With strict safety measures in place to protect the workforce and public from coronavirus, work continues to make Hammersmith Bridge safe for generations to come.
By the end of April, specialist repair teams had completed a total of 18,847 hours of work in the 22 weeks since detailed investigation concluded into cracks and corrosion in the iconic Grade ll* listed bridge structure.
It is just over a year since micro-fractures were discovered in the cast-iron casings around the bridge pedestals during a regular safety check.
Potential catastrophe was only averted because Hammersmith & Fulham Council instigated the first-ever Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review, uncovering decades of unchecked corrosion throughout the suspension mechanisms of a bridge which celebrates its 133rd birthday in June.
The fractures, found using hi-tech analytic equipment, posed an immediate threat to the bridge as cast iron can shatter.
The extensive repairs needed to guarantee the future safety of the bridge only paused briefly on 20 and 24 April to run through the Covid-19 site operating procedures with the workforce, and address the issue of correct use of PPE on site.
With work focused on the bridge pedestals, the latest project has been the installation of acoustic emission sensors to detect future stress levels, with detailed inspections being made at each stage of the operation.
Layer upon layer of old paint – in some places 46 coats deep – has also been flash-blasted from the Victorian cast-iron supports that hold the suspension chains in place, and the metalwork primed.
The chain tunnel in the north-west corner has been pumped out and inspected, all the time maintaining social distancing and responding to updates to Government advice via daily site briefings on the coronavirus situation.
The monitored single-direction system remains in force on Hammersmith Bridge, with clear markings to maintain safe distancing for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists pushing their bikes.
The repair programme, which involves close cooperation between H&F Council, TfL and the Mayor of London, is being kept under constant review.
Hammersmith Bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales in June 1887 and was the first suspension bridge spanning the Thames.
- Hammersmith Bridge videos
Video footage from a north facing CCTV camera on Hammersmith Bridge taken between 22 November and 20 December 2019.
Watch our video about restoring Hammersmith Bridge to its Victorian splendour.
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.
More about the bridge
- New temporary bridge for cyclists and pedestrians across Thames - 9 March 2020
- Update on repairs - letter to residents and businesses 25 November 2019 (pdf 176KB)
- Our plans for Hammersmith Bridge - a two-minute animation summarising the reasons for this closure and what we are doing to repair the bridge.
- Letter to residents from the Leader of the council - October 2019 (pdf 637KB)
- Hospital Trust refutes doctor’s bridge claim
- Letter to residents from the Leader of the council - July 2019 (pdf 649KB)
- Residents’ needs on both sides of Hammersmith Bridge are the priority
Frequently asked questions
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.
- What about building a temporary replacement road bridge?
We’ve looked in detail, with the benefit of access to detailed engineering reports, at building a new road bridge alongside Hammersmith Bridge. The expert advice is that this proposal is not feasible in the space available and at an affordable cost. We are therefore not pursuing this option. Work is already underway for the complete refurbishment of Hammersmith Bridge to reopen it to cars and buses as soon as possible.
- 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 one of the capital’s weakest bridges, 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.
- 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.
TfL and H&F Council are continuing to explore the most appropriate funding for the next phase of construction, ahead of the planned award of a contract for the next stage of the works next spring. The work is expected to take approximately three years.
- Will the bridge look the same once it's reopened?
The bridge will be fully restored to its former glory and, once restored, will look better than it does today.
As well as repairing its structural issues, its road surface will be renovated to ensure the surface is smooth and fit for purpose. In addition, the original electric lights will be replaced with LED light bulbs. Although the LED light bulbs will look the same they will cut energy use by 50 per cent.
- 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 fully 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?
TfL has reorganised buses in the area to ensure that residents still have a well-connected public transport network while the bridge remains closed.
It will also enhance its Dial-a-Ride services to provide another option for people with impaired mobility whose journeys might have been affected by the closure.
TfL has changed traffic signals in the area to reduce the impact of the closure, and will continue to monitor how traffic responds.
TfL has added a series of alternative bus routes for Hammersmith Bridge.
- What about access for emergency vehicles?
There have been emergency service contingency plans in place long before the bridge was closed. Hammersmith & Fulham Council is in regular dialogue with all emergency service providers.
- 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.