Charing Cross Bridge, commonly referred to as Hungerford Bridge and which gives access to Charing Cross station, has been one of the most controversial railway structures, being a utilitarian girder bridge in the heart of London. It is surprising that a more graceful and ornate structure was not required within sight of the Houses of Parliament. What is more, the bridge was constructed on the site of Brunel's Hungerford suspension bridge of 1845, which was an attractive Italianate structure.
The bridge was designed by Sir John Hawkshaw and constructed between 1860 and 1863 by Cochrane & Co. It comprises nine wrought iron lattice girder spans on cast iron columns and the piers of Brunel's bridge. The six spans over the river are of 154 feet, but at the approach to Charing Cross the bridge widens and the spans are 100 feet. The support columns were in pairs across the river, with additional columns under the west end. The bridge carried four tracks, plus footways both sides. The latter were provided in place of the earlier suspension bridge.
Originally 61ft 3 in wide, the bridge was extended by 48 ft 9 in on the upstream side in 1887, in order to take three more tracks. In connection with this, the footpath on the upstream side was removed. Powers for further widening were obtained in 1900 but not implemented.
Traffic over the bridge came to a sudden halt when the roof of Charing Cross station collapsed on 5th December 1905. The station was closed for over three months and during this period the bridge was carefully examined and some girders added to reinforce it. Despite that work, the civil engineer ruled that heavier locomotives were banned and no more than two trains could be on the bridge at the same time - and then not on adjacent tracks. This considerably hampered train operation. Some further bridge strengthening was undertaken in 1916, but electrification of the suburban services in 1926 and track alterations largely overcame the problem. Only electric trains were to use the original part of the bridge, where two of the running lines were converted to sidings. Steam locomotives were restricted to the two tracks on the upstream side (as were the Hastings diesel units in later years). Part of the 1864 bridge was brought down by a flying bomb on 18th June 1944, but the span was reinstated within six months.
From 1901 onwards there were suggestions that the bridge should be removed and replaced by a road one. There were similar proposals for Blackfriars and Cannon Street bridges, but the appearance of Charing Cross Bridge made it a popular target. There was a series of proposals from the London County Council during the interwar period involving, firstly, a bi-level road and rail bridge to a new Charing Cross station, east of the present one, and then a new railway terminus on the South Bank. Plans for post-war reconstruction of London also suggested closure of Charing Cross station, but all of these proposals foundered due to lack of finance.
The original wrought iron cross-girders were replaced by steel ones in 1979, following which the weight restrictions ceased to apply. The remaining footbridge was completely replaced and a new one added on the upstream side, as an imaginative Millennium Project led by Westminster City Council. The new footways are cable-stayed bridges tied back to the railway bridge, but supported from steel masts on concrete bases in the river. This design, by Lifschutz Davidson and WSP Group, ensures that no additional weight is taken by the railway bridge. The work, by Costain and Norwest Holst, included cleaning and repainting the railway bridge, and reinstatement of the semi-circular pediments on the brick piers at the east end. The new stone and brickwork is hollow, being built round a steel frame, in order to minimise weight. The upstream footbridge opened in May 2002 and the downstream one four months later.
While the new footbridges go some way to screen the railway bridge, it is a matter of regret that the South Eastern did not build a structure more worthy of the heart of the capital city.
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This page was last updated 28 April 2012