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Hungerford Bridge (London)

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Two footbridges on either side of the Charing Cross railway bridge across the river Thames.

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      23.06.2002 23:15
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      Wait a century, then, two come along together, with another one behind… Isn’t that just typical? Within days of writing my opinion on London’s Millennium Bridge, (being the first new Thames River Crossing for over 100 years,) I read a few lines in London’s Evening Standard newspaper to the effect that the first of two new Hungerford Bridge walkways had been opened to the public. Two questions immediately sprang to mind: 1. What new Hungerford Bridge Walkways? Then, 2. This rings a vague bell… So how come I haven’t noticed? Given that on every day of my working life, my Connex trains rumble across Hungerford Bridge, I thought it extraordinary that I had not noticed works in progress on the construction of two new Thames River Crossings. Next morning, I was craning my neck as the train pulled out of Waterloo East and crossed the Thames on its inward journey to Charing Cross Station…. -And I was able to pardon my own ignorance… Sure enough, there were upright supports with pretty pointy bits and lovely looping cables, evidencing a new pedestrian walkway on the up-river and far side of Hungerford Railway Bridge, adjoining Platform 6, but, given that trains to and from Bex_Land generally use Platforms 1 to 3, and bearing in mind that all six platforms are in constant use during the rush hour, I had barely caught a glimpse of this first new walkway during its many months of construction… The Hungerford Pedestrian Bridge of my past experience was an iron construction, running alongside Platform 1, and I now saw that it was newly closed, so as to accommodate continuing construction works on the “down river” side of the bridge, where the second New Walkway is to be accommodated… *** Hungerford Bridge Thames River Crossing dates from 1845, when Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed a suspension footbridge to connect the south bank of the river with Hungerford Market, which then stood on the north side of the Thames. Less than two decades later, the railways came into their own, whereupon Charing Cross Railway argued that the Hungerford Pedestrian Crossing should be replaced by a “Charing Cross Railway Bridge,” not least, according to the railway company, because few pedestrians used the bridge, particularly during the summer months, due to the smell from the river. Clearly the railwaymen won the day, as the thriving Hungerford Market, which had originally been established in 1660, then re-built and improved in 1831, was pulled down in 1862 to make way for a new railway station on its site. Brunel’s Pedestrian Bridge was closed in 1861, and replaced in 1863/64 by Charing Cross Railway Bridge, a new wrought iron bridge built to carry South Eastern Railway passengers into their new West End Terminus. This new bridge incorporated the two central piers that formerly suspended Brunel’s Hungerford Bridge, but the chains of the old bridge were re-used by Brunel himself in the construction of Clifton Suspension Bridge. Planning requirements insisted that a foot crossing be incorporated into the design and construction of the new railway bridge, given that this replaced Brunel’s earlier pedestrian bridge… - Perhaps this made the railwaymen resentful, so that they deliberately made the foot crossing an ugly addition to the down-river side of the railway bridge. Certainly, Hungerford Bridge Pedestrian Crossing struck me as ugly and rather sinister, even 40-odd years ago, when I first crossed it as a child. In those days, there were often beggars on the bridge, usually holding signs saying things like, “Ex-Serviceman,” or, “Wife and Family to Support,” and, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that the men bearing these signs were not strictly begging, as th ey remained the right side of the law by “selling” goods they displayed, - usually shoelaces or boxes of matches. As a child, I could never quite understand why you gave these men money without collecting your purchase, and none of the grown-ups with whom I crossed the bridge ever offered a satisfactory explanation… Similarly, no grown-up ever explained why we sometimes gave, but on other occasions merely passed by… [As an adult, I find myself doing pretty much the same thing, when passing today’s street-people. The nearest I can come an explanation is to say that it’s an instinctive and non-judgemental split-second decision, when I weigh up whether or not my pound or two might make a difference.] In any event, although the Hungerford Bridge Beggars of 40 or 50 years ago never, to my knowledge, threatened or harmed us, I always felt that there was something sinister about their presence on the pedestrian walkway. I now believe that this had something to do with the narrowness of the foot crossing, one side of which was closed off by the railway, with the other side being a straight drop to the Thames, beyond and below chest-high safety railings. Given my distrust of the old Walkway, I was horrified to read of a murder on Hungerford Bridge in June 1999, particularly when the deeply unsettling facts were revealed at the following year’s trial of the youngsters responsible. Two young men, Timothy Baxter (24) and his former school friend Gabriel Cornish (25), had spent the evening in London’s West End and were making their way home via Hungerford Bridge, when they were accosted and attacked by a gang of three youths. During the course of the attack and attempted robbery, two more youths and a girl walked onto the bridge