Chelsea Bridge is a bridge over the
River Thames in west London,
connecting Chelsea on the north bank to
Battersea on the south bank.
There have been two Chelsea Bridges, on the site of what was an
Chelsea Bridge was proposed in the 1840s as part of a major
development of marshlands on the south bank of the Thames into the new
Battersea Park. It was a suspension bridge intended to provide
convenient access from the densely populated north bank to the new
park. Although built and operated by the government, tolls were
charged initially in an effort to recoup the cost of the bridge. Work
on the nearby
Chelsea Embankment delayed construction and so the
bridge, initially called Victoria Bridge, did not open until 1858.
Although well-received architecturally, as a toll bridge it was
unpopular with the public, and Parliament felt obliged to make it
toll-free on Sundays. The bridge was less of a commercial success than
had been anticipated, partly because of competition from the newly
built Albert Bridge nearby. It was acquired by the Metropolitan Board
of Works in 1877, and the tolls were abolished in 1879.
The bridge was narrow and structurally unsound, leading the
authorities to rename it
Chelsea Bridge to avoid the Royal Family's
association with a potential collapse. In 1926 it was proposed that
the old bridge be rebuilt or replaced, due to the increased volume of
users from population growth, and the introduction of the automobile.
It was demolished during 1934–1937, and replaced by the current
structure, which opened in 1937.
The new bridge was the first self-anchored suspension bridge in
Britain, and was built entirely with materials sourced from within the
British Empire. During the early 1950s it became popular with
motorcyclists, who staged regular races across the bridge. One such
meeting in 1970 erupted into violence, resulting in the death of one
man and the imprisonment of 20 others.
Chelsea Bridge is floodlit from
below during the hours of darkness, when the towers and cables are
illuminated by 936 feet (285 m) of light-emitting diodes. In 2008
it achieved Grade II listed status. In 2004 a smaller bridge,
Battersea Footbridge, was opened beneath the southern span, carrying
Thames Path beneath the main bridge.
2 Victoria Bridge (Old Chelsea Bridge)
2.1 Design and construction
2.3 Abolition of tolls
3 New Chelsea Bridge
3.1 Design and construction
3.2 Temporary wartime bridge
3.3 Motorcycle gangs
5 See also
6 Notes and references
7 Further reading
Battersea in 1891, showing (left to right) Old Battersea
Bridge, Albert Bridge, Victoria (now Chelsea) Bridge and Grosvenor
The Red House Inn was an isolated inn on the south bank of the River
Thames in the marshlands by
Battersea fields, about one mile
(1.6 km) east of the developed street of the prosperous farming
village of Battersea. Not on any major road, its isolation and lack
of any police presence made it a popular destination for visitors from
Westminster since the 16th century, who would travel to the
Red House by wherry, attracted by Sunday dog fighting, bare-knuckle
boxing bouts and illegal horse racing. Because of its lawless
Battersea Fields was also a popular area for duelling, and was
the venue for the 1829 duel between the then Prime Minister the Duke
of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea.
The town of Chelsea, on the north bank of the Thames about three miles
(4.8 km) west of Westminster, was an important industrial centre.
Although by the 19th century its role as the centre of the British
porcelain industry had been overtaken by the West Midlands, its
riverside location and good roads made it an important centre for the
manufacture of goods to serve the nearby and rapidly growing
Chelsea Waterworks Company
Chelsea Waterworks Company occupied a site on the north bank of
the Thames opposite the Red House Inn. Founded in 1723, the company
pumped water from the Thames to reservoirs around
a network of hollow elm trunks. As
London spread westwards, the
former farmland to the west became increasingly populated,[n 1] and
the Thames became seriously polluted with sewage and animal
carcasses. In 1852 Parliament banned water from being taken from
the Thames downstream of Teddington, forcing the Chelsea Waterworks
Company to move upstream to Seething Wells.
