Hammersmith Bridge has been closed while undergoing a complete refurbishment.
Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, answered questions from passing cyclist David Maxwell-Scott about the future of the bridge.
Here are some facts that will explain what's happened with the 132-year-old suspension bridge and why these works are necessary and the most comprehensive ever undertaken.
Frequently asked questions
- What's so special about Hammersmith Bridge?
Hammersmith Bridge was the first suspension bridge built over the Thames. Designed by the noted 19th century civil engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, it was built in 1887.
Opened by the Prince of Wales in June 1887, Hammersmith Bridge is a complex feat of Victorian engineering built using a combination of cast iron, wrought iron and 999 individual wooden plates. It features structural copulas and seven crests. It's also London’s lowest bridge, with a water clearance of just 12 feet at high tide, and the capital’s weakest bridge, which is why weight restrictions have been in place since 2015.
The original cost to build the bridge was £82,117. That is equivalent to £10.6 million today.
Hammersmith Bridge has been bombed three times - by the IRA in 1939, by the Provisional IRA in 1996, and by the Real IRA in 2000.
The bridge is one of London’s most iconic structures and features in many films.
Video: Hammersmith Bridge in the 1970s
Archive footage of Hammersmith Bridge with an unfamiliar paint colour and significantly less traffic. Video courtesy of British Pathe.
- Who is responsible for the bridge?
The bridge belongs to Hammersmith & Fulham Council (H&F Council), but it is also a vital part of London’s strategic transport system which is why Transport for London (TfL) has been project managing the restoration of the bridge since 2015.
TfL have already committed £25 million and are actively working to fund the rest of the required funding to get the bridge back up and running.
H&F Council and TfL have been working closely together on the major refurbishment of Hammersmith Bridge.
- Why is the bridge closed?
Cast iron is brittle and prone to shattering – one reason why this is the only bridge of its kind in the country and one of only two in the world today – the other spans the Danube in Budapest.
In 2015, the council began the first series of thorough reviews in the bridge’s recent history. The scope was to check all aspects of the bridge’s structure. These new, weekly safety checks, included using new sensor technology to assess if the stresses being imposed on the bridge were causing structural damage.
The safety checks revealed that over decades the bridge’s bearings had seized up due to corrosion. This has caused the bridge’s natural and necessary flexibility to become compromised. The bridge was closed to motor vehicles in April after our engineers discovered hairline micro-fractures had started to appear in the iron casings around the pedestals of the bridge.
Below are images of these new micro-fractures in both pedestals:
- Who uses the bridge?
The bridge is a main artery connecting the north and south sides of the Thames and a vital river crossing for residents in neighbouring boroughs on both sides of the Thames, and for London as a whole.
The bridge was built for horses, carts and penny farthings. Until 2015, when the council limited the number of buses, the bridge was used by 22,000 cars and 1,800 buses every day.
- What is being done to reopen it?
A team of 18 world-class specialist engineers from both TfL and H&F Council are currently undertaking the most comprehensive engineering review the bridge has ever seen.
Included in the team are engineers who have experience of repairing oil rigs. They are the best in the world at understanding the complexities of large-scale metal structures.
Additional engineers will be brought in soon to install more sensors across other areas of the bridge and start work on the pedestals. The engineers will be seeking to work round the clock on some elements of the investigations while ensuring that residents are protected from the impact of noise and light.
- When will it reopen?
Clearly safety comes first. Closing the bridge was the right thing to do. Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Transport for London are committed to re-opening the bridge and restore it to its former Victorian splendour as soon as possible. It is a complex and highly-skilled job. It is also Grade II Listed, which makes its restoration even more complex.
Our specialist engineers will have completed a full diagnosis of all aspects of the bridge’s state of health by mid-August at which point we will have a more precise understanding of the scale of the works and the timescale required.
Along with Transport for London, H&F Council will then bring forward a detailed plan of work and will be able to give a more precise timescale for the bridge’s re-opening.
At this stage it is hard to predict how long repair work could take, but it might be as long as three years.
- Will the bridge look the same once it's reopended?
After its full restoration, the bridge will look better than it does today. As well as repairing its structural issues, its road surface will be rennovated and the bridge will be fully restored to its former glory.
- How much will it cost to reopen the bridge?
The bridge is a national asset and one of London’s icons. Once the engineers report their findings, the project to restore the bridge to its former Victorian splendour will be fully costed.
- Who will pay for it?
Residents of Hammersmith & Fulham will NOT be paying for the repair of the bridge. They pay enough already and this bridge is used by, and belongs to, all Londoners.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council is working with TfL to submit a bid to the government to fund the restoration of one of the capital’s most iconic river crossings.
- Some have suggested the repair of the bridge could be paid for using tolls - is this true?
We’re not ruling out the use of tolls on the bridge by drivers passing through, but residents of Hammersmith & Fulham wouldn't be asked to pay a penny to use the bridge.
- What short-term options are there for ensuring vulnerable residents can still cross the Thames between Barnes and Hammersmith?
Pedestrians and cyclists can still use the bridge. Hammersmith & Fulham Council is exploring various short-term measures to ensure vulnerable residents on both sides of the bridge, for whom the bridge is a lifeline, will also be able to continue to cross it.
These measures could include a community shuttle service. Other options are also being explored and will be in place as soon as the engineers confirm they are 100% confident the bridge can be used safely.
TfL has added a series of alternative bus routes for Hammersmith Bridge.
- The bridge has been closed before, so how can we be sure it won't happen again?
The more comprehensive the investigations are at this stage, the more enduring the long-term solutions will be, which is why the investigations most be carried out thoroughly.
As well as restoring the bridge to its full working order, Hammersmith & Fulham Council is also exploring additional, sustainable and ambitious solutions to West London’s traffic in the 21st century.
Video: Maintenance work with a giant spanner
Footage showing engineers using a giant spanner to remove a bolt from Hammersmith Bridge.
Pedestrians and cyclists will still be able to cross.
Diversions are in place for motorists and the bus routes which use the bridge - find out more about Hammersmith Bridge diversions on the TfL website.
View a map showing where to catch your bus (pdf 180KB) now Hammersmith Bridge is closed.