from the other direction. One might suppose that, in such circumstances, the second group would have come to the aid of the victims, but du e to an appalling quirk of fate, the two gangs were known to each other and, terrifyingly, the second group joined the attack. Timothy Baxter and Gabriel Cornish were beaten unconscious and thereafter picked up and thrown over the railings into the Thames below. Gabriel Cornish regained consciousness in the river and was rescued. Timothy Baxter did not regain consciousness, and so drowned, his body being recovered from the Thames the following day. All six hoodlums were found guilty of the murder of Timothy Baxter, and the attempted murder of his friend, the older three receiving adult life sentences and the others, including the girl, receiving juvenile life sentences. [There were other charges and concurrent sentences.] I do not disagree with the Trial Judge, who said that the killers had shown no mercy and were guilty of “heartless, gratuitous violence,” and my first inclination, in writing this, was to refer to these mindless hoodlums as something along the lines of “worthless, low-life...” …Except, except… Dr Jonathan Miller [“Sir” Jonathan since the Birthday Honours] recently remarked upon London’s “feral children” and it certainly seems to me that there are very many “lost” children on our streets who, for whatever reason, lack the care of a responsible adult and therefore an education in basic morality. Now, in writing this, I have found myself wondering about the “cause and effect” aspect of that horrible old iron footbridge, adjoining Hungerford Railway Bridge… If it WAS as sinister and threatening as I felt it to be, might it have attracted a kind of “devilment” from those feral children? Something that then became truly evil? I expect I’m being over imaginative and fanciful again. On the other hand, having likened walking across Albert Bridge or the new Mille nnium Bridge to “walking through fairyland”, I have to say that, crossing the old Hungerford Bridge after dark was like entering a far darker place. I do not believe that the same evil can ever occur on the new Hungerford pedestrian crossings, for the simple reason that they are bright, open and built not just as a means for walkers to cross the river, but for innocent enjoyment of the Thames. -All kinds of people will cross these well-lit walkways, at all hours of the day and night. *** I set out to investigate the first new Hungerford Bridge Walkway during my lunch break on Wednesday, 22 May 2002. [Oh dear, it has taken me just over a month to write this opinion. Naughty Ben was right, the two weeks my last one took WAS quick for me!] Walking down to the river from my office near Holborn, I dodged the more crowded parts of Covent Garden by walking past Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and then along Floral Street to the dinky little alleyway where you will find the Lamb and Flag Public House which, opened in 1627, is the oldest tavern in Covent Garden and a traditional English pub. (You will not find a jukebox or gaming machine here, though you may occasionally stumble upon Lynn_Bex, should she have been lucky enough to be led astray after working hours!) From the pub, it was just a hop skip and jump down to the Strand, and then along to Charing Cross Station. I approached Hungerford Foot Bridge via Villiers Street and then through the booking office of Embankment Underground Station, which had always been my route to reach the old foot crossing from Victoria Embankment… Silly me! With works continuing on the down-river side of the bridge, entrance to the new walkway was via Northumberland Avenue, which runs from the south side of Trafalgar Square to Victoria Embankment (and the up-river side of Hungerford Bridge). Because of the on-going works, there are temporary sign s pointing the way to the river crossing and you are likely to pass surveyors and workmen going about their business, but it is quite easy to walk up the steps and onto the bridge. [I do not know the details but believe that disabled access will be possible when the works are complete. It is proposed that the walkways will connect with a restored Surrey Pier (one of Brunel’s original brick piers), the remains of which are on the South Bank. This will enable public passage between the upstream and downstream walkways, and I will be very surprised indeed if it does not also provide disabled access. Similarly, I would expect there to be disabled access from the Charing Cross side of the river.] Reassuringly, given that my trains cross the river on a daily basis, Charing Cross/Hungerford Railway Bridge consists of nine spans, six of 154 feet and three of 100 feet, the whole structure being supported by cylinders of cast iron, sunk into the bed of the river, and by the piers and abutments of Brunel’s earlier Hungerford Suspension Bridge. The superstructure of each span consists of two main girders, with cross girders extending beyond these and, having taken a good look, I am pleased to report that the structure looks remarkably sturdy, if a little rust stained and weather-beaten. The new walkways on either side of the bridge are the result of an international design competition organised by Westminster City Council in 1996 on behalf of the Cross River Partnership (a group formed by public and private bodies with the aim of improving and promoting links across the Thames), and the winning design team comprised engineers, WSP Group, and architects Lifschutz Davidson. When complete, the two multi-span footbridges will each be 320 metres long and 4.7 metres wide. The walkway decks comprise pre-stressed concrete edge beams, connected by structural slabs and ribs, and are suspended by cable stay rods, supported by steel pylons, with steel backstays to hold