Battersea and Chelsea had been linked by the modest wooden
Battersea Bridge. As
London grew following the advent of the
railways, Chelsea began to become congested, and in 1842 the
Commission of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues recommended the
building of an embankment at Chelsea to free new land for development,
and proposed the building of a new bridge downstream of Battersea
Bridge and the replacement of
Battersea Bridge with a more modern
In the early 1840s
Thomas Cubitt and
James Pennethorne had proposed a
plan to use 150,000 tons of rocks and earth from the excavation of the
Royal Victoria Dock
Royal Victoria Dock to infill the marshy
Battersea Fields and create a
large public park to serve the growing population of
Chelsea. In 1846 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests
purchased the Red House Inn and 200 acres (0.81 km2) of
surrounding land, and work began on the development that would become
Battersea Park. It was expected that with the opening of the park
the volume of cross river traffic would increase significantly,
putting further strain on the dilapidated
Consequently, in 1846 an Act of Parliament authorised the building of
a new toll bridge on the site of an ancient ford exactly one mile
(1.6 km) downstream of
Battersea Bridge.[n 2] The approach
road on the southern side was to run along the side of the new park,
while that on the northern side was to run from Sloane Square, through
the former Chelsea Waterworks site, to the new bridge. Although
previous toll bridges in the area had been built and operated by
private companies, the new bridge was to be built and operated by the
government, under the control of the Metropolitan Improvement
Commission, despite protests in Parliament from Radicals objecting to
the Government profiting from a toll-paying bridge. It was
intended that the bridge would be made toll-free once the costs of
building it had been recouped.
Victoria Bridge (Old Chelsea Bridge)
Engineer Thomas Page was appointed to build the bridge, and presented
the Commission with several potential designs, including a seven-span
stone bridge, a five-span cast iron arch bridge, and a suspension
bridge. The Commission selected the suspension bridge design, and
work began in 1851 on the new bridge, to be called the Victoria
Design and construction
Chelsea Bridge as seen from
Battersea in 1858, shortly after
Victoria Tower of the Palace of
Westminster is shown
under construction in the background.
Page's design was typical of suspension bridges of the period, and
consisted of a wrought iron deck and four 97-foot (30 m) cast
iron towers supporting chains, which in turn supported the weight of
the deck. The towers rested on a pair of timber and cast iron
piers. The towers passed through the deck, meaning that between
the towers the road was seven feet (2.1 m) narrower than on the
rest of the bridge. Although work had begun in 1851 delays in the
closure of the Chelsea Waterworks, which only completed its relocation
Seething Wells in 1856, caused lengthy delays to the project,
and the Edinburgh-made ironwork was only transported to the site in
Victoria Bridge was 703 feet (214 m) long with a central span of
333 feet (101 m), and the roadway was 32 feet (9.8 m)
wide with a 7-foot-6-inch (2.29 m) footpath on either side,
making a total width of 47 feet (14 m). Large lamps were set
at the tops of the four towers, which were only to be lit when Queen
Victoria was spending the night in London. The central span was
inscribed with the date of construction and the words "Gloria Deo in
Excelsis" ("Glory to God in the Highest"). It took seven years to
build, at a total cost of £90,000 (about £8.31 million in
2018). The controversial tolls were collected from octagonal
stone tollhouses at each end of the bridge.
As with the earlier construction of nearby
during excavations workers found large quantities of Roman and Celtic
weapons and skeletons in the riverbed, leading many historians to
conclude that the area was the site of Julius Caesar's crossing of the
Thames during the 54 BC invasion of Britain. The most significant
item found was the Celtic
La Tène style
La Tène style bronze and enamel Battersea
Shield, one of the most important pieces of Celtic military equipment
found in Britain, recovered from the riverbed during dredging for the
A fairy structure, with its beautiful towers, gilded and painted to
resemble light coloured bronze, and crowned with globular lamps,
diffusing light all around.
London News, 25 September 1858
On 31 March 1858 Queen Victoria, accompanied by two of her daughters
and en route to the formal opening of
Battersea Park, crossed the new
bridge and declared it officially open, naming it the Victoria
Bridge; it was opened to the public three days later, on 3 April
1858. The design met with great critical acclaim, particularly
from the Illustrated
Shortly after its opening, concerns were raised about the bridge's
safety. Following an inspection by
John Hawkshaw and Edwin Clark in
1861, an additional support chain was added on each side. Despite
the strengthening there were still concerns about its soundness, and a
weight limit of 5 tons was imposed. At the same time, the name was
changed from Victoria Bridge to Chelsea Bridge, as the government was
concerned about the reliability of suspension bridges and did not want
a potential collapse to be associated with the Queen.
Battersea (top), Victoria (centre) and Vauxhall (bottom) bridges, 1859
Although reasonably well used, it was unpopular with the public, who
objected to being obliged to pay tolls to use it. On 4 July 1857,
almost a year before the bridge's opening, a demonstration against the
tolls attracted 6,000 residents. Concerns were raised in
Parliament that poorer industrial workers in Chelsea, which had no
large parks of its own, would be unable to afford to use the new park
in Battersea. Bowing to public pressure, shortly after the bridge
opened Parliament declared it free to use for pedestrians on Sundays,
and in 1875 it was also made toll-free on public holidays.
