Westminster Bridge was begun when £389,500 was raised by lotteries to build it, in 1739. It was just down stream from Lambeth Palace and had 13 arches.
It was opened in November 1750. The hooded alcoves of the bridge were useful for prostitution and as hiding places for thieves.
£144,000 was raised for Blackfriars Bridge. Westminster Bridge had enjoyed the privilege of a green-field site, but the City had to manoeuvre for position. The first pile was driven in summer 1760 and was immediately smashed to pieces by a west country barge. The bargee was fined £5. The bridge was ready for pedestrians by 1766, horses 1768 and wheeled traffic in November 1769: hence it was quite new in Jane Austen's day. It mildly exceeded estimates at £152,840 3s 10d. There was an idea it should be called William Pitt bridge, due to the popularity of that politician.
One of the features that Jane Austen would have noted about London Bridge was the water-wheels which had been there since 1581. There were four of them by 1720 and they constituted part of the London water supply. They were very sophisticated, and were automatically