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Hammersmith Bridge

Hammersmith Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: January 6, 2010, November 28, 2014, and May 9, 2018

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Hammersmith Bridge Road (A306) Over River Thames
London: Greater London, England: United Kingdom
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1887 By Builder/Contractor: Dixon, Appleby and Thorne and Engineer/Design: Joseph Bazalgette
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
400.0 Feet (121.9 Meters)
Structure Length
700.0 Feet (213.4 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

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About This Bridge

This bridge is an extremely rare example of an eyebar suspension bridge. While there are other examples of eyebar suspension bridges both in Great Britain and elsewhere in the world, on a global scale they are among the rarest types of bridges. Eyebar suspension bridges tend to be the oldest types of extant suspension bridges. Eyebar suspension bridges fell in popularity for bridge construction in favor of stronger wire cable suspension bridges. Eyebar suspension bridges are sometimes called "chain bridges" as well. The engineer for the Hammersmith Bridge was Sir Joseph Bazalgette who designed the bridge to replace a former suspension bridge that dated to 1827. The current Hammersmith Bridge sits on the 1827 stone piers of the former bridge.

While not the oldest eyebar suspension bridge remaining, Hammersmith Bridge is one of the most ornately decorated. Its architectural design embodies the Victorian era. The towers and anchorages are the most ornately detailed features of the bridge. Original lattice railings are traditional in design except for the decorative star-shaped motifs on them. The bridge design includes two independent eyebar catenaries (one directly above the other) on each side of the bridge, with each catenaries composed of a number of individual parallel eyebars. The eyebars are of the up-set type. The catenaries support both the central spans and the two end spans. The suspenders are eye rods. The eye rod suspenders for the upper eyebar catenaries are not directly connected to the catenary: rather, they are connected by a short eyebar that allows the suspender to fit between the lower eyebar catenary.

The Hammersmith Bridge is a bridge that is a survivor, largely due to good maintenance and preservation. There have been times when the bridge deteriorated and a study conducted to decide whether to preserve the bridge in a number of ways or to demolish and replace it. However, the option to demolish the bridge was swiftly rejected due to the historic significance of the bridge. The chosen solution was to rehabilitate the bridge for use of light vehicular traffic. The bridge maintains a 7.5 tonne weight limit. The bridge's high level of heritage value has been recognized in England by its listing as a Grade II* Listed Structure.

In 1999/2000, the bridge had decorative lighting added to the bridge, enhancing its beauty and recognition as a heritage structure and noteworthy landmark.

The bridge has been a survivor of violence, having been the target of terrorists a two times. The most recent terrorist attack on the bridge was in June 2000, when terrorists successfully detonated a bomb on the bridge. The bomb caused severe damage to a very small portion of the bridge, and this damage was repaired. The durability of a 19th century wrought iron suspension bridge proved no match for a bomb and the bridge survived! Today, there are a number of security cameras on the bridge, which may be due to these past terrorist threats or simply due to the large number of security cameras in London in general.

The Embodiment of Beauty

This bridge embodies the core of what makes so many old bridges more beautiful than modern bridges: an attention to detail and architectural design that is integral with the functioning bridge structure.

Modern bridge design involves designing the most simple and plain bridge possible, ignoring form and focusing on function only, with the goal being to come up with a bridge that is structurally redundant and cheap. If there is enough public demand for a "beautiful" bridge, engineers do not generally change the design of the bridge structure, and instead attempt to meet that demand by attaching elements to these simple structures that they feel have aesthetic qualities. These elements are often limited to picking a fancy style of lighting on a bridge, using stone-shaped stamps/molds for concrete piers, placing a non-functional decorative facade to cover up the ugly structure, etc. These added elements are usually generic cookie cutter type elements that are applicable to just about any bridge type, design, and location.