Additionally, because the main lights were only turned on when Queen
Victoria was staying in London, it was poorly used at night.
Despite this, the new
Battersea Park was extremely popular,
particularly the sporting facilities; on 9 January 1864 the park
staged the world's first official game of association football.[n
Abolition of tolls
In 1873 the privately owned Albert Bridge, between Chelsea and
Battersea bridges, opened. Although Albert Bridge was not as
successful as intended at luring customers from
Chelsea Bridge and
soon found itself in serious financial difficulties, it
nonetheless caused a sharp drop in usage of Chelsea Bridge. In
1877 the Metropolis Toll Bridges Act was passed, which allowed the
Metropolitan Board of Works
Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) to buy all
London bridges between
Hammersmith and Waterloo bridges and free them from tolls.
Chelsea Bridge was transferred to the MBW in 1877 at a
cost of £75,000 (about £6.1 million in 2018), and on 24 May
1879 Chelsea Bridge,
Battersea Bridge and Albert Bridge were declared
toll free by the Prince of Wales in a brief ceremony, after which a
parade of Chelsea Pensioners marched across the bridge to Battersea
Its kiosques and gilt finials, its travesty of Gothic architecture in
cast iron, its bad construction and its text of 'Gloria Deo in
Excelsis' above the arch between the piers, are redolent of 1851, the
year of the Great Exhibition, the locus classicus of bad art, false
enthusiasms and shams.
Reginald Blomfield, 1921
By the early 20th century,
Chelsea Bridge was in poor condition. It
was unable to carry the increasing volume of traffic caused by the
London and the increasing popularity of the automobile;
between 1914 and 1929 use of the bridge almost doubled from 6,500 to
12,600 vehicles per day. In addition, parts of its structure were
beginning to work loose, and in 1922 the gilded finials on the
towers had to be removed because of concerns that they would fall
off. Architectural opinion had turned heavily against
Victorian styles and
Chelsea Bridge was now deeply unpopular with
architects; former President of the Royal Institute of British
Reginald Blomfield spoke vehemently against its design in
1921, and there were few people supporting the preservation of the
old bridge. In 1926 the Royal Commission on Cross-river Traffic
Chelsea Bridge be rebuilt or replaced.
New Chelsea Bridge
With four lanes of traffic, the new bridge's roadway is much wider
than that of its predecessor.
In 1931 the
London County Council (LCC) proposed demolishing Chelsea
Bridge and replacing it with a modern six-lane bridge at a cost of
£695,000 (about £43.3 million in 2018). Because of the
economic crisis of the
Great Depression the Ministry of Transport
refused to fund the project and the LCC was unable to raise the funds
elsewhere. However, in an effort to boost employment in the Battersea
area, which had suffered badly in the depression, the Ministry of
Transport agreed to underwrite 60% of the costs of a cheaper four-lane
bridge costing £365,000 (about £22.8 million in 2018),
on condition that all materials used in the building of the bridge be
sourced from within the British Empire.
Design and construction
Being self-anchored, the bridge uniquely in
London has no anchoring
In 1934 a temporary footbridge which had previously been used during
rebuilding works on
Lambeth Bridge was moved into place alongside
Chelsea Bridge, and demolition began. The new bridge, also called
Chelsea Bridge, was designed by LCC architects
G. Topham Forrest
G. Topham Forrest and
E. P. Wheeler and built by Holloway Brothers (London). Much wider than
the older bridge at 64 feet (20 m) wide, it has a 40-foot
(12 m) wide roadway and two 12-foot (3.7 m) wide pavements
cantilevered out from the sides of the bridge. Uniquely in London,
Chelsea Bridge is a self-anchored suspension bridge, the first of the
type to be built in Britain. The horizontal stresses are absorbed
by stiffening girders in the deck itself and the suspension cables are
not anchored to the ground, relieving stress on the abutments which
are built on soft and unstable
London clay. The piers of the new
bridge were built on the site of the old bridge's piers, and are built
of concrete, faced with granite above the low-water point. Each
side of the bridge has a single suspension cable, each made up of 37
17⁄8-inch (23mm) diameter wire ropes bundled to form a hexagonal
cable. As was agreed with the Ministry of Transport, all
materials used in the bridge came from the British Empire; the steel
Scotland and Yorkshire, the granite of the piers from
Aberdeen and Cornwall, the timbers of the deck from British Columbia
and the asphalt of the roadway from Trinidad.
