A Bridge Too Far
Many of the present road bridges over the River Thames are on the sites of earlier fords, ferries and wooden structures. The earliest known major crossings were built by the Romans; London Bridge and Staines Bridge. Folly Bridge in Oxford has the remains of an original Saxon crossing, and mediæval stone structures like Newbridge are still in use. The Company of Watermen used to veto new bridges because they would have meant ruin for the 60,000 rivermen who also provided a naval reserve.
The Thames was once narrower and therefore faster, and its bridge stanchions were placed too close together, which created rapids, so that many who tried to cross were swept away and drowned. Bridges were constructed, logically, to link routes north and south.
All, that is, except the proposed Garden Bridge, which was planned to attract more tourists and monetise Central London’s last neglected corner. The CGI photo above is an absurdly idealised image of how it would have looked, with half a dozen people dotted about it admiring the plants (at least they got the sky right). The reality would have involved timed entries to prevent overcrowding, private event closures to raise profits and the ruination of the North Bank at Temple, the last remaining peaceful thoroughfare beside the river in Central London.
Now London’s Mayor, the intelligent pragmatist Sadiq Khan, has called time on Boris Johnson’s ill-conceived absurdity. And though I have nothing but respect for Joanna Lumley, I can’t help feeling she was made a patsy (sorry) over her endorsement of the project.
The Garden Bridge was never a crossing – it connected nothing useful on either side – but a profit-making vanity project that should never have been given credence. Despite what Westminster and Camden councils believe, not everything in London can be put up for sale. The public outcry against charging trainers for using parks shows that.
There are bridges to be built, but further out where they’re useful and required. When fine old public buildings are sold off as hotels, when councils sell slices of parks, when libraries and local museums close, we lose what defines us.