SI SPENCER, OCT 2017
A trivial tour of the road and foot crossings over the Thames
CHELSEA BRIDGE was originally a rickety wooden structure built to take the hard-drinking, working class factory employees of Chelsea to the bare-knuckle boxing bouts and cockfights at the Red Lion in Battersea. So things really haven’t changed much at all. The current bridge is not a pretty thing; it was decided that the overbearing presence of the Battersea Power Station was so bleak that there was little point in prettying it up. Heavily fortified during WWII because it was feared that the nearby Chelsea barracks would attract the attention of the Luftwaffe, it saw no action at until 1970 when more than fifty Hells Angels used it as a venue for a ruck that left one man dead and twenty serving serious porridge.
VAUXHALL BRIDGE is the perfect example of trying to make something unattractive appear appealing. The original plain functional structure of old timber and scrap metal was derided by Edwardian artists as the work of philistines, hence the later addition of the eight imposing statues on either side of its supports. The gloomy humourless figures represent agriculture, architecture, engineering, pottery, science, fine arts, local government and education – a random and varied assembly of disciplines that may as well be curling, cartography, cake-baking, cork-whittling and a bunch of other unrelated things beginning with C.
LAMBETH BRIDGE is the centre of the great ‘pinecone vs pineapple’ debate that has pitted family against family, father against son and wife against husband for countless generations (I may be exaggerating here). One side alleges that the obelisks at either side of the bridge are topped by pineapples in tribute to legendary 17th century explorer and botanist John Tradescant who grew the first pineapple in Britain. The other side (almost certainly correctly) maintains they’re not apples but cones, which at first reading sounds far less exotic. However, given that the pinecone is said to be an ancient occult symbol of the pineal gland (the so-called third eye) and that London is riddled with occult, masonic and magical symbolism, I favour the magician over the greengrocer any day.
WESTMINSTER BRIDGE has been immortalised by poets and painters and quite rightly. It’s a wonderful thing and offers a great view of the landing jetty of the Houses of Parliament. This jetty was built at the instigation of one of the most remarkable human beings who ever lived, Victorian landowner and MP Arthur Kavanagh. Adventurer, explorer, expert fisherman and yachtsman, author, pony express rider, lover, architect, hellraiser, landowner and Member of Parliament, Arthur’s achievements would have been remarkable for any man. Even more remarkable when you consider he was born in Victorian Ireland with neither arms nor legs. Look him up. He’s astonishing.