Head to Hammersmith Bridge on the Thames for a Taste of Victorian London

Visit Britain

One of the prettiest of 19 bridges across the River Thames is the green- and gold-trimmed Hammersmith Bridge connecting the busy, bustling Broadway on the London side to the quiet village of Barnes in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames on the other.

Picturesque but dangerous
The fast-moving waters of the muddy, tidal Thames that flow beneath the bridge are so dangerous that in July 2012 the Port of London Authority outlawed swimming in the Thames without a permit. London mayor Boris Johnson calls this "namby-pamby," but the fact is, dozens of drownings occur annually in these tidal waters feeding into the North Sea. I walked across the bridge twice daily for a decade and recall the plaque at the handrail's midway point dedicated to Lt. Charles Campbell Wood, who in 1919 lost his life while saving a drowning woman.

Hammersmith Bridge in history
The first suspension bridge over the Thames was built in 1825 but had to be replaced when it suffered under the weight of several thousand spectators at the 1870 Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge. That famous rowing competition, originating in 1829, still passes beneath the Hammersmith Bridge every spring — only the crowds have now swelled to 250,000. The second Hammersmith Bridge, the one we know today, dates from 1887. According to HistoricBridges.org, the wrought-iron structure is a rare type of suspension bridge called an eyebar bridge. With gold paint adorning architectural flourishes, the bridge is a classic example of Victorian decorative style.

On the riverbanks
Along the banks near the bridge is The River Café, an acclaimed restaurant. The Old Ship W6, The Dove, Blue Anchor,  and The Rutland are historic riverside pubs where the locals relax with a pint at picnic tables or on balconies overlooking the river. Schools with top rowing facilities, an arts center, and residences with enviable views line the banks. Visitors can walk or bike the embankment for miles, observing sharp differences between high and low tide.

On the London side of life
Life in Hammersmith is busy. Hammersmith Broadway, center of a busy roundabout, is a major transportation hub. The surrounding neighborhood combines quiet Victorian residential homes on leafy streets and European corporate headquarters of such multi-nationals as L'Oréal, Disney, Sony, Bechtel, and Coca-Cola. Entertainment venues, bars and restaurants, ma and pa shops as well as big box stores, hotels, schools and churches in pretty green squares make for a friendly place to live or work.

On the Barnes side of the bridge
Approaching the western end of the Hammersmith Bridge, you officially leave London and enter the county of Surrey. Here the quaint village of Barnes is perched on 2.5 miles of river frontage where the Thames makes a giant S curve. Children feed the ducks at the village pond overlooked by the historic Sun Inn pub, where you may spot actor Robert Pattinson, who grew up in Barnes. Little painted railway cottages, stately villas with carriage drives, and handsome Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian family houses dot the tree-lined streets and riverside. It's a slower pace of life treasured by the residents and kept that way by the lack of a Tube station in Barnes. At the eastern edge of town, London Wetland Centre is an oasis, encompassing 120 acres of protected natural habitat.

by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Top: The Hammersmith Bridge is one of the world’s most beautiful Victorian-era suspension bridges. (Photo by Alex.muller, via Wikimedia Commons)

Right: Hammersmith has both busy thoroughfares and leafy paths along the banks of the Thames. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

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