ICE Fellow and chief executive of the Rochester Bridge Trust, Sue Threader, featured as an expert contributor on the opening episode of Channel 5’s London’s Greatest Bridges on Wednesday
The show is hosted by Rob Bell
and explores the extraordinary stories of four of London's most iconic bridges – starting with London Bridge
, from its early stages through its various redevelopments and changes to its current state.
As the first bridge over the River Thames, and the only one in London for around 1700 years, London Bridge is an integral part of the city’s history.
The religious connection
Threader offered insight firstly on religious associations to bridge funding around the 12th century, as well as why initial records of London Bridge showed buildings such as housing, shops and churches.
Medieval London Bridge
“It’s a great symbol of medieval London, all human life is here. It’s like a little London all of its own,” she said of the bridge, designed by the priest Peter of Colechurch.
“The church was integrated into medieval life. It was responsible for most of the big civil engineering projects of the day but also at the time, in the mind of the medieval man, bridge-building was a pious act. It was another way you could do charitable acts and give to the public good, so people were willing to leave money in their wills and make substantial donations to roads and bridges at that time.”
Threader also touched on the ambitious designs by Thomas Telford to replace the bridge and why they never came to fruition.
“The government were asking for a bridge with a clear span above the waterway of over 60 feet… so he was responding to the brief he’d been given," she said.
“It would have been twice the height of any bridge which exists on the Thames today. It’s a tremendous idea. The issue for the bridge was the length of the approaches that it was going to require to get up to that kind of height.
“Land in the City of London is a very expensive commodity, even at that time… so the idea of taking up all that land to achieve this enormous structure just was financially or politically viable.”
The series shifts its focus to Tower Bridge next, with the second episode airing on Channel 5 on Wednesday, January 13 at 20:00 GMT.
Watch the first episode back via My5.