The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Exhibition looks at London's storied and historic bridges - still going up, not falling down

  • Print

LONDON - London is a city of bridges, but it's not a City of Bridges. It has never been graced with the elegant arches of Venice or Paris.

A new exhibition wants visitors to look again, peering on, under and even inside the structures spanning the River Thames. Without bridges, the show argues, London as we know it would not exist.

"Bridges can often make a city what it is," said Lucinda Grange, an adventure photographer who sneaked inside London Bridge and took images that appear in the exhibition of artworks at Museum of London Docklands. "What would New York be without Brooklyn Bridge?"

Yet London's most famous bridge is also the biggest letdown. London Bridge — of "falling down" nursery-rhyme fame — is a dreary concrete-and-steel structure that has been disappointing tourists since it opened in 1973. The ancient London Bridge is long gone, and a 19th-century version is now a tourist attraction in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Many visitors confuse London Bridge with the more impressive Tower Bridge, whose picturesque towers grace countless postcards.

Grange said bearing the London Bridge name is "like being called Paris Hilton if you're not Paris Hilton. No matter how good you look at the party, you're going to be a disappointment."

The first version of London Bridge was built by Roman invaders in about 50 A.D. For 1,700 years it was the city's only bridge.

Today London has 35 bridges, but with a few exceptions — pastel-painted Albert Bridge, silver spear-like Millennium footbridge — they are utilitarian rather than beautiful. London is a city of relentless change, and many of the structures haven't lasted long.

As a result, there is something ghostly about some of the paintings and photographs in the exhibition. One early photograph, taken in 1845, shows the Hungerford suspension bridge built by pioneering engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It's doubly haunting — the bridge lasted little over a decade, and the photo is so fragile that it will be displayed in a darkened room. Visitors can switch on a light to take a quick look at it.

Bridge-building continues to push the boundaries of engineering. The Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 — then shut for two years of tweaking after the first people to use it noticed an alarming wobble.

Dan Cruikshank, an architectural historian with a boundless enthusiasm for London and its bridges, said that for centuries, "because they changed God's world, bridges were sacred creations."

"They remain in some way in our imaginations sacred and strange — audacious interventions," he said.

The latest audacious proposal comes from Thomas Heatherwick, designer of the 2012 Olympic cauldron and London's new double-decker buses. He plans to build a plant-lined pedestrian "garden bridge" over the river in the next few years.

The exhibition explores bridges' beauty, but also their dark side, as places associated with drudgery and death.

Many modern London workers can relate to T.S. Eliot's image in "The Waste Land" of commuters trudging across London Bridge: "I had not thought death had undone so many."

But exhibition curator Francis Marshall said he was inspired by odes to beauty such as William Wordsworth's "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge," which begins: "Earth has not anything to show more fair."

"When you're on a bridge, that's when you see London," Marshall said. "That's when you feel, 'Now I live in London.'"



Follow Jill Lawless at

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Key of Bart - I Just Want A Race

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young goose   reaches for long strands of grass Friday night near McGillvary Blvd-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 19 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS STANDUP - pretty sunflower in field off HWY 206 near Bird's Hill Park Thursday August 09/2007

View More Gallery Photos


Do high-profile endorsements for political candidates influence your voting decisions?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google