the structures in position, and piled foundations to give vertical support. Interestingly, tests and evaluations of the proposed new walkways included analysis of the possible effects of deliberate vandalism. A load assessment was made to determine what movement or acceleration would result should a group of people begin to jump up and down, the assumption being that if such group of people cannot cause an appreciable movement, then nobody else will join in… I am pleased to report that the results of such “jumping up and down tests” fell well within acceptable levels, so there is unlikely to be a repetition of the Blade of Light “Wobbly Bridge” fiasco whereby the movement of the bridge caused visitors to synchronise their footfalls, thus causing ever more dramatic movement! [As I am unsure when the Hungerford Bridge tests were conducted, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the architects and engineers learned from experience!] When I walked onto the new pedestrian crossing a month ago, it was a lovely sunny day and the sight of the river, with its famous landmarks, all but took my breath away. Such a glorious view of Westminster Bridge, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben has never before been available and, as I gasped at the sight, an American gentleman standing next to me remarked to his companions, “Yes, this sure is one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever seen.” In fact the views are more than “pretty”, they are quite magnificent On the South Bank of the river, across from the Palace of Westminster (the proper name for the Houses of Parliament), stands County Hall. Built to house the London County Council, the building subsequently accommodated that body’s successor, the Greater London Council, until its abolition in 1986. The old County Hall now houses the London Aquarium and the Dali Experience. Also on the South Bank, adjoining County Hall and the Jubilee Gardens (opened in 1977 to celebrate Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee) is the visually pleasing London Eye which, as I have said elsewhere, has become something of a point of reference for Londoners… Gracious! The views from the lovely upstream walkway are truly awe-inspiring and WONDERFUL… What is more, the width of the walkway makes it very open and welcoming… When I crossed, I encountered one Big Issue Seller, one Busker (a saxophonist, should you ask) and dozens of happy, appreciative visitors… After crossing Hungerford Bridge, I negotiated the continuing construction works on the South Bank and then walked alongside the river to Waterloo Bridge, passing, along the way, The Royal Festival Hall, which dates from the 1951 “Festival of Britain”, (a post-second-world-war tonic that successfully lifted the spirit of the nation). ~~~ I am sure that you will all be delighted to know (?) that, I ONCE SANG AT THE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL…albeit as one small member of what I think was called “The London Schools’ Choir.” Even now, I occasionally irritate my family and friends by launching into a somewhat maniacal version of what I remember as “The Trout” (although it may very well be called “The Angler” or something altogether different), which goes: “I stood beside a brooklet that sparkled on its way/And watched beneath the wavelets a tiny trout at play/As swiftly as an arrow, he darted to and fro/The gayest of the fishes, beneath the waves below…” --- Next comes Loud Scary Music - AND THE ARRIVAL OF AN ANGLER… EEK, I must have been severely damaged by the experience… ~~~ As with my lunchtime crossing of the Blade of Light/Millennium Bridge, I did not have time to dawdle and take full note of the views, but, if and when you visit Central London, I recommend that you take a stroll across Hungerford Bridge – and see for yourselves. Me? - I strolled back to work via Waterloo Bridge, buying myself a tuna salad baguette along the way… Back at my desk, I happily munched the baguette until realising that it had become VERY CRUNCHY – and I was lacking part of a tooth… Still, up until that point it had been a wonderful day! ~~~ HOW TO REACH HUNGERFORD BRIDGE Main Line Stations: Obviously, the bridge connects Charing Cross with Waterloo/ Waterloo East Stations, so one of these will be your wisest choice. From Waterloo you will need to follow the signs to the South Bank and/or Jubilee Gardens. From Charing Cross you should walk down to Victoria Embankment. Tube Stations: Charing Cross, Embankment or Waterloo Tube Stations are nearest. Buses: As I have said before, the bus is my favourite means of travelling within Central London, and so many buses pass close to Hungerford Bridge that I cannot list them all. For starters, I suggest: 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 77A, 91, or 176 – all of which serve Trafalgar Square and/or Charing Cross Station. For Waterloo, I suggest: 1, 4, 26, 59, 68, 76, 77, 168, 171, 172, 176, 188, 211 341, 501, 505, or 521 (BEWARE, some of the “500’s” services are now provided by London’s new “Bendy Buses” – which have a concertina joint in the middle. YOU CANNOT PAY ON THESE SERVICES, but must pre-purchase your ticket or travel pass. Entry is then through any of the three sets of doors.) The bus I described in my Millennium Bridge opinion, my favourite eco-friendly and state of the art RV1 Riverside service, also takes you to Waterloo and Hungerford Bridge. In fact, it turns from its stop at Waterloo Station, stops again right beside the London Eye, and th en continues back along the river towards Tower Bridge. Well, that’s that. And what’s a month between friends and opinions? Lynn PS Don’t worry, the dentist gave me an emergency appointment, and the tooth was filled, nearly good as new!

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