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In 1998 the Thames Archaeological survey found the remains of a huge oak bridge built 3500 years ago not far from where the river Effra empties into the Thames. Two parallel lines of large oak posts (40 cm across) led into the river spaced about 5m apart which suggested that this was a bridge rather than anything less substantial, such as a jetty. The bridge may not have crossed the whole river but instead might have formed a link to a long disappeared island in what would have been a much broader Thames.
Vauxhall Bridge has the exciting historical claim of being the first London bridge to carry trams.
Vauxhall Bridge is the best in London for gauging how curvy the Thames is. From the centre both Battersea Power Station and the London Eye appear to be on the north bank.
Photographs of Vauxhall Bridge copyright Ness Sherry
The first Vauxhall Bridge of the contemporary era was completed in 1816 and its chief claim to fame was as the first iron bridge to span the Thames. Lord Dundas, representing the Prince Regent, laid the first stone on the Middlesex side in 1811 for what was at one point to be called the Regent's Bridge. Work on the Surrey side started two years later in 1813 when Prince Charles of Brunswick laid the first stone there. The first engineer, John Rennie (senior), planned a blue sandstone bridge with seven arches but as finances were tight Rennie suggested a new lighter design of eleven cast iron arches. This was not accepted either and after some delay Mr J Grellier was commissioned to build a nine arched iron bridge to a design by Sir Samuel Bentham. The Bentham plans were abandoned after doubts over the quality of the work and fears by conservation bodies that the proposed bridge would adversely affect the flow of the Thames. Eventually it was James Walker who built the 246.5 metres long (11 metre wide) granite faced cast-iron structure with eight piers.
Despite the best precautions of Mr Walker, which involved digging deep into London clay for the pilings and building up heavily protected abutments and piers, tidal scour weakened the structure eventually. Plans to replace two central piers in1881 with a single one to help the flow of river traffic were abandoned due to cost and tons of material was dropped around the piers to bolster them. Eventually it was decided that it would be cheaper to construct an entirely new bridge rather than repair the old one, particularly when divers found that virtually the only thing holding it up was the arches.
As with the first bridge there was some disagreement over the planned crossing. Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice suggested five concrete and granite arches but the actual bridge (built by Sir Alexander Binnie) has 5 steel arches supported on granite piers. The current Vauxhall Bridge is 246 metres long and 24 wide painted mostly in burgundy and orange with a blue and white trim. Each pier has a statue of a woman on it, sculptured by F W Pomeroy (upstream) and A Drury (downstream).