Sunday 21 November 2010

'Over Hungerford Bridge'

The original Hungerford Suspension Bridge,
demolished a few years prior to this article.
A tour of the south bank ('Surrey side') of the river Thames, in 1867 - an article called 'Over Hungerford Bridge' by the journalist Richard Rowe - added to ... you'll find it here. The description of this industrial side of the river is not positive ... "The general characteristic of Surrey-side thoroughfares is gritty desolation." ... but the piece also includes a great description of the Victoria Embankment, under construction at the time:

"... country passengers excitedly gather at the windows to catch a glimpse of the bright bustling river and the busy embankment works.
    They certainly are worth looking at : it is a queerly chaotic waste to see so near the serried rows and jumbles of dusky dwellings that crowd down upon it. Yonder there is some sign of cosmos emerging from the chaos ; the earthwork plateau is filled in, and the granite facings glisten in the sunlight. But near the bridge the scene is, to the non-professional eye, a mere nightmare vision of hopelessly confused and behind-hand engineering. A tiny cascade is tumbling from the riverside boarding as water splashes down the gates of a canal lock or a mill-dam. Alongside lies an arid earth-barge, into and out of whose open hold navvies' barrows, slung in a triangle of hooked cord, are constantly descending empty and ascending full. A panting steam crane hauls them up; its grimy driver, glued to its little wooden step, looking, as he swings backwards and forwards with his engine, a mere piece of its machinery. All over the works these industrious little black monsters keep up their consequential pant. A heavier puffing proceeds from a pumping engine, planted on an oasis of small coal, and a dismal clank from the huge, clay-coloured links of its ever revolving chain; whilst through a grotesquely bent pipe water runs out into a muddy reservoir. Here yawns a deep, broad gap, sided and crossed with an angular confusion of planks, which give it the look of a Noah's ark in frame. There curving tramroads run apparently nowhither. Along springy paths of plank, navvies, in blue check shirts, and dirty white jumpers, are wheeling their barrows, piled high like jelly glasses, with straining arms, or sauntering back with them empty, propelling handles turned into carelessly drawing shafts. Ballast-waggons and contractors' tumbrils seem to be emptying their loads at random,—sierras of loam and gravel to be rising under a fortuitous concourse of atoms. In two or three places men are laying fat bags, which, when thrown down, give out a cloud of white dust, like flour sacks. In the centre of the level that has been made stands a shanty, as black, and rough, and desolately ruinous as the remains of a log hut in the midst of a fire-blasted prairie. Here drain-pipes are littered like the chimney-tops of houses engulfed by earthquake ; there lies a massive wooden pile like the stranded kelson of a wreck; and yonder bask half-a-dozen granite blocks like fallen obelisks in an Egyptian sand-plain."


  1. Many thanks for putting this on your excellent site. As most of my ancestors lived in this part of London during the Victorian era it is nice to see some literary 'flesh' being added to the bare bones of addresses that I already possess. Having lived north of the river for 30 years of my life and only one south, I never realised how much was connected to Southwark and Surrey until I started digging.

  2. Great - it's a lovely piece and 'south of the river' is often overlooked, so it's good to add something!