Whether it’s because I love going on boat trips or not I don’t know, but I always urge people not to leave London without seeing the city from the river.
Plenty of boats from different companies run regular trips down to Greenwich, which is not only a fantastic trip, but also a great destination. The journey down takes just over an hour, but I recommend that you allow a full day if you can – preferably a sunny one.
Your boat will start from Westminster Pier underneath Westminster Bridge and travel down past the Victoria Embankment on your port (left) side and the South Bank on the starboard (right) side. Now, before you think I’m being clever (which I’m definitely not) coming out with all theses nautical phrases I’m just trying to get you in the mood for Greenwich because this is where the National Maritime Museum and Old Royal Naval College is located.
Some bridges have a great design and some are just practical, but what captures my imagination about Tower Bridge is its ability to achieve both.
40,000 people a day still use the bridge in one way or another, but ships passing underneath still have priority, and that’s around a thousand times a year: Even President Bill Clinton’s cavalcade on a state visit got split up when they didn’t time it right.
The need for another crossing downstream of London Bridge came about with the growth of London Docks.
The Industrial Revolution and the ever-expanding British Empire helped the burgeoning London Docks become the busiest in the world, and apart from providing access across the river downstream from London Bridge for the first time, the new Tower Bridge was going to have to allow shipping access in and out of the Pool of London.
The first Hungerford Bridge was opened in 1845. It was a suspension footbridge designed by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and named after the market which stood where the present day Charing Cross station is.
Competition from nearby Covent Garden saw the demise of the Hungerford market but the name has remained ever since. The same couldn’t be said for Brunel’s bridge however, because in 1859 the South Eastern Railway bought it and replaced it with a new railway bridge and station at Charing Cross. The resourceful Brunel took the chains from the old bridge and then re-used them in his construction of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The railway bridge was opened in 1864 and has been here ever since. It’s had a succession of footbridges alongside it over the years, and the latest were introduced in 2002 in recognition of the Queen’s golden jubilee.
The Golden Jubilee Bridges, to give them their official name, connect the Victoria Embankment with the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. The two bridges afford some great views both up and downriver and have become the busiest in London, and in my opinion, are an attractive and practical addition to the rather nondescript, but functional, railway bridge.
Collectively they’re known as the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges, but apart from being a mouthful, I think it’s easier to just remember them as the Hungerford Bridges.
Until the first Westminster Bridge was built, there were only two bridges crossing the Thames in London – the old London Bridge and the new Putney Bridge, and to cross the river from Westminster to Lambeth you had to either pay the ferryman to take you across, or wait for low tide when it could be forded.
When the first bridge was proposed, the ferrymen got the idea blocked, but when they were paid off and enough lottery tickets were sold, the Swiss engineer Charles Labelye, was able to start work on the new river crossing.
Construction started in 1739 and finished in 1750 but unfortunately it didn’t last as long as it was hoped for and a hundred years later a new bridge was deemed necessary.
I’ve always said that any visitor to London should take aBoat trip from Westminster to Greenwich as it gives a fantastic view of the city from the river and ends up at one of my favourite areas of London. That said, there is an alternative way to get to Greenwich, and that is by way of the automated Docklands Light Railway which travels through Canary Wharf to Island Gardens, where you can use the foot tunnel to walk underneath the Thames to reach Greenwich on the other side.