7 Secrets Of The Grosvenor Railway Bridge

7 Secrets Of The Grosvenor Railway Bridge
Photo: Elysian-Photography.

It might be lesser known than some other Thames crossings, but the Grosvenor certainly packs a punch when it comes to interesting trivia. Here are seven things to know about this under-appreciated river crossing.

1. It was central London's first railway bridge

The original structure was completed in 1860 at a cost of £84,000, making it the first railway bridge to cross the Thames into central London. It carried two tracks of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway into Victoria station (initially known as Grosvenor Terminus), itself built for more convenient access for those arriving in the city from southern destinations.

The man responsible for the design of the original bridge was Sir John Fowler, no stranger to great railway engineering projects — he helped introduce the Metropolitan Railway, the first incarnation of London's Underground system we know today. Later in his career, he was chief engineer for the Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland — the longest in the world at the time of its completion in 1890.

The Grosvenor Railway Bridge under construction, pictured next to the Chelsea Suspension Bridge.

2. It's been expanded three times

The bridge commuters travel across today is not quite the same one Fowler designed — it would be far too small to cope with the demands of this busy stretch of railway. In fact, the popularity of Victoria station mandated that the bridge be widened not once, not twice, but three times.

1866 - A mere six years after its construction, a second bridge was built running parallel to the structure.

1907 - An additional two lines were added, bringing the total to nine lines.

1967 - The third and final remodelling of the bridge completely replaced the structure with brand new steel arches and an additional line, creating the 10-line bridge we know today.

The image below depicts the bridge prior to its final rework, the different phases of extension visible through the varying support structures.

A diagram illustrating the composition of the bridge before its final reconstruction. Source.

3. It's the widest bridge on the river

And that should come at no surprise, having to carry 10 separate railway lines across the Thames. At 54m wide, the Grosvenor is:

  • Wider than Nelson's Column is tall (52m)
  • More than double the width of Westminster Bridge (26m)
  • Wider than The O2 is tall (52m)

The bridge has actually been this wide since 1907, despite the more recent expansion. The additional 1967 line was squeezed into a gap vacated by gas mains, meaning the bridge did not have to grow in size.

4. It's actually 10 individual bridges

The importance of maintaining passenger services over this bridge warranted that the 1967 expansion left at least eight of the nine lines operational throughout the construction work. This meant that millions would cross the Thames while the bridge was reconstructed right beneath their feet — only with a speed restriction for safety reasons.

The only way this could be done was to construct each line as its own distinct structure. Rather than building a single deck that carries all the lines, each was taken out of service individually and constructed as a separate deck.

The result? One mega-bridge that actually consists of an array of parallel bridges — each deck carrying one line into Victoria station. This is evident when looking at the underside of the bridge:

Copyright Google

5. Its spans are shorter than they used to be

The Grosvenor's four spans were 53.3m each when the bridge was first constructed. They have since shrunk to 50m, owing to the reconstruction in 1967, which required reconfiguration of the concrete bases.

The old bridge consisted of three separate concrete bases, which were not wide enough to support the new bridge decks. Construction workers thus piled metal sheets into the water to isolate the former base, which were then widened with reinforced concrete, forming a new 170ft long monolithic base. Parts of the old bridge are therefore still encased in the present-day base of the Grosvenor. All was not lost, then.

This lengthy process is detailed here:

6. It's the only bridge in London to be named after a blood sport

As a vital artery for the station, the Grosvenor got its name from the landowners upon whose land the station was built. The Grosvenor family name can be traced back to Hugh Le Grande Veneur, a member of a Norman French family who aided William the Conqueror. The name translates as 'the master huntsman'... meaning this is the only London bridge to be named after a blood sport.

Click here to find out how other bridges in London got their names.

7. It's the 14th bridge upstream from the mouth of the Thames... or is it?

Copyright Google Maps

Now we know that the Grosvenor is in fact 10 separate bridges... perhaps it is the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd bridge upstream from the mouth of the Thames too?

We'll leave that one up to you.

Last Updated 07 June 2017