In contrast, old bridges were made beautiful by first selecting a functional bridge structure that even without embellishments and attachments would be attractive, such as a suspension bridge with graceful curves of a catenary contrasting with imposing towers. like the Hammersmith Bridge  Then, if needed or desired, as was in the case with the Hammersmith Bridge, embellishments and decorations are included on the bridge that are either integral with the functioning bridge, or they compliment and extend the appearance of the functioning bridge. Selected decorative elements were not generic, they were specifically designed to compliment the location and type bridge bridge they were being placed on. The decorations do not hide the function and design of the bridge. The end product is a bridge whose design and function is attractive and apparent, and is enhanced with appropriate decorations specifically designed to compliment the functioning bridge structure.

The Hammersmith Bridge illustrates all these concepts of old and beautiful bridge design beautifully. Integral decorations on the Hammersmith Bridge are visible in the corbelling and inset shaped on the towers, as well as the shaped anchorage design. The decorative copulas on top of the towers are actually functional elements, acting as protective covers for the saddle and bearings for the eyebar catenaries. Non-functional decorative elements on the bridge such as decorative finials and the medallions on the anchorages are made of similar materials as the functioning bridge structure, and are also elements unique to the Hammersmith Bridge.

Thanks to attention from people aware of the importance of the Hammersmith Bridge and other bridges with heritage value in London, the design of the Hammersmith Bridge is further enhanced by a beautiful paint scheme of green for the overall structure, and gold paint used to highlight decorative details. The bridge features paint colors that appear to have been carefully chosen to fit the design and location of the bridge. The green color of the bridge is a calm, pleasing color that makes the bridge visible without causing it to dominate the landscape. The gold highlighting acts to catch the eye and draw attention to the beautiful details of the bridge.

 Implications For North America

The beautiful paint scheme of the Hammersmith Bridge (which today matches the original colors chosen by its designer) and some other heritage bridges in London is something that is strikingly different from what is found in North America, where nearly all bridges have only a single paint color regardless of any decorations or features in the bridge design. A rare multi-colored example in North America is Mackinac Bridge, which has ivory colored paint on the suspension bridge towers and green paint on the cables, stiffening truss, and deck. In most cases however, bridges have a single paint color, with no alternate color(s) to distinguish different features and decorations on a bridge. In some cases, these single paint schemes may tend to hide ornate decorative details or make a complex bridge appear more plain and simple than it really is. The beauty and positive public perception of many bridges with heritage value in North America might be enhanced if a multi-color paint scheme were carefully designed for bridges that would benefit from it. A bridge like the Indiana Avenue Bridge would benefit from a two color scheme, with the alternate color being used to highlight the decorative finials, portal bracing decoration, and decorative railings. Possibly, a third color could be employed to highlight members on the truss, to visually separate diagonal and vertical members for instance, or whatever scheme an artist or architect thought would look best. Another example is the Old Wells Street Bridge in Fort Wayne, Indiana. While the plaques on the bridge have a different color, the ornate sway bracing knees do not stand out from the rest of the traditional composed members, nor does the portal bracing decoration.

The aforementioned Old Wells Street Bridge also leads into another problem found with bridges in North America, which is the paint color chosen for a bridge, whether it is a single color or multiple colors. The problem is that unlike the Hammersmith Bridge, the color chosen is not one which compliments or benefits the specific and unique design of each bridge. In some cases, the paint color chosen is a standard color that a particular agency (county, state, province, etc) uses on all its bridges. In the case of historic preservation projects, paint color may be determined by any number of factors, which are usually unapparent to the general public and may not involve seeking assistance from a professional with experience working with color schemes.

One of the most frequent problems is that black is the chosen color for preserved metal truss bridges. Black is a generally unappealing color for a truss bridge since it hides the beautiful and intricate details that compose the truss. If someone has gone through the trouble and effort to preserve a truss bridge, why would they want to then hide their hard work behind a black paint color? The black can also make the bridge difficult for visitors/tourists to photograph. The Walnut Street Bridge is a great example of a bridge with black paint that is hard to discern details from. With its lightweight Phoenix columns and long length, it is difficult to  see the detail in the design of this bridge, especially when looking at the whole bridge from a slight distance. Even a dark green or dark blue would help bring the details of this bridge out. Similarly, the beautiful Triple Whipple Bridge's black paint makes it less noticeable to tourists who drive by the bridge on a parallel modern vehicular bridge. A rusty red color would have maintained the color it had been for decades since the formerly abandoned bridge had no paint on it, and the color would have complimented the heavily wooded surroundings.

