In 1753 it became obvious that
a new bridge was required to make a gateway to the capital.
This would be the third bridge to be built across the Thames
in central London, after London Bridge and Westminster Bridge.
A competition was held in 1759
to find the best design and the winner, Robert Mylne, was
appointed to build the bridge in 1760. The bridge had nine
elliptical arches, resting on slender, pointed cutwaters and
supported by double Ionic columns.
You can see the the designs of
this bridge on the walls of the southern pedestrian subway
under Blackfriars Bridge.
Finished in Portland stone, the
structure was 995 ft long and 42 ft wide. At the laying
of the foundation stone, the bridge was named Pitt Bridge,
after the Tory Prime Minister, but when the bridge was opened
in 1769 Pitt was out of favour, and it was renamed Blackfriars
Bridge, in honour of the Black Friars who moved their monastery
from Holborn to a site near the northern approach road to
the bridge in 1274.
Although maintained, the Portland
stone was soon eroded by the polluted saline waters of the
Thames and the foundations of the bridge became undermined.
Much of this pollution was caused by the River Fleet, which
flowed into the Thames under a large archway near the western
end of the bridge. Over the years it had become an open
sewer and it was also a serious health hazard. Repairs
were put in hand but in 1840 these were halted in favour of
building a new bridge as soon as possible.
bridge was demolished in 1860 and a temporary bridge erected
in its place. The corporation originally accepted a
design by Thomas Page for a three-arch bridge, but at the
same time the London Chatham & Dover Railway wanted a
railway bridge, and since the railway bridge required five
arches, the road bridge had to be amended to five. After
two years Joseph Cubbit, was appointed to design both bridges.
To overcome tidal scour Cubbit sank massive iron caissons
into the river clay and half filled them with concrete.
On to these he built up his piers in granite-faced brickwork.
The spans, two each of 155 ft and 175 ft on either side of
the 185 ft centre are formed of wrought-iron ribs.
From the cutwaters columns of
polished red granite were erected to support pulpit-like bays
at pavement level. These were embellished by the sculptor
J B Philip with sculpted birds and flowers in honour the original
Black Friars. On the upstream side these show plants
and freshwater birds, while on the downstream side they depict
marine vegetation and seagulls. The low cast-iron balustrade
completes the 'Venetian-Gothic' effect. The bridge is
923 ft long and 70 wide.
6 November 1869 the Queen Victoria opened the new bridge by
driving over from the Surrey bank. She then carried
on to inaugurate the newly-completed Holborn Viaduct