Monthly Archives: July 2015

London’s Famous Bridges Under Construction

Tope Image: The Tower Bridge 1894| Bottom Image: Copyright © 2005 David Monniaux with permission to reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license –

London’s beautiful skyline has changed dramatically over centuries of development and growth. The Great Tower of London, once the most imposing structure on London’s, skyline, now gives way to the height of The Shard and the striking wheel of the world famous London Eye, outshines it’s much forgotten predecessor – The Great Wheel.

But like The Tower of London, (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), there are many precious landmarks throughout London that have survived the sands of time. From St Paul’s Cathedral to Westminster Abbey, London’s architectural wonders make outstanding visitor attractions,  as well as enriching examples of our British heritage.

Although lacking the lasting imprint of the St Paul’s and grandeur of  Buckingham Palace, London’s bridges are steeped in history and should be credited for the spectacular feats of civil engineering they represent. The River Thames has, in total, 34 bridges crossing it and many were built and opened during the 1800s, in the height of the industrial revolution.

Below is a quick look at how the magnificent structures of London’s most famous bridges were constructed, and how they look today.

London Bridge: (AD 70, 10th century, 1209, 1831, 1972)

Remarkably there has been a bridge at this site for almost 2000 years. The Romans first crossed the Thames here, and timber bridges were built then and through to the medieval ages until Henry VIII commissioned a stone structure in place of the old. The present London Bridge was constructed during the late 60’s and opened in 1973.

Read more about the London Bridge

Waterloo Bridge: (1817, 1942)

The new Waterloo Bridge we see today is nicknamed the “Ladies Bridge”, because during the Second World War the structure was mainly constructed by women. The original bridge was designed by John Rennie and opened in 1817 as a toll bridge, although reinforcements and repairs led to it being demolished in place for the current structure opened in 1945.

Read more about the Waterloo Bridge

Albert Bridge: (1873, 1884, 1973)

Built as a toll bridge, the two toll booths still stand at each end of the Albert Bridge designed by Rowland Mason Ordish in 1873. Sir Joseph Bazalgette incorporated elements of a suspension bridge in the late 1880s when the bridge became structurally unsound, and in 1973 two concrete piers were added.

 Read more about the Albert Bridge

Tower Bridge: (1894)

Stretching 800ft long, and soaring 213ft high, the Tower Bridge is crossed by 40,000 people a day. It’s prominent towers support two lanes of road traffic and two low level pedestrian walkways. The entire hydraulic system along with the gas lighting system of the bridge was installed by William Sugg & Co.

Read more about The Tower Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge: (1769, 1869)

“In 1865 the old Blackfriars Bridge across the Thames, a fine Portland stone structure began in 1760 and completed ten years later, was being demolished and a new bridge, the ornamented wrought iron, cast iron, granite, Portland stone “Venetian Gothic” structure, designed by Mr Joseph Cubitt, which we have with us today, was being erected.” From The Engineer 1925/02/27

The original bridge was completed in 1770, but the foundations were not substantial enough and the bridge we see today constructed by P. A. Thom and Co was completed in 1869.

Read More about Blackfriars Bridge

Have you taken a photograph we could share?  We’re always grateful for photographs of historic engineering to add to our growing project. 
Please get in touch if you’d like to contribute to one of our webpages.

Today Walter Brookins Stands Out A Mile

Walter Brookins
“I never think of the danger. I get so interested in what I am doing that I forget my own safety. You would too if you were up there with me, for it is a wonderful sensation.”

We’ve all heard of the Wright Brothers – the Americans from Ohio credited for designing and building the first aircraft. They made the first heavier-than-air human flight in December 1903 and together paved the way for the development of modern aeroplanes. This day back in 1910, however, belongs to the young boy who lived next door to Orville and Wilbur Wright; who’d known the brothers since he was four and who grew up dreaming of the  day Orville Wright would build him his very own aircraft to fly…

Walter Brookins was fascinated by the Wright Brothers. As a boy, he would venture next door to watch them work away on whirring motors and spluttering propellers. His fearless attitude and fierce curiosity at such a young age won the brothers over and it wasn’t long before Orville decided Walter would be the first person he’d train to fly in one of his machines.

