Kew BridgeKew Bridge is a bridge in London over the River Thames. The present bridge was designed by John Wolfe-Barry and opened in 1903.
Notes from small centenary display at Richmond Museum October 2003
Museum has an engraving by John Barnard Architect of the design for the first Kew Bridge, dedicated to the Prince of Wales and the Princess Dowager of Wales and dated 1759. He describes it as the “Bridge over the River of Thames from Kew in the County of Surry to the opposite shore in the County of Middlesex”.
The Prince of Wales took a lease on Kew House from 1731 and rebuilt the house using William Kent’s designs. His widow, Augusta, started the botanic gardens and created many of the garden buildings. She died in 1771 and her son, now George II moved in. Kew became the regular summer residence of the royal family.
The first bridge was inaugurated on 1 June 1759 by the Prince of Wales driving over it with his mother and a number of other royals. It was opened to the public 3 days later and such was the excitement that over 3,000 people crossed in one day. Tolls ranged from 1 penny for each pedestrian to 1shilling and sixpence for a coach and 4.
The first bridge was built by Robert Tunstall of Brentford who owned the ferry. An Act of Parliament was required to allow this to happen. It was constructed with two stone arches at each end and 7 timber arches in between. These proved costly to maintain and it only lasted 30 years.
In 1782 Robert Tunstall junior, son of the builder of the first bridge, obtained consent to replace the bridge and work began on 4 June 1783, the anniversary date of the first bridge opening to the public. The new bridge was designed by James Paine who had been responsible for Richmond Bridge in 1777. The cost was £16,500 which was raised by means of a tontine. (Subscribers take out an annuity during their lifetime and this is increase as each one dies until one is the winner??)
The second bridge was built alongside the first, to avoid hindrance to traffic during construction work, and this time was built entirely of stone. It was opened on 22 September 1789 by George III crossing with “a great concourse of carriages”. The tolls were a halfpenny per pedestrian and 6 pence for each horse. The bridge was sold by auction to Mr Robinson for £23,000 in 1819 and again in 1873, when it was purchased by a joint committee of the City of London Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of Works for £57,300.
(The exhibition includes a copy of a JMW Turner sketch of the second bridge from Brentford Ait c 1805/6 with barges on the left.)
The tollbooths were at the Brentford end of the bridge and were originally planned as rather grand little pavilions with Doric porticos. To same on the cost rather simpler Italianate booths were built instead of brick and stucco. Tolls were abolished on 8 February 1873 and a triumphal arch was built at the Brentford entrance to the bridge. The gates were removed and paraded on a brewer’s dray through Brentford ad around Kew Green.
By the 1890s it was clear that the bridge could not really cope with the weight of traffic and in any case the approach was too narrow and steep on the Brentford side. Sir John Wolfe Barry, the engineer was invited to assess the bridge in 1892 and recommended building a new bridge rather than modifications to the second one. The Kew Bridge Act of 1898 paved the way and the third bridge was commissioned jointly by the Middlesex and Surrey County Councils at a cost of £250,000. The engineers were Barry and Cuthbert A Brereton and the building contractors Easton Gibbs and Son. The third bridge was 1,182 feet long, and the largest of its three arches has a span of 133 feet. The roadway is 56 feet wide (compared to 18 feet on the second bridge), and the pavements 9 feet 6 inches (compared to 3 feet 3 inches). It was built of granite from Cornwall.
A temporary wooden bridge was put in place upstream pf the second bridge before demolition during October to December 1899. The third bridge was completed for an official opening on 20 May 1903 by Edward VII and Alexandra who processed through Kensington, Hammersmith, Chiswick and Brentford on the way to the ceremony, returning via Mortlake and Barnes and crossing at Putney Bridge.
The centre of the bridge was provided with a tented pavilion 60 yards long and spanning its whole width. A special temporary balcony, projecting from this, was installed so that the crowds on the banks and on the water could see the royal visitors. The King laid the last coping stone with a silver trowel and declared the bridge open. He and the Queen were given a number of gifts including bouquets, a bound history of the bridge and various other commemorative items including a silver mounted prehistoric flint axe found during construction work, another axe with part of its haft remaining and a fine silver spirit level made in the shape of the bridge itself. Later the Mayor of Richmond presented a chair with the ladders in its back carved in the shape of the three bridges. The inhabitants of Brentford and Chiswick presented a 1721 silver tankard.
After the departure of the royals a huge party took place on the lawns at Kew Gardens and 1,000 children were entertained to tea in a marquee on Kew Green, an event hosted by Cuthbert Brereton.