The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

James Boswell, in a particularly horny mood, stopped at Westminster Bridge and candidly recorded his experiences.
I picked up a strong jolly young damsel and taking her under the arm I conducted her to Westminster Bridge, and there in amour complete did I engage up in this noble edifice. The whim of doing it there with the Thames rolling below us amused me much.
As Chris Roberts describes in his superb Cross River Traffic, it is not known whether Boswell's exertions contributed to the structural problems with the bridge's foundations. Boswell did his thing before night-watchmen had been hired to protect passersby at night, but already by his time, muggers and prostitutes lurked in the dark at the side of the bridge; these sheltered spots were dry and ideally suited to their purposes.

Hauntings are common near this bridge. Every year, at midnight on 31 December, a leaping shadow jumps in to ring in the New Year. Supposedly, this is the shade of Jack the Ripper; the background is that Ripper suspect Montague Druitt did commit suicide in the Thames. Another spectre is that of three people on a boat going under the bridge, never to appear at the other side.
Canaletto rendered the first bridge at Westminster (which opened in 1750 and lasted a century) twenty times in a decade from 1746. Many people thought the bridge one of the most elegant and complete structures of its kind in the world. Balustrades of stone with half-octagonal turrets provided protection for the pedestrian. Designed by Charles Labelye, a Swiss engineer, it was supported by his innovative pre-built caissons, boxes constructed on land, floated into position and driven into the riverbed by pile drivers; water was pumped out and the caissons filled with stone, the weight of the piers constructed above fixing them in place. The requirement for temporary piers was thus obviated; furthermore, Labelye's design was the least obstructive of the river flow.
Where the likes of William Wordsworth took poetic licence when claiming to have seen the rising sun glittering in the smokeless air, the view over the river has generally been gloomy. With the Industrial Revolution, dark and dank smog settled over the city; the pea-soupers sinking London into respiratorial despair didn't get cleared up till the late 1950s. Monet and cohorts loved the lack of light, and flocked to London to paint it.
The current bridge dates from 1862, architected by Sir Charles Barry to harmonise with his new Westminster Palace (housing the Parliament). To match the colour of the benches in the House of Commons, the bridge is painted olive green; the ironwork of the bridge has, among other insignia, the cross of St. George, a thistle, a shield and a rose. This is the oldest London crossing still in use and is pretty much in the same state as Thomas Page, its builder, left it. The northern bank is adumbrated by Thomas Thornycroft's statue to Boadicea (with her two, for some unknown reason, bare-breasted daughters at her feet); the south bank has a statue of a Lion.


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