08 January 2007
London’s bridges – who maintains them and a book about them
Brian Micklethwait

Did you know that the five Thames bridges of the City of London are maintained without the taxpayer being bothered?  I didn’t.

The Trust built and continues to maintain all of the City of London’s bridges - including Tower bridge - at no expense to the taxpayer.

That’s the what used to be the Bridge House Trust and which will now be the City Bridge Trust.

It’s one of the biggest and oldest but least well-known grant-giving charities in the country, with £700m in its coffers. It traces its roots back to 1097.

It began collecting tolls to cross London bridge and then rent from the houses and shops built on it.

The bridge became so important to Londoners that they would leave legacies to “God and the bridge”.

Tolls and rents reinvested in property results in an annual income that vastly exceeds the £4m to £5m it costs for the upkeep of London, Tower, Millennium, Southwark and Blackfriars bridges.

Bridgemasters maximised income including “receiving tolls on carts passing over the bridge, tolls from ships passing under the bridge and fines for unlawful fishing from the bridge”.

Londonist‘s Mike found this somewhere in the Guardian, if I understand him right.  And he links to an interview with the author of a book on London’s bridges, a book which gets that rather rare thing for a quite obscure book, a slamming on Amazon.  Usually, everything gets either four stars or five.

The book promises much and delivers very little. Technical information is severely limited and hardly offers an understanding of any of the bridges the author seeks to describe. The author demonstrates a poor understanding of the way in which bridges are built and who builds them, describing Ove Arup’s as the builder of the Millenium Bridge and apparently oblivious of the fact that they undertook the engineering design. As to others involved in major works they get no mention at all, including Rendel Palmer and Tritton who were the consulting engineers for Chelsea, Waterloo and the Thames Barrier. Engineers are described as architects. The author appears unaware of the events on the river and makes no mention of the occasions on which bridges have been struck by ships. There is no mention of the collier hitting Battersea and virtually demolishing the main span in 1955. If you are looking for a history of the bridges and competent photographs then this is not the book for you. If you are looking for amusing anecdotes then this book has some merits.

The only other Amazon reviewer liked it:

This really is a gem of a book for anyone who loves London. Riverside walks are also all the more enjoyable for it! Far from being a dry history, it’s packed with interesting tales and is immensely readable. Recommended.

So there.  And the books publishers like it too.

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