03 May 2024

River Thames: A Timeline of its Bridges

The River Thames winds its way from Kemble in the Cotswolds to the heart of London and is one of the city’s most iconic attractions. London’s famous river is crossed by a series of bridges, each with its own backstory and fun facts. So let’s take a closer look at the timeline of these bridges - and don’t forget to look out for them if you book a Thames tour. 

London Bridge 

Dating back to Roman times, London Bridge is the oldest river crossing in London. The first constructions were crafted from timber. Then came a 600-year-old stone crossing which took 30 years to build but was more solid, reliable and robust. This was eventually succeeded by an arched, 19th century stone upgrade, designed by Scottish civil engineer, John Rennie. London Bridge as we know it today is made of concrete and steel and was opened to traffic by the late Queen Elizabeth II on 16 March 1973.

Fun fact: London Bridge is a movie star, having been a filming location for multiple films including The Gentlemen, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 28 Days Later and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It’s also been seen in hit TV series such as Doctor Who and Killing Eve.

A Succession of Crossings 

London Bridge was the only way of crossing the Thames until Westminster Bridge was constructed in 1738, followed by Battersea Bridge in 1771. Vauxhall Bridge followed, as did Waterloo Bridge, both of which were constructed in the 1810s. Southwark Bridge - formerly known as Queen Street Bridge - was also designed by John Rennie and opened in 1819.  Hungerford Suspension Bridge, named after the nearby market, opened in 1845, followed by the Victoria Bridge. Due to its poor construction, the name of Victoria Bridge was changed to Chelsea Bridge as the Royals didn’t want their name associated with it. Grosvenor Bridge then became the first crossing for a railway, followed by Blackfriars railway bridge. A multitude of other rail crossings came with the development of London’s rail network. 

Tower Bridge 

With the need for a new prominent river crossing becoming increasingly urgent, Tower Bridge was finalised in 1894, making it easier for busy crowds to reach the other side of the river. It was the last major structure to be built across the Thames. No new bridges were built throughout the 20th century, although many were rebuilt and replaced with their current modern structures. With an opulent, Neo-Gothic design, Tower Bridge was built to blend in with the Tower of London at the request of Queen Victoria. It’s now one of the most famous bridges in the world and is often confused for London Bridge by visitors to the city. 

London Millennium Footbridge 

The London Millennium Footbridge was hailed as an innovation in construction, being a lateral suspension bridge without supporting columns. At 325 metres long, it crosses the River Thames at Bankside on the Queen’s Walk. It was opened on 10 June 2000, and is an exciting example of modern engineering showcasing the city’s developments over time. It links the Tate Modern on the Southbank with the City of London and St Paul’s Cathedral on the Northbank.

To marvel at the engineering of some of these bridges yourself, book your Terrible Thames River Tour today with KX Tickets.