As a self-anchored bridge, the suspension cables attach directly to
the deck and do not extend to the ground.
Because the self-anchored structure relies on the roadway itself to
absorb stresses, the suspension cables could not be installed until
the roadway was built; however, until the cables were in place the
roadway could not be supported. To resolve this problem, Topham had
the roadway built in sections, supported on very tall barges. The
barges were floated into place at low tide, and the rising tide was
used to lift the sections above the height of the piers. As the tide
ebbed, the roadway dropped into place.
The recently built
Battersea Power Station then dominated most views
of the area, so it was decided that the bridge's appearance was
unimportant. Consequently, in contrast to the heavily ornamented
1858 bridge, the new bridge has a starkly utilitarian design and the
only ornamentation consists of two ornamental lamp posts at each
entrance. Each features a gilded galleon on top of a coat of arms.
The outward facing sides of all four posts show the LCC coat of arms
of the Lion of England,
St George's Cross
St George's Cross and the barry wavy lines
representing the Thames; the inward faces on the south side show the
dove of peace of the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea, that on the
northwest corner shows the winged bull, lion, boars' heads and stag of
the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea, and that on the northeast corner
the portcullis and Tudor roses of the Metropolitan Borough of
Coat of arms
Coat of arms of the Metropolitan Borough of
Battersea on a Chelsea
Bridge lamp post
The new bridge was completed five months ahead of schedule and within
the £365,000 budget. It was opened on 6 May 1937 by the Prime
Minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was in
the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.[n 5]
Temporary wartime bridge
Two years after the bridge's opening the
Second World War
Second World War broke out.
Because of their close proximity to
Chelsea Barracks it was expected
that enemy bombers would target the three road bridges in the area,
and a temporary bridge was built parallel to Chelsea Bridge. As with
the four other temporary Thames bridges built in this period, it was
built of steel girders supported by wooden stakes; however, despite
its flimsy appearance it was a sturdy structure, capable of supporting
tanks and other heavy military equipment. As it turned out, no
enemy action took place in the area, and all three bridges survived
the war undamaged. The temporary bridge was dismantled in 1945.
Beginning in the 1950s
Chelsea Bridge became a favourite meeting place
for motorcyclists, who would race across the bridge on Friday
nights. On 17 October 1970 a serious confrontation took place on
Chelsea Bridge between the
Essex and Chelsea chapters of the Hells
Angels, and rival motorcycle gangs the Road Rats, Nightingales,
Windsor Angels and Jokers. Around 50 people took part in the
fight; weapons used included motorcycle chains, flick knives and at
least one spiked flail. One member of the Jokers was shot with a
sawn-off shotgun and fatally wounded, and 20 of those present were
sentenced to between one and twelve years imprisonment.
Chelsea Bridge's illuminations
In the 1970s
Chelsea Bridge was painted bright red and white,
prompting a number of complaints from
Chelsea F.C. fans that Chelsea
Bridge had been painted in Arsenal colours. In 2007 it was
redecorated in a less controversial red, blue and white colour
Chelsea Bridge is now floodlit from beneath at night and
936 feet (285 m) of light-emitting diodes strung along the towers
and suspension chains, intended to complement the illuminations of
the nearby Albert Bridge. Although motorcyclists still meet on the
bridge, following complaints from residents about the noise their
racing has been curtailed.
Chelsea Bridge was declared a Grade II listed structure in 2008,
providing protection to preserve its character from further
Battersea Park still retains Cubitt and Pennethorne's
original layout and features, including a riverfront promenade, a
formal avenue through the centre of the park and multiple animal
On the eastern side of the bridge at the southern end a major new
residential development of 600 homes called
Chelsea Bridge Wharf has
been built, as part of long term plans to regenerate the
long-derelict former industrial sites around
Battersea Footbridge curves beneath Chelsea Bridge.
To link the new developments around
Battersea Power Station to
Battersea Park, in 2004 a new curved footbridge was built beneath the
southern end of Chelsea Bridge. The footbridge was built offsite
in four sections, transported by road to the King George V Dock where
it was assembled, and the completed structure floated down the river
and hoisted into position. It is planned that once the riverfront
in the area has been opened to the public, following the completion of
the rebuilding of
Battersea Power Station into a commercial
development, the new bridge will form part of the Thames Path.
The new bridge curves out from the bank, overhanging the river bank by
33 feet (10 m), and cost £600,000 to build.
