This is Chelsea Bridge, the first Chelsea Bridge. It was opened with some celebration in 1858. It looks a little like its younger cousin the still surviving but beleaguered bridge at Hammersmith, opened in 1887. Unlike Hammersmith less than a hundred years passed before a new Chelsea bridge was needed to cope with the demands of traffic both across and under the bridge.
The old bridge was demolished in 1935. It’s always easier to demolish than construct, even with bridges. By March 1936 the work had begun.
The steel frame on the south channel.
April. A misty morning. The first float of the steelwork. Later that day the tug boats get the steelwork to the north channel.
Inside the north abutment:
You can see water below but the workers are now inside the bridge.
Looking south here is the emerging bridge as a tangle of steel, wood and concrete with a self-explanatory notice.
In the distance, the trees of Battersea Park on the right and the faint outline of a gasometer on the left. If you know what you’re doing you can already cross.
Inside the structure again, lamps shining the length of the new bridge.
Months have passed and a new year has begun. Looking south again.
The shape of the new bridge emerges from the superstructure. Workers are visible across the length of the bridge.
A closer view looking north.
Wet concrete is smoothed out. In the distance the Lister Institute.
You can see the first part of Battersea Power Station, the A station, generating electricity since 1933. The other half was not built until after the war.
The bridge is almost complete. The surface awaits the cars, trucks, buses and feet.
Now it’s done. The supports are all gone and the bridge looks like it has always been there. The river flows past the clean lines of the piers. The old bridge is now just a memory preserved in a few photographs.
These photographs come out of an album which sat in the offices of the builders as a record of a job well done. Until one day the office was cleared. Somebody had the sense to take it home. Eventually it appeared on eBay, where most things end up these days. Which is where I came in. And now we can all see how steel and concrete and the hard work of many men made the bridge.