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From north to south: Celebrating London's bridges

By Rebecca Cafe
BBC News


London as we know it would not have existed without bridges, according to a new exhibition which aims to highlight the importance of the iconic structures.

Although they are vital for London life, bridges do more than transport people from the North Bank to the South Bank, as some of the bridges - such as Tower Bridge - have come to symbolise the city itself.

Artists and photographers have long been drawn to the river, and now the Museum of London Docklands is to hold an exhibition celebrating the structures.

image copyrightMuseum of London
image captionThis image of Tower Bridge was taken in 1910

The show, from 27 June until 4 November, comprises of paintings, prints, drawings, photography and films.

image copyrightSuki Chan
image captionThis image, called Sleep Walk Sleep Talk, is by artist Suki Chan and shows how the river cuts through the city

Taken from a vantage point above London Bridge Station, this image shows how bridges are relatively close together.

David Spence, director of transformation for the Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands, says: "We want to get an idea for the phenomenon of the bridge, what's important about it.

"It's not just a crossing point from north to south or vice versa, it's actually the place that gives you the best vista of London.

image copyrightLucinda Grange
image captionAdventure photographer Lucinda Grange is one of the few people to have managed to climb inside London Bridge where she managed to capture this image

"You can stand in the middle of London Bridge, for example, and that gives you views down to Canary Wharf - if you turn north you see great new buildings such as the Cheesegrater, south has got the Shard, while in the West you can see St Pauls and the river snaking off.

"These places give you a completely different definition of what it's like to be in the centre of a city that you don't get anywhere else."

The first bridge in London dates back to the Roman era when Claudius travelled from Kent and wanted to cross the river.

When it was completed in AD 50, merchants flocked to the area and, according to Mr Spence, created modern London.

image copyrightMuseum of London
image captionThis artwork was created by Robert Barker, Henry Aston Barker and Frederick Birnie

This hand-coloured etching and aquatint shows Blackfriars Bridge in the 18th Century.

At the time, only three bridges spanned the Thames in central London - Blackfriars, Westminster and London.

Tower Bridge, which is 120-years-old this month, is an example of a great modern construction designed to look like something from an earlier time - a medieval drawbridge.

"I love it because it's a living bridge," says historian Dan Cruickshank who has a passion for bridges.

image captionVauxhall Bridge, which was completed in 1906, is the only one which features bronze sculptures

The first masonry bridge in London dates back to 1177-1200 and at the time, it was so daunting that it was thought of as God's creation because it changed God's land.

"They are full of light, love and people bustling about their daily lives," says Mr Cruickshank.

image captionUnderneath Blackfriars Bridge

"But underneath bridges, there is decay and darkness which gives them an emotional pull - above are things of life whereas below are things of death," he said, adding that a mortuary was built next to Tower Bridge.

image captionConstruction started on Millennium Bridge in 1996

The last standing structure to be built in London was the Millennium Bridge, which links Bankside with the City.

The capital city now has 35 bridges, but could there soon be one more?

image copyrightArup
image captionThe Garden Bridge would be a new central park for London

Actress Joanna Lumley hopes so. In 1998 she came up with the idea of a garden bridge as a memorial to Princess Diana, but it was not until 2012 that the idea picked up traction when designer Thomas Heatherwick contacted the Ab Fab star and came up with this visualised concept for the bridge.

It is hoped that the £150m bridge will be built by 2017.

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