Let’s begin by travelling about one hundred and twenty miles west of London to the city of Bristol. Amongst many other fascinating tales about this city’s history, it is also famous for the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Whether you cross it or pass underneath it, the setting and its design are impressive. It was built by none other than Isambard Kingdom Brunel. But there is one big piece of information missing. And that is, it originally spanned the Thames in London.
The reasons behind all this and more is because of the railways. The bridge was originally called the Hungerford Suspension bridge and was finished in 1845. For those of you who know London, then you will know where it was situated, as there is a modern bridge called Hungerford Bridge. What happened is this.
Covent Garden Market was a very popular fruit and vegetable market. It had been so for many years before we begin our story in 1692. Now, at this time, the Earl of Hungerford decided that it should have some competition and so he sought to create a new market selling the same produce but where Charing Cross Railway Station is located now. This is down the Trafalgar Square end of The Strand. It wasn’t a great success, and many years later it was decided to have a bridge built at this location in order to attract more customers from the south of London.
The bridge was built as we said in 1845. But it didn’t have the desired effect; there were not enough customers to rival Covent Garden. Eventually, the area covered by Hungerford Market was bought by a railway company who then built Charing Cross Station on it. But, they also needed a bridge across the Thames. The suspension bridge was there, but there was a problem, a big problem. The bridge the company needed had to be able to carry trains across it and the one standing could not.
Therefore, it was decided to sell the old bridge and build another which would be more suited to trains. Bristol bought the existing bridge, transported it and the rest as they say, is history. But the story in London doesn’t end here. The people of London had got used to crossing the Thames at this point. They argued that there must also be a pedestrian bridge alongside the new train one. They succeeded and for a time there was some confusion as some maps depicted two bridges which ran alongside each other with different names.
The train bridge was the Charing Cross Bridge and the pedestrian one was called the Hungerford Bridge. These days there are still two bridges, but the pedestrian one was redeveloped some years ago. Now, you have the train bridge sandwiched between two pedestrian bridges. And speaking from personal experience of using them many times, it works.