Retro Infographic Shows Traffic Over London Bridge In 1911

By M@ Last edited 25 months ago
Retro Infographic Shows Traffic Over London Bridge In 1911

Welcome to London Bridge in the 'Crush Hour'. This wonderful illustration comes from The Sphere of 13 May 1911. We can think of it as an early example of an infographic, where data is visualised in a pleasing way.

Horse-drawn wagons, buses, pedestrians and early motor cars all crowd in the approach to London Bridge from Southwark. It's not too different to the scene today, with the obvious exception of the horses.

The illustration is based on real data, collected by 'a special body of tellers' between 8.30am and 9.30am on a weekday in 1911. Here's a close up of the figures.

Pedestrians: 15,968
Horse vans etc.: 324
Horse buses: 74
Motor buses: 74
Motor cars: 34
Motor vans: 5
Cycles etc.: 101

How does that compare?

The illustration comes with some text, telling us that London Bridge remains the main bridge for London. While this crossing boasted almost 16,000 pedestrians during morning rush hour, Blackfriars Bridge could claim only 4,500 and Tower Bridge barely reached 600.

How does the traffic flow compare with modern levels? It's hard to make a precise comparison from the stats available, which cover longer time periods. It's fair to say that both motor traffic and cyclists have greatly increased in number, thanks to better technology, road management and the lack of horses.

A 2013 survey, for example, noted an average of 735 cycles per hour from 6am to 8pm. That's a seven-fold increase on 1911, and would be even higher if measured only during the morning rush hour. Motor vehicles in 2013 totalled 32,000 per the 14-hour measuring period, which works out as roughly 2,300 per hour. The figure in 1911 for horse/motor traffic was just 511.

Even so, the traffic of 1911 felt oppressive at the time. Just a decade later, TS Eliot would pen the famous line from The Waste Land. "A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many. I had not thought death had undone so many." And now we know exactly how many.

An Edwardian infographic

Let's take another look at the illustration, though. The artist has made several compromises with reality to better depict the data. See how the traffic all flows in the same direction, for example. Yes, most people would be heading this way during the morning rush hour, but traffic flow would have still been bi-directional. This representation makes it appear that London Bridge has a dedicated cycle lane — an inadvertent glimpse of the future. The artist has also shown Borough as a grey wasteland, so that the key part of the drawing stands out. These are all hallmarks of a modern infographic, which sacrifices detail for a clear view of the facts.

Finally, look at the skyline. The artist seems to have drawn this with some accuracy. In 1911, our city was still dominated by church spires, now all but lost among the skyscrapers of the Square Mile.

The Edwardian infographic is taken from the British Newspaper Archive (subscription cost).
(c) Illustrated London News Group.

Last Updated 10 February 2017