No New Dawn For Hammersmith Bridge

OK, unless the sun has started to rise in the West, this is actually an evening sunset at Hammersmith Bridge, not a dawn sunrise.

9 January 2023

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch finds some positive action at Hammersmith Bridge.

On 13 August 2020, Hammersmith and Fulham Council very suddenly declared Hammersmith Bridge to be in imminent danger of collapse. Vehicles had not been allowed on the 134-year-old structure since April 2019, but the new ruling meant that pedestrians and cyclists could not go over it, a major problem for those residing on the South side, but also that no boats could go under it, a major problem for the whole British rowing community, not just those based in West London. As a British Rowing statement said at the time:

The closure of the river at Hammersmith Bridge splits one of the busiest stretches of river in the country for rowing. The Tideway stretch of river encompasses 75 clubs serving over 9,000 members. The closure of the river at Hammersmith also puts the running of a number of the major national head races in jeopardy. These races attract over 10,000 competitors to the London area from across the country and beyond each year.

Following a period of monitoring after checks were made on the bridge’s four pedestals and supporting chains, plus the introduction of a temperature monitoring system, the 136-year-old structure was reopened for cyclists and pedestrians to go over and boats to go under on 17 July 2021. 

Since the semi-reopening of Hammersmith Bridge, little visible work has occurred. People in hard hats and high visibility jackets stand around pointing and probing but the structure itself remains a sad and scruffy reminder of a once proud piece of Victorian engineering. Who will pay the estimated £141m to £163m repair bill is still in dispute. However, there has been one recent development – hoardings have been put up with a nice little display of archive pictures including three rowing related ones. This will please HTBS Types, if not many others (the hackneyed phrase “rearranging the deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic” comes to mind).

The new display of archive pictures at the downstream Middlesex side of Hammersmith Bridge.
Boat Race Day 1907 seems to show a large number of policemen but no spectators on Hammersmith Bridge. Possibly this was a reaction to the fear of Suffragettes attempting to disrupt the race (though 1907 may have been a little early for this).
Oarswomen, probably from Furnivall Sculling Club, pictured in 1934.
Spectators at Hammersmith during the “Blizzard” Boat Race of 1952. Gale-force winds and snow limited the number of spectators lining the course to a few thousand. Those who did brave the weather were rewarded with a very close fought contest. At no point during the race was there clear water between the boats and Oxford eventually won by a canvas.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council, the Department for Transport and Transport for London can agree on billboards but not bills.
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