Putney Bridge reopened last month and its summer closure had made many of us aware of how much it was used. Hammersmith & Fulham Archives hold many photographs and prints of its predecessor, Fulham Bridge, first opened in November 1729 and the first bridge to be constructed across the tidal Thames since the thirteenth century when the Old London Bridge was built. At the time it was the only bridge between London Bridge and Kingston. This early print shows it in relation to Fulham Church:
This 1760 print shows the west side of the bridge with the landing place used by the ferries and the Swan Inn:
This photograph shows the east side next to Willow Bank, a “fine private house in 3 acres of land overlooking the river”:
Getting through the legislation
The first attempt to have a permanent crossing was in 1671 when a bill for the construction of a wooden bridge was introduced in Parliament. The bill met strong opposition and records of the debate make for entertaining reading. Opponents claimed that a bridge at Putney would jeopardise the prosperity of London and even annihilate the city altogether. They argued it would stop the tide and destroy the Thames as a navigable river. It would prevent wherries passing at low tide and this would affect the interests of the watermen on whom the nation depended to provide experienced seafarers in time of war. A Mr Boscawen complained that a bridge at Putney might lead to bridges being built at Westminster, Blackfriars and Guildhall and, to great hilarity, he added that they might even be built of iron. The Bill was lost by 67 votes to 54.
Despite this, an Act “for building a bridge across the River Thames from the town of Fulham in the County of Middlesex to the town of Putney in the County of Surrey” was passed in 1726. It was supported by the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, who is said to have been returning from a visit to George I in Kingston in 1720, when he found the ferry at Putney on the other side of the river. The ferrymen were drinking in the Swan Inn and took no notice of his shouts to take him across the river on national business. The Prince of Wales was apparently another supporter as he “was often inconvenienced by the ferry when returning from hunting in Richmond Park and asked Walpole to use his influence by supporting the Fulham bridge bill.”
The photograph below shows the signatures of the 30 subscribers in the bridge company in 1728, one of them Walpole himself. They each invested £1000 in shares and this gave them the right to receive income from the tolls in perpetuity.
The main architect of the bridge was Thomas Ripley but Mr W Cheselden, surgeon to Royal Hospital and one of the subscribers, changed the design so much that he is often credited as being the architect.
Another subscriber, Thomas Phillips, “Carpenter to King George II” was given the construction contract. He completed the 268ft wooden construction with 26 narrow openings in just 8 months.
Details of the construction can be seen in this sketch of 1885:
Toll booths were built at either end of the bridge as can be seen in this 1868 photograph:
And also in the pen and ink sketch made by an inmate of the Munster House Asylum:
Nathaniel Chasmore was appointed manager in 1801 and until the freeing of the bridge from tolls in 1880, the managers all came from the same family of builders.
There are some delightful pictures of the bridge at this time such as this sketch of 1882:
Coming soon… The end of Fulham Bridge.
Fiona Fowler, volunteer