer; *Historic interest: a historically important central London road bridge, which along with Tower Bridge (opened 1894), has not been replaced; *Engineering innovation: an innovative design at the time combining the properties of both suspension and cable-stayed bridges; *Group value: the bridge forms an integral part of the Grade II listed Chelsea Embankment and enhances the views of Battersea Park (Grade II* Registered Park and Garden) on the opposite side of the river.

The Albert Bridge Company was set up in 1863 to build a bridge between Chelsea and Battersea since, despite the presence of the timber Battersea Bridge which opened in 1771 and the more recent Chelsea Bridge opened in 1858, communications between the two suburbs was considered poor. The company applied to Parliament for the necessary act to build a toll bridge but this was originally rejected, possibly following lobbying by the Battersea Bridge Company which feared a loss of toll revenue. As a result of an agreement to compensate the proprietors of Battersea Bridge, which the Albert Bridge Company eventually purchased outright in 1873, the Act for construction of the Albert Bridge was obtained in 1864. Designs for the new bridge were drawn up by the engineer, Rowland Mason Ordish of Messrs Ordish and Le Feuvre but construction was delayed by the plans of the Metropolitan Board of Works for an embankment on the north side of the river. Ordish meanwhile had constructed a bridge using the same patent system, the Franz Josef Bridge in Prague, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now capital of the Czech Republic) between 1865 and 1868. Work on the Albert Bridge eventually began in 1871, supervised by the engineer F W Bryant. The iron and steel work was supplied by the Britannia Ironworks of Derby. The bridge was finally opened to traffic on 23 August 1873.

The design of the bridge was an innovative combination of a suspension bridge, where the deck is supported by vertical hangers suspended from catenary chains hung between pairs of towers, and a cable-stayed bridge, where the support of the deck comes from inclined stays fanning out from the top of the tower, providing greater rigidity. Albert Bridge had light suspension cables of wire steel rope which took the weight of the 16 flat wrought-iron diagonal stays which supported the deck. The ornate cast-iron towers rose from four piers, consisting of one-piece tapering cast-iron cylinders filled with masonry and concrete. At the time these were the largest cylindrical iron castings ever made, each weighing 10 tons, and were only possible because they could be floated down river from the foundry at Battersea.

After opening the bridge failed to make profits from the tolls charged. In 1879 it was taken over by the Metropolitan Board of Works and, after the owners were paid compensation, freed, along with Battersea Bridge, from tolls. Between 1884 and 1887 the bridge was strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette when the original steel cables, which were rusting, were replaced by steel link chains (as Ordish had originally specified before being overruled by the owners on grounds of cost) and a new timber deck was laid. Both before and after the Second World War, the bridge was threatened with demolition due to structural problems but was eventually saved after a public campaign in 1957 involving Sir John Betjeman. He described the bridge as 'shining with electric lights, grey and airy against the London sky, it is one of the beauties of the London river'. The lights were originally added in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. In 1972-3 extensive strengthening work was carried out. This included the installation of two additional circular piers connected by a transverse steel beam beneath the middle of the bridge. The decking was again renewed. In 2010-11 the bridge was refurbished and repainted with the decking again replaced. The pairs of tollbooths at either end of the bridge were also refurbished.

Rowland Mason Ordish (1824-1886) was born in Derbyshire, son of a land agent and surveyor. Originally a draughtsman, in 1850 he worked in that capacity for Sir Charles Fox on the Hyde Park Exhibition building, and later on its subsequent relocation to Sydenham as the Crystal Palace. Ordish went on to collaborate as engineer on some of the major Victorian architectural and engineering projects including: the Winter Garden for the 1865 Dublin Exhibition (later re-erected in Battersea as the Albert Palace before being demolished in 1894); the Farringdon Street Bridge, Holborn Viaduct (1863-9); St Pancras Station train shed roof (1866-68); Westminster Abbey Chapter House roof (1866-72) and the roof of the Royal Albert Hall (1867-71).

Road bridge over the River Thames, 1871-73 to designs by Rowland Mason Ordish. Strengthened in 1884-87 by Sir Joseph Bazalgette with subsequent strengthening and refurbishment in 1972-73 and 2010-11.

STRUCTURE AND MATERIALS: three-span, combined suspension and cable-stayed bridge. Four cylindrical cast-iron piers support paired cast-iron towers, placed outside the roadway, and connected at the top by a girder and arch. Suspension cables of steel link chains (originally wire steel rope) take the weight of the 16 flat wrought-iron diagonal stays which support the deck via steel tie-rods. The timber decking rests on an iron superstructure.

DESCRIPTION: the elaborate Gothic style towers consist of a central cast-iron cylinder set on a base, with an eight-point star plan, resting on the piers and level with the bridge's cast-iron parapet. Each cylinder is surrounded by eight colonnettes. The tower is capped by a lantern, containing the housing for the suspension cable, and topped by a finial. The girder connecting the pairs of towers has ornamental cresting with a central finial. The spandrels of the arch below the beam have floriated tracery decoration. The panels of the cast-iron parapet of the bridge each bear open roundels with similar tracery decoration. Bronze plaques at either end of the bridge state that it opened in 1874 (despite actually opening to traffic in 1873). The bridge is 241m long with a central span of 139m and is 12m wide.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: at the ends of the bridge, adjoining the parapet, are the four original tollbooths, one on either side of the roadway. These pavilion-like buildings are octagonal in plan with timber panelled sides with engaged octagonal cast-iron columns with dog-tooth capitals. The overhanging octagonal leaded roofs have cast-iron brackets supporting the eaves with the same floriate design as the metalwork on the bridge itself. Covering the hatch for collecting tolls are modern signs instructing that 'All troops must break step when marching over this bridge'. At the northern end of the bridge the roadway is extended as a bridge supported on iron superstructure over the footpath of the embankment. This has staircases on either side with a cast-iron balustrade terminating with cast-iron piers matching the parapet of the bridge itself. There are 16 octagonal cast-iron (originally) gas lamp standards along the length of the bridge with dog-tooth mouldings and crown finials to the lamps. The asset was previously listed twice also under the District of Wandsworth at List entry 1065576. This entry was removed from the List on 16 June 2016.

Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N , The Buildings of England, London 2: South, (1983), 714
Croad, S, Londons Bridges, (1983)
Harwood, , Saint, , Exploring England's Heritage London, (1991), 239-40


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