Watch For Free: Historic Videos Of London's Bridges

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By M@
Watch For Free: Historic Videos Of London's Bridges

The BFI has opened a treasure trove of free videos about London's bridges.

The London's Bridges On Film website brings together historic footage of the Thames, spanning (in two senses) almost 125 years.

The British Film Institute's collection was launched to coincide with the first phase of Illuminated River, the arts project to get most of London's bridges glowing with grace at night.

That man, staring back at us, dead for perhaps a century, had no idea that thousands of people would one day look back at him from a device carried in their pockets.
Blackfriars Bridge, 1896.

The earliest film, Blackfriars Bridge (1896), lasts little more than 30 seconds, yet makes for a haunting watch. We see various horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians stride across the bridge. An elderly gent gazes back in wonder at the camera. A youth ambles towards the south bank without lifting his gaze from his newspaper. Every single man, woman, boy and horse is now long dead, but the bridge and the background buildings are still part of our London.

Skateboarding over London Bridge. Watch the film and you'll go from thinking 'cool', to 'pillock'.
Sidewalk Surfing (1978)

From more recent times, Sidewalk Surfing (1978) looks at the Skate City skate park, which once stood near Tower Bridge. The footage opens and closes with some impressive, if reckless, skating across London Bridge.  

The collection also includes full documentaries, such as a half-hour look at the rebuilding of Grosvenor railway bridge (the one linking Victoria to Battersea), in Railway Bridge Across the Thames (1968). Meanwhile, Rebuilding of London Bridge (1967) offers silent but fascinating footage of the demolition and renewal of that famous span.

Well that looks healthy.
Colour on the Thames (1935).

Other highlights include Women's Thames Swim (1921); Central London Street Scenes (1923), which was shot for a Sherlock Holmes film; Opening of the New Lambeth Bridge (1932); River Thames Yesterday (1939), which captured a final glimpse of pre-Blitz docklands; and South Bank (1973), a report on the redevelopment of the South Bank showing construction of the National Theatre and the NFT, Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall in the shadow of Waterloo Bridge.

Most, perhaps all, of the films were previously visible on the BFI Player, but this newly curated collection brings focus to the subject.

So long as you're in the UK, you can cross over to the BFI's site now, and freely admire the bridges of yesteryear.

Last Updated 26 July 2019