The series began at London Bridge itself. From an engineering perspective, Bell explained that the wooden Claudian bridge was the first across the Thames , built on no fewer than twenty-nine artificial islands, making it very difficult to negotiate. It was replaced with a very similar stone unit by Henry II. The Haberdashers were very influential during the lifespan of the bridge but first the churches, shops and houses came down and so did the structure itself, although a model (left) exists in St. Magnus the Martyr church. The replacement was far more linear than the alternative designs and more convenient for vessels than the first but it couldn’t take the weight of all the traffic so well and was sold to Arizona, being replaced under fifty years ago by a pre-stressed concrete entity with just three arches.
Tower Bridge is of course, a much newer structure, dating from 1886-94, as no bridge over the Thames east of London Bridge had previously been allowed, whilst the Brunels’ Rotherhithe Tunnel was insufficient for the Port of London’s commercial traffic. It was conceived by Horace Jones and John Barry, whose father Charles had recreated the Houses of Parliament after the 1834 fire, with two hollow pillars each of which has a massive skeleton of steel clothed in stone and brick for a Gothic effect. The towers are partially held together by a high walkway that connects the sides even when the bascules are open, although the walkway was closed for several decades from 1910. The slimline design allowed it to survive the Blitz more easily and it looks, deceptively, centuries older, although Tilbury has overtaken the City as the river’s main port.
These two episodes were shown in January and the rest will appear later in the year, as Covid-19 restrictions interrupted filming.