8 Secrets Of The Albert Bridge

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 93 months ago

Last Updated 25 October 2016

8 Secrets Of The Albert Bridge

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but it's difficult to argue there's a prettier bridge in London than Albert's. Here are some of this stunning bridge's secrets.

Photo: Dave Gorman

1. It's a hybrid of three design styles

The bridge has a rather unusual history in terms of its design. Originally drawn up by engineer Rowland Mason Ordish, it was a combination of a suspension bridge and a cable-stayed bridge, which in layman terms means it that its chains fan out from the towers across the bridge (cable-stayed elements) and they're supported by vertical hangers (suspension element). However, this design needed strengthening in 1884 — just 11 years after it originally opened. This was overseen by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who replaced the steel cables with steel link chains. (Ordish had originally wanted this but was overruled because of costs.)

In 1973, the bridge was strengthened further. This was done through the addition of two concrete piers underneath — so it became a beam bridge too.

2. The Trembling Lady

As we've learned, the bridge was not always the sturdiest, and all possible measures were taken to protect it. This includes an extant sign at one end of the bridge, telling soldiers to break step when marching over the bridge. There were fears that soldiers from the nearby Chelsea Barracks would cause vibrations to reverberate through the bridge and cause permanent damage. This this led to the bridge's nickname, 'The Trembling Lady'. There's no reason to fear nowadays, as the barracks are on their way to becoming luxury apartments.

Photo: Mike Rolls

3. Too many dogs marking their territory

As confirmed by London's resident bridge expert Chris Roberts, the Albert Bridge has a serious dog urine problem. As there's a lack of large open green spaces on the north side of the river, many people decide to walk their canine companions in the beautiful Battersea Park on the south side. This means a plethora of dogs crossing the bridge daily, at which point, they do what dogs love to do. This isn't as harmless as a usual doggy bathroom break though; the bridge is partially made from timber and all that urine causes it to rot.

4. Prince and Albert

Due to its structural issues, the bridge was closed for renovation work between February 2010 and December 2011. The works might have been completed quicker, but because of the instability of the bridge, only so much could be done at any one time. Upon re-opening two, Staffie cross-breeds, named Prince and Albert — from the local Battersea Dogs & Cats Home — were called in for the honour of being the first to cross. It's slightly ironic that dogs were chosen to mark the occasion, considering they played a major part in its weakening.

Prince (left) and Albert (right) from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

5. The last of their kind

As suggested by the old toll booths, you used to have to pay to make your way across the Albert Bridge. Obviously the bridge is now free to use, but you might think these booths gave years of service to deserve escaping demolition. You'd be dead wrong. The bridge opened in 1873 with the booths and they were a financial catastrophe. The crossing was then bought by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1879 and made free to use. So that's a paltry six years of toll booth usage.

6. A paint job with a purpose

The bridge is currently painted pink, blue and green, in an attempt to increase visibility in fog and murky light — so no errant ships collide with it. (This is also the reason for its halogen light bulbs.) This colour scheme is just one of numerous that the bridge has had in its history. Records show that the bridge was painted uniformly green for most of the 20th century, and then for a few decades it was white and blue. Going back further, there's evidence of some browns and yellows creeping in — discovered during paint stripping in the most recent renovations. You can get used to the current colour scheme for a while, as it's expected to last about 25 years.

Photo: Ian Wylie

7. It was nearly knocked down

It might be hard to think now, but in the 1950s there were plans to knock down the bridge. This inspired a vigorous campaign from local residents to save the bridge, led by future Poet Laureate John Betjeman. Betjeman described the bridge as:

shining with electric lights, grey and airy against the London sky; it is one of the beauties of the London river.

Of course, the campaign was victorious and actually almost led to the bridge becoming pedestrianised, though that was soon scuppered. Instead a compromise was reached; now all vehicles that cross must be less than two tonnes.

8. Backdrop for the movies

Being the looker it is, it's no surprise that so many films have taken advantage of the Albert Bridge. It appears in Absolute Beginners, Maybe Baby and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. It also pops up a couple of times in Sliding Doors and plays host to quite the romantic reconciliation:

There's our take on Albert Bridge's secrets. Know any more? Let us hear about them in the comments.