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.

10 comments on “A Bridge Too Far”

  1. Jo W says:

    Well said, young Christopher. We do need more crossings,especially east of London,but for traffic to reach the other side of the great divide.
    Ps really enjoyed Wild Chamber. Thank you so much. 😉

  2. Vivienne says:

    I went on one of those digs on the Thames riverbank once (bits of glass and clay pipes) and the archaeologist leading the dig said that the Thames couldn’t take any more bridges in the stretch up from Tower Bridge to – I think – Vauxhall. The extra turbulence caused by supports would undermine others. Not sure if this is true or if the planned Garden Bridge was going to be a suspension type, but I thought not. I’m glad it’s not happening – the trees may have blocked views. I also worried about potential suicides hiding in the bushes before leaping, but maybe that’s awful pessimism.

  3. Steveb says:

    I was under the impression it was Joanna Lumley persuaded Boris to back the Garden Bridge rather than vice versa?

  4. Roger says:

    There’s also the question of several million quid in public money which has vanished with nothing to show for it.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Better the several million disappear and the project be canceled than for it to go ahead and several hundred million go down the tube. The concept was a pleasant one but not there and not at that cost. What is it that the councils want to do but have no money for? Perhaps they should have fund raisers the way some of our schools do: buy a pie to fund street lighting, buy a brick to repave X street, buy a blanket for the homeless shelter – that sort of thing.
    By the way, in that photo above there are over a dozen people visible, rather than the half dozen you suggested, Chris. I seem to be fact checking a lot lately.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    On a totally different note. It is election day here in British Columbia and we’re just back from voting. A new rule has been introduced: the clerk can deal with only one voter at a time. Sounds fine but they said you had to wait until the previous voter returned their ballot before you could register. Not too bad at 9:30 in the morning but I can just imagine what it will be like for the 5-8 pm voters. How many will give up and go home without voting? My husband says it’s an attempt to cut down on the eligible voters.

  7. Roger says:

    I agree that it’s “better the several million disappear and the project be canceled than for it to go ahead and several hundred million go down the tube”, Helen Martin, but Sadiq Khan began by thinking that as nearly £40 million had been spent it was somehow better to carry on. This was in a project which was originally put forward as needing no public support and being economically self-sustaining. As no land had been bought and the bridge hadn’t been started the question of just what the money was spent on is of interest.
    What is the voting method in British Columbia? Is it modern hackable computers or old-fashioned, unfakeable pencil (or ballpoint pen, if you’re really paranoid) and paper? Is there only one clerk for each polling station? I’ve been voting in elections in the UK for nearly fifty years and never had to wait more than about five minutes to vote. I’d have thought that in less densely populated countries there’d be more polling stations per head of population and a faster turnover.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Come on, Roger, you’re an experienced adult so you know where the money went: consultants, planners, engineers, and architects. They all looked into things and reported back. Reports are expensive.
    Voting. Provincially and federally it’s take ballot to cardboard shielded table, use pencil provided (although there was a ballpoint as well in mine) to mark with X (or checkmark) return to poll clerk folded. Clerk will lift paper off box, insert ballot and replace paper. Where the time comes in is presenting valid ID, finding place on list, signing, having ballot number assigned, receive ballot. It would be fine if they hadn’t instituted the rule that each voter completes process before next one steps forward. I think there were 6 or 7 polling stations in the gym and a couple of them seemed to have lines forming (needing translation perhaps?) because you had to go to your own station number. I’m probably just whining.

  9. Joel says:

    The cheek of the ‘Garden Bridge’ was that it showed fully-grown vegetation, which wouldn’t be achieved for many if not tens of years. It would not have been attractive in winter, nor used either, and morenore expensive to maintain that the alleged £3m yearly – no-one included inflation, for a start. The sadness of the money lost to it is yet another example of trophy projects – £40m could have bought a lot of buses, or quite a few Underground trains, or propped up some other underfunded, existing public infrastructure or service.

    But – it’s been spent; maybe, buried in the mountains of paper and electrons are some genuinely useful, non “ta-dah!” ideas? Nothing is ever completely wasted, although politically that might be challengeable.

  10. John Griffin says:

    The Garden Bridge, like the ludicrous white elephant HS2 and a thousand other Emperor’s Clothes projects, end up being vehicles to trouser huge amounts of public money in private pockets. Nothing more or less.

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