List of crossings of the River Thames
List of bridges in London
Notes and references
^ Between the 1801 and 1881 censuses, the population of
from 3,000 to 107,000.
^ Although embankments have raised the water level and a channel in
the centre of the river is now dredged, the river is very shallow at
this point. In 1948, after dredging had been suspended owing to the
Second World War, it was possible to walk across the river at low
^ As it shows no signs of battle damage, it is believed that the
shield was cast into the river as a votive offering and was never used
in battle. The shield is now on display in the
British Museum while a
replica is housed in the Museum of London.
^ An earlier unofficial match had been played under Football
Association rules on 19 December 1863 in
Mortlake between Barnes Club
and Richmond F.C., both of whom later went on to join the Rugby
^ Although Thames bridges were traditionally opened by members of the
Royal family or leading
London politicians, King was invited to
perform the ceremony in honour of the roadway's being lined with
British Columbian Douglas Fir.
^ "Thames Bridges Heights". Port of
London Authority. Retrieved 23
^ Cookson 2006, p. 316.
^ Historic England. "CHELSEA BRIDGE (1393009)". National Heritage List
for England. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
^ a b c d e Cookson 2006, p. 130.
^ Roberts 2005, p. 112.
^ Cookson 2006, p. 118.
^ Roberts 2005, p. 111.
^ a b c d e f Cookson 2006, p. 131.
^ Matthews 2008, p. 65.
^ a b Roberts 2005, p. 130.
^ a b c d Cookson 2006, p. 134.
^ a b c d e f g Roberts 2005, p. 114.
^ a b c d e f g h i Matthews 2008, p. 76.
^ a b c d Matthews 2008, p. 75.
^ a b c d e f g h i Davenport 2006, p. 69.
^ a b c d e f Cookson 2006, p. 132.
^ a b c d e Pay, Lloyd & Waldegrave 2009, p. 68.
^ a b c d UK
Retail Price Index
Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data
from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for
Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 6
^ Roberts 2005, p. 61.
London News, 28 September 1858, quoted in Cookson 2006,
^ Matthews 2008, p. 72.
^ Pay, Lloyd & Waldegrave 2009, p. 70.
^ Cookson 2006, p. 147.
^ "The Freeing of the Bridges". The Times. 28 June 1880.
^ Roberts 2005, p. 113.
^ a b c d e Cookson 2006, p. 135.
^ a b c Cookson 2006, p. 136.
^ a b c d Davenport 2006, p. 70.
^ a b Smith 2001, p. 37.
^ a b c d e f Matthews 2008, p. 77.
^ a b c d Cookson 2006, p. 137.
^ a b Roberts 2005, p. 116.
^ a b Roberts 2005, p. 115.
^ "Philips LEDs light Snow Castle and Chelsea Bridge". LEDs Magazine.
13 February 2006. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
^ "Noisy bikers 'destroy our peace'". BBC News. 24 June 2006.
Retrieved 24 August 2011.
London bridges get listed status". BBC News. 26 November 2008.
Retrieved 24 August 2011.
^ McGhie, Caroline (24 July 2002). "The Regeneration Game". Daily
Telegraph. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
^ a b c "On The Waterfront". New Civil Engineer. 8 July 2004.
Retrieved 6 June 2009. (subscription required)
^ "First Steps". New Civil Engineer. 3 April 2003. Retrieved 6 June
2009. (subscription required)
Cookson, Brian (2006). Crossing the River. Edinburgh: Mainstream.
ISBN 978-1-84018-976-6. OCLC 63400905.
Davenport, Neil (2006). Thames Bridges: From Dartford to the Source.
Kettering: Silver Link Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85794-229-3.
Matthews, Peter (2008). London's Bridges. Oxford: Shire.
ISBN 978-0-7478-0679-0. OCLC 213309491.
Pay, Ian; Lloyd, Sampson; Waldegrave, Keith (2009). London's Bridges:
Crossing the Royal River. Wisley: Artists' and Photographers' Press.
ISBN 978-1-904332-90-9. OCLC 280442308.
Roberts, Chris (2005). Cross River Traffic. London: Granta.
Smith, Denis (2001). Civil Engineering Heritage
London and the Thames
Valley. London: Thomas Telford. ISBN 978-0-7277-2876-0.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chelsea Bridge.
"Chelsea Bridge" (PDF). The Engineer. 7 August 1936.
pp. 139–141. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 October
Loobet, Patrick (2002).
Battersea Past. Historical Publications Ltd.
pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0-948667-76-3.
Crossings of the River Thames
Grid reference: TQ285778