The Hammersmith Bridge teaches North America the value of carefully selecting a bridge's paint color and also considering using a multi-color paint scheme. The color of a bridge can play a major role in the perception of a bridge for better or for worse. With most bridges, optimally, a paint color should be chosen that draws attention to the attractive elements and details of the bridge without overwhelming the surrounding environment. Consultation with someone with experience with color such as architects and artists may help greatly.

Official Heritage Listing Information and Findings

Listed At: Grade II*


List Entry Number: 1080793

DESCRIPTION: Hammersmith Bridge is an elaborate suspension bridge that is 250.5m long and 13.1m wide carrying an 8.2m wide carriageway formed from wrought-iron girders. The bridge has wrought-iron parapets, mild steel chain links and air draught gauges both up and down stream. There are monumental anchorages surviving from the early C19 bridge; these have been substantially rebuilt in the interests of greater strength. The abutments and piers are made of concrete clad in Portland stone and cast-iron. The road decking dates from 1973-6.

The skeletal wrought-iron framework of the towers, the cross-beams and related superstructure is clad in ornamental cast-iron castings, gilded in places. The bridge is very ornate and the decorative iron blocks that support the walkway sit on squat, clustered Doric columns on stone piers in the river. The bridge is painted dark green and gold, the colour scheme that Bazalgette originally intended as seen on the original plans. There are some heraldic designs on the towers: the Royal Arms of the UK, Guildford (the county town of Surrey), Colchester (the county town of Essex) and the crests of the county of Kent and the cities of London and Westminster.

HISTORY: Hammersmith Bridge was begun for the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1884 and was opened by the Prince of Wales on 18 June 1887. It cost 71,500 and was designed by the Board's chief engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-91). In 1973-6 the bridge was strengthened and repaired in extensive works; in June 2000, Hammersmith Bridge was the target of a terrorist bomb attack and, after repairs, was reopened subject to a weight limit.

The bridge rests on pier foundations constructed for an earlier bridge on the site. The original Hammersmith Bridge, built in 1824-27 to designs by William Tierney Clark (1783-1852), was the first iron suspension bridge to span the Thames. Despite having been declared 'highly satisfactory' by Thomas Telford, as early as the 1850s there were structural concerns about Clark's design. Crowds of spectators rushing from side to side to watch the annual University Boat Race caused the deck to sway alarmingly, and by the 1870s, there was further anxiety as Boat Race crowds of up to 12,000 people congregated on the bridge. Despite the dramatic effect of such unusual live loading, the bridge survived until the early 1880s, when the Metropolitan Board of Works chose to replace the bridge to a design by Bazalgette. In 1884, a temporary bridge was erected across the river and used until Bazalgette's structure was completed in 1887.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: * The architectural quality of Hammersmith Bridge is remarkable in both form, with its monumental towers, and ornamentation, as seen in the lavish colour scheme and heraldry; the bridge is one of the most distinctive on the Thames and is of more than special interest. * Replacing one of the first modern suspension bridges in the world of which the foundations still survive, the bridge is of technological special interest for its materials and is also distinguished by its connection with the highly-significant Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

SOURCES: D Smith, 'The works of William Tierney Clark', Trans. Newcomen Soc, 63 (1991-92), 181-207. D Smith, 'Hammersmith Bridge', in Civil Engineering Heritage: London and the Thames Valley (Institution of Civil Engineers/MPG Books, 2001), 39-40. 'The new Hammersmith Bridge', The Engineer, 63 (1887), 309, 330-31, 391-94. C Hailstone, Hammersmith Bridge (Barnes & Mortlake History Society, London, 1987).


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