Hammersmith Bridge – all you need to know and latest updates

Hammersmith Bridge spanning the river Thames supported by its two pedestals
Image caption: Hammersmith Bridge

Included on this page

The closure of Hammersmith Bridge

On 13 August 2020, the 133-year-old Hammersmith Bridge had to be closed to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic for safety reasons.

Black and white photo of a horse and cart crossing Hammersmith Bridge
Image caption: A horse and cart with passengers crossing Hammersmith Bridge during the Victorian era

In the preceding hours new sensors positioned throughout the suspension structure alerted engineers to a rapid and sudden increase in the size of dangerous micro-fractures in the cast iron pedestals that hold the suspension system in place.

The heatwave was the most likely cause. The micro-fractures were first discovered in 2019 using the latest technology. Cast iron is brittle and can shatter. The micro-fractures therefore posed the serious risk that the bridge could suddenly, and with little warning, collapse into the Thames.

Up until 10 April 2019, Hammersmith Bridge carried 22,000 motor vehicles a day. Up until 13 August 2020, hundreds of boats travelled underneath it and 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists travelled across it each day.

Letter to residents from Cllr Stephen Cowan about the full bridge closure (10 September 2020) (pdf 655KB)

How did this happen?

Engineers employed by Hammersmith & Fulham Council discovered that the microfractures are a consequence of decades of unchecked corrosion that is riddled throughout the suspension structure.

Hammersmith Bridge at dusk with electric lighting switched on
Image caption: Hammersmith Bridge at dusk

These very serious problems only began to be discovered from 2015 onwards because in 2014, the current administration commissioned a Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review – the first in the bridge’s history. Prior to that, only £250,000 had been spent touching up the decking and other minor works.

The council and Transport for London employed some of the best engineers in the world and tasked them with fully diagnosing all the problems with Hammersmith Bridge and developing a plan to make it safe and fit for purpose. The engineers have huge experience including working on the Golden Gate Bridge in California and on oil rigs in the North Sea.

Funding the ‘shovel-ready’ plans to fix the bridge

The engineers have advised it will cost: £46million to stabilise Hammersmith Bridge and make it safe for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic; up to £141million to fully restore the bridge so it can be reopened to buses and motor vehicles; and £163million if we wished to reduce the three-year timescale by as much as twelve months.

No council has that sort of money available. Over the last 18 months, TfL has made a series of bids to government for funding of the Hammersmith Bridge works which have all be rejected. On 24 August 2020, the Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Cllr Stephen Cowan and Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister asking for the government’s financial support.

Original Bazalgette architectural drawing showing sections of Hammersmith Bridge
Image caption: Bazalgette original architectural drawing of the north west pedestal illustrating the location of micro-fractures

The Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce

Following the letter to the Prime Minister, on 9 September the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps announced he was setting up a government taskforce, which would take over the project and work up solutions. Members of the taskforce include Cllr Cowan, the Deputy London Mayor for Transport for London, the CEO of the Port of London Authority, the Leader of Richmond Council and respective officials. It is chaired by Baroness Vere of Norbiton who is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport. The project director is Dana Skelley.

Taskforce updates

At the Government-led Taskforce on 13 November 2020 it was reported that the procurement process for a ferry has begun and that the service should be operational “by spring 2021”.

With H&F having committed £2.7m this year, monitoring work continues on the structure with a focus on the pedestals.

H&F, Sir John Ritblat and Foster + Partners unveil radical new plans for Hammersmith Bridge

Drawing of the new temporary double-decker crossing within the existing structure of Hammersmith Bridge
Image caption: CGI of the new temporary double-decker crossing

Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Sir John Ritblat from Delancey, and world leading architects and engineers Foster + Partners have unveiled a radical new plan to build a temporary double-decker crossing within the existing structure of Hammersmith Bridge that has been closed fully on safety grounds since 13 August.

Under the proposal, pedestrians, cyclists and, potentially, motor vehicles could be using the bridge, with river traffic passing underneath, within a year of a contractor being appointed - much sooner than the previous plan.

A new raised truss structure would be built above the existing road deck featuring a lower level for pedestrians and cyclists and an upper level for cars and buses.

Double-decker crossing

Council makes urgent request for extra buses

Workman drilling part of Hammertsmith Bridge under covers
Image caption: Hammersmith Bridge undergoing repairs

The council is concerned about children needing to take detours around Hammersmith Bridge and has urged TfL to increase the frequency of the existing bus routes and to consider a bespoke school bus to help them manage the disruption.

More than 1,000 school children from several London boroughs must now make a longer journey every day. The problem is especially acute for students as well as teachers and other commuters living in the borough of Richmond, but is also impacts students from across West and Southwest London who attend schools on both sides of the Thames.

Urgent request for extra buses

Further information

Q&As – all you need to know

Here are some facts that will explain what has happened with the 133-year-old suspension bridge, why major works are necessary and what H&F is doing to mitigate the impact of the closure.

All links in the following Q&As open in a new window or tab.

  • Why did the bridge close for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic in August 2020?

    On safety grounds. On 13 August 2020 new sensors positioned throughout the bridge alerted engineers to a rapid and sudden increase in the size of dangerous micro-fractures in the cast iron pedestals that hold the 19th century suspension structure in place.

    Cracks in the pedestals under Hammersmith Bridge
    Image caption: Micro-factures in the north west and south west pedestals under Hammersmith Bridge

    Cast iron is brittle and can shatter - 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.

    The expansion of the micro-fractures posed the serious risk that the bridge could suddenly and with little warning collapse, so on urgent safety grounds it had to be closed to all users, including river traffic.

  • Why did the bridge close to vehicles last year?

    In April 2019, hairline micro-fractures in the bridge’s pedestals were first discovered by the council’s specialist engineers using the latest technology, prompting the council to close the bridge to vehicles on safety grounds.

    The engineers discovered that the microfractures are a consequence of decades of unchecked corrosion that is riddled throughout the suspension structure. These very serious problems were only revealed because, in 2014, the administration commissioned a Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review – the first in the bridge’s history.

  • What is the Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review?

    The current administration commissioned a Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review (CSIR) of the bridge in 2014, the first in its history, with the objective of understanding if the bridge was structurally sound. As part of the review, the council hired a team of world class specialist engineers, started weekly safety inspections and installed hi-tech sensors all over the bridge to check if stresses were causing structural damage.

    The review, likened to peeling back an onion, revealed elements of the bridge that hadn’t been uncovered since it was built. These investigations revealed the extent of structural problems with the bridge – its natural and necessary flexibility had become compromised, causing critical fractures in the pedestals that anchor the bridge into the ground.

    Based on the engineer’s reports and the findings of the CSIR, a comprehensive and enduring repair plan has been drawn up and is ready for implementation, pending funding.

  • What will it cost to repair?

    As the council’s CSIR peeled back different parts of this unique structure, new, complex and often dangerous failures were revealed, pushing up restoration costs.

    Specialist engineers have put together comprehensive plans to fix the 133-year-old bridge. It will cost £46million to stabilise it, which will make it safe for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic. It will cost £141million to fully restore the bridge so it can be reopened to buses and motor vehicles – a similar amount to building a new bridge. A quicker option could cost up to £163million.

  • Who will pay for it?

    The bridge can be fixed, the plans are ready and work could start immediately. Securing the necessary funds to pay for this major infrastructure project is less straight forward.

    The estimated cost simply to make the bridge safe and avoid a potential catastrophic failure, is £46million. No council has that kind of money available, even before the multi-million pounds cost of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Hammersmith Bridge is a strategically important river crossing and a main London transport artery. TfL has made a series of bids to government for the funding of the Hammersmith Bridge works which have all been rejected. The Leaders of Hammersmith & Fulham and Richmond Councils have also asked for the government’s financial support.

    Only the government and the private sector has the sort of sums needed. The taskforce is exploring funding options. The council will not be asking residents of H&F to contribute to the cost.

  • What is the purpose of the new Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce?

    Following council requests for the government’s urgent constructive engagement and financial support, on 9 September 2020, the government announced a Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce which would take over the project and work up solutions. The taskforce’s remit includes reviewing Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s proposed stabilisation and repair scheme and exploring funding options for the repair of the bridge and for temporary solutions. The council welcomes the government’s engagement. Read updates from the taskforce on this page.

    Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and Cllr Gareth Roberts, the Leader of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, attend the taskforce, which is chaired by Transport Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, and includes representatives from Transport for London, the Department of Transport, and the Port of London Authority. The Project Director is Dana Skelley OBE.

    Cllr Cowan has asked the taskforce to make an early commitment on funding, which is crucial to progressing repair and mitigation work.

  • Is a temporary ferry a viable option?

    Dana Skelley, the Project Director of the Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce, said in a statement: “The Taskforce agreed a ferry service across the river would be the preferred transport solution to deliver a crossing for residents in the short-term and we are working quickly to have a service in place by early next year.”

    To speed things up as much as possible, Hammersmith & Fulham and Richmond Councils and the Port of London Authority have committed to fast-tracking elements of the process they are responsible for; planning and licensing approvals, with passenger safety as the paramount issue. Several parties have already expressed interest in running a service.

  • What about building a temporary road bridge?

    Contrary to misleading claims, a temporary road bridge could not be built for £7million in three months. This proposal has been discarded by Transport for London engineers on the grounds of cost, timescale and feasibility.

    The required permission for a temporary bridge from the Port of London Authority is also contingent on all the funding for the complete repair of the bridge being already in place before work on a temporary bridge could start.

    Without the financing in place for the permanent repair, the option of any kind of temporary bridge is not available.

  • Why not just take it down and build a new one?

    The bridge is protected by Heritage England. It is a Grade II Listed heritage asset meaning it is a 'particularly important' national structure of 'more than special interest'. Despite its problems, Hammersmith Bridge is a beautiful Victorian structure and a unique part of Britain’s pioneer engineering heritage. Furthermore, the cost of building a new bridge would be similar to the repair of the current bridge.

  • What is the council doing to help school children deal with the disruption?

    More than 1,000 school children from several London boroughs have experienced disruption to their journeys to school. The disruption is especially acute for students and teachers living in the borough of Richmond but is also impacts students from across west and southwest London who attend schools on both sides of the Thames.

    At Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s request TfL has doubled the number of buses. Hammersmith & Fulham Council has also asked TfL to explore the provision of a bespoke point-to-point coach system for school children. Hammersmith & Fulham Council is exploring using school marshals and 'walking buses' to assist children walking to school and back if necessary.

    The council has carried out a full lighting audit of all alternative walking routes and is confident they are all well-lit. Where Hammersmith & Fulham Council has responsibility for SEN travel assistance this is being provided.

  • What else is being done to mitigate the disruption?

    Hammersmith & Fulham Council is working closely and constructively with the MPs for Hammersmith, Richmond Park, Putney, and Brentford and Isleworth, with TfL, the Mayor of London, with Richmond Council, the PLA and the government’s Taskforce to coordinate our joint mitigation efforts.

    At our request, TfL has reorganised buses in the area to ensure that residents still have a connected public transport network while the bridge remains closed. It has also enhanced 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 added a series of alternative bus routes for Hammersmith Bridge:

    • Extra services on Route 533 (Hammersmith Bus Station - Lonsdale Road), increasing the frequency Monday to Friday from two to four buses an hour.
    • Extra services on Route 378 (Mortlake Bus Station – Putney Bridge Station), increasing the frequency Monday to Saturday during the day from five to eight buses per hour.


    TfL has extended its Dial-a-Ride scheme to help residents with mobility needs who live near Hammersmith Bridge. For more details, read our Dial-a-Ride news story.

    If you have any questions about the repair works, please call TfL on 0343 222 1234. (Charges apply - calls from landlines are typically charged between 2p and 10p per minute and calls from mobiles typically cost between 10p and 40p per minute. Connection charges may apply.)

  • 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.

    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.

  • Who is responsible for fixing the bridge?

    The bridge is a Grade II Listed heritage asset meaning it is a 'particularly important' national structure of 'more than special interest'.

    Ownership of the bridge was passed to Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 1985 after the abolition of the GLC. When the current administration launched its Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review in 2014, it revealed that the bridge had been poorly maintained for decades. The Council is currently paying £2.7million a year simply to stop additional and dangerous deterioration.

    Hammersmith Bridge is London icon and a vital part of London’s strategic transport system and major North South arterial route, which is why Transport for London (TfL) has been project managing the restoration of the bridge since 2015.

  • Who uses the bridge?

    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.

    Up until 13 August 2020, hundreds of boats travelled underneath and 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists travelled across it each day including more than 1,000 school children from several London boroughs.

    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.

  • 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 restoring 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.

    Work to stabilise the bridge will take 9 months. The full restoration of the bridge will take three to four 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.

  • What about 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.

Videos

  • Watch our videos about Hammersmith Bridge

    Hammersmith Bridge (1970 to 1975)

    Archive footage of Hammersmith Bridge with an unfamiliar paint colour and significantly less traffic. Video courtesy of British Pathe.

    Hammersmith Bridge time-lapse repairs 2019

    Video footage from a north facing CCTV camera on Hammersmith Bridge taken between 22 November and 20 December 2019.

    Returning Hammersmith Bridge to its Victorian splendour

    Cllr Stephen Cowan talks to engineers working on restoring Hammersmith Bridge. This video contains headcam footage captured while engineers worked inside the bridge pedestals, and time-lapse footage illustrating the volume of traffic crossing the bridge pre-closure.

    Discussion with David Maxwell-Scott

    Cllr Stephen Cowan answers questions from passing cyclist David Maxwell-Scott about the future of the bridge.

    Hammersmith Bridge Public Meeting: Session Two

    Video of a public meeting hosted by Richmond Council.

    Our plans for Hammersmith Bridge

    A two-minute animation summarising the reasons for this closure and what we are doing to repair the bridge.

Press coverage

Letters