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It was a notorious accident black spot, with cargo boats regularly colliding with the bridge at night or during times of fog or poor visibility. The latest of these incidents was in 2005 when the barge the James Prior collided into the bridge. Furthermore the restriction caused to the flow of water by the many arches on the old bridge created a weir and made it difficult and dangerous for boats to pass under or 'shoot the bridge' as it was known. It was also, after the notorious murder of Sarah MacFarlane by Augustus Dalmas in 1844, deemed quite dangerous to cross on foot.
Modern architect, Sean Griffiths, has described Battersea Bridge as 'Joy Division to Albert's Kylie'..
Photographs of Battersea Bridge copyright Christine Marshall.
Earl Spencer promoted and sponsored the first bridge here, thinking that it would make money and help develop the area to the south west where he owned quite a bit of land. The original Battersea Bridge was a slight disappointment as plans had been made for an elegant stone crossing but local people were unwilling to match the Earl's investment with enough money. This meant that a 8.5 metre wide wooden bridge was built by Mr. Phillips, carpenter to George III, to a design by Henry Holland.
In 1795 iron girders were inserted to strengthen the bridge and in 1799 oil lamps added to make it safer to cross as did the four foot iron railings which replaced the old wooden fence in 1824. The Earl and other investors were, at least, able to recoup some of the money through tolls at one shilling for a carriage and a halfpenny for pedestrians until competition came. The opening of what is now known as the Chelsea (formerly the Victoria Bridge) downriver in 1858 caused a severe drop off in toll revenue. Having said that, artists loved it, and the old bridge was a favourite subject for Whistler and Turner to paint. Whistler's paintings of the bridge (his nocturnes) had a huge influence in the art world as they heralded the beginning of Abstract Art.
Sir Joseph Bazalgette (though no philistine) had no time for artistic shilly shallying where bridges were concerned. He found the bridge unfit, particularly in view of the likelihood of increased traffic as London developed and the bridge was free to cross. His original plan had been to keep the old bridge in place whilst he constructed the new one but a re-alignment of the road system meant that the new crossing cut at a diagonal through the old. Following the demolition of the old bridge he built its replacement, a five-arch iron bridge 16.7 metres wide and 126 metres long that was opened in 1890 and re-christened Battersea which derives from Badrics Ey, or island, suggesting an area surrounded by marsh or water.
Reviews of Cross River Traffic here