Hungerford Bridge (1845)

Hungerford Bridge (1845)

The history of Hungerford is complex. In the 1840s Brunel built a pedestrian suspension tollbridge here, leading to the former Hungerford Market on the north bank. It was a clever and advanced design, one of the longest in the world at the time, and incorporated landing piers for boats in its footings. Many paintings were made of it, including a fine one by James McNeill Whistler, and it was a subject for the pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. But it was a commercial flop, some say because of the stink rising from the heavily polluted river. Perfectly believable - after all, the “Great Stink” was enough to empty the nearby Houses of Parliament around this time.

Then in the 1860s the railways came, Hungerford Market became Charing Cross station, Brunel‘s bridge died tragically young, and a squat, ugly railway bridge by engineer John Hawkshaw took its place - but incorporating Brunel‘s redbrick and stone piers in the river, which you can still see today. At the same time the Thames was narrowed on the north bank with the building of engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette‘s Victoria Embankment - a long boxful of sewers and metro tunnels topped with a wide road. This dealt brilliantly with both the stinking-river problem and Victorian traffic congestion, but this curve of the river lost a lot of its visual character as a consequence. Brunelís northern (Middlesex) pier now abuts the Embankment, whereas originally it stood well out in the river as the southern (Surrey Pier) still does.