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Friday, 27 June 2014

Crossing the Thames

London’s bridges, old and new, are celebrated in a new art exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands. Using works from the museum’s collections – and with loans from contemporary artists – Bridge features paintings, prints, drawings, photographs and film, some of which have never been on public display before.
Among them is a print by Piranesi (left), dating from 1766, of the original Blackfriars Bridge under construction. There's also a chance, for the first month, to see a rare and fragile photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot of the original Hungerford Bridge in 1845, the year it was completed.
Of especial interest is a visualisation of Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed Garden Bridge which would link the South Bank and Temple. (The design has now gone to a planning committee. Fingers crossed it goes ahead.)
 Exhibition curator Francis Marshall (above, with the Garden Bridge) says to cross the Thames by bridge is to really see the city. “The bridges give a view of the capital impossible to appreciate from its jumbled medieval street plan.  Most of the time we are in a maze of streets and the city reveals itself in fragments. But on a bridge, iconic views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster become possible.”
Should the exhibition inspire you to find out more, the museum’s 3rd floor tells the story of London’s bridges in depth with a lively introduction by Time Team presenter Tony Robinson. You can learn about the wooden bridge built by the Romans shortly after they invaded in AD31 (just to the east of today’s London Bridge), see a model of the first stone bridge, completed in 1209 and lined with buildings, including a chapel, and get an insight into the feat of Victorian engineering that is Tower Bridge, currently celebrating its 120th anniversary.
The week before the exhibition opened, the museum, with historian Dan Cruickshank, hosted a river trip on a Thames Clipper that gave a detailed look at some of the bridges.  See it at

Bridge runs until November 2 and entry to both the exhibition and the Museum is free.

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