Walter or “Brookie” as the Wright family called him, learned to fly in 1909 at the Wright Flying School when he was 20 years old. After only two and a half hours of instruction, he achieved his first solo flight. He used his natural aviation talents teaching others to fly when Orville wasn’t around, and eventually he became an aviation pioneer in his own right. In fact Brookins became the most daring member of the Wright Flyers team in several exhibition flights and meets.

"The Wright flyers put on three thrillers. Walter Brookins, whose name is now written in aviation history, added to his fame by making one of the most sensational short turns ever successfully accomplished. In a short turn exhibition he brought his machine up to such an angle that from the stands it looked like it was standing in end and he would be pitched to the ground one hundred feet below. The game youngster righted his craft with all ease, however and established a record for short turns that it is believed will stand for many a day. It is not believed by Brookins himself that he could ever tilt a biplane to such an angle again and get away with it. The trick made hearts stand still, and even the Wrights were amazed at the young fellow's daring." From The Indianaopolis News June 17th 1910.

On 14th June 1910 he made a world record flight, flying 1,335m high (4,380ft), and later set world records for both altitude and endurance. He smashed his own world record for flying at the highest altitude on July 10th 1910 in New Jersey, when he broke through the clouds 1,882m (6,175ft) high in his Wright biplane.

One hundred and five years ago today, he became the first person in history to fly at an altitude of one mile.

Read more about Walter Brookins and The Wright Brothers on Grace’s Guide.

Amy Johnson: One of the Greatest British Female Pilots

Did you know on this day back in 1903, one of Britain’s greatest female pilots was born?

Amy Johnson (1 July 1903 – 5 January 1941)  was a pioneering English aviatrix that set numerous long-distance records  and became a leading role model for women around the world.

"Believe nothing to be impossible"
“Believe nothing to be impossible”

Born in Hull, to a wealthy fish merchant, she was educated at Hull’s Boulevard Municipal Secondary School and graduated in 1925 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Sheffield University.

She was introduced to flying as a hobby, gaining a pilot’s A Licence No. 1979 on 6 July 1929 at the London Aeroplane Club under the tutelage of Captain Valentine Baker. In that same year, she became the first British woman to obtain a ground engineer’s ‘C’ licence.

Her father was one of her strongest supporters. With funds from her father and Lord Wakefield she purchased a second-hand de Havilland Gipsy Moth she named “Jason”, and with Jason she achieved global recognition when in 1930 she became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, covering some 11,000 miles.

Only a year later in July 1931, she flew with co-pilot Jack Humphreys from London to Moscow within one day. This was a journey, never achieved before. They continued to Siberia and on to Tokyo, smashing another record time for flying to Japan from England in a de Havilland Puss Moth.

Amy set a solo record from London to Cape Town in 1932, and further record duo flight with her husband Jim Mollison  in 1934 as part of the Britain to Australia MacRobertson Air Race. Her last-record breaking flight was made in May 1936 flying again from London to South Africa.

Amy Johnson tragically lost her life on 5th January 1941 when the Airspeed Oxford aircraft she was flying from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington went off course and crashed into the Thames Estuary.  She was flying in very poor weather conditions and was way off course. Her body was never recovered. Even today there still remains much controversy over the cause of the crash, although in 1999 it was reported she was shot down after failing to give the correct identification code during her flight.

She was a remarkable role-model in the engineering and aviation world inspiring people across the globe.

“I am an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. The first to qualify as a ground engineer. The first to fly to Australia single-handed. A million people lined the streets of London when I came home. I waved to them from an open-topped car like the queen, the queen of the air.” Amy Johnson

A collection of souvenirs of her was donated by her father at Sewerby Park, Bridlington and The Science Museum, London also has an archive.

Continue to read about Amy Johnson


To celebrate the life and achievements of Amy Johnson, look out for the Amy Johnson Memorial Air Show at Herne Bay this year on Saturday August 15th. The show will feature the world famous Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Team amongst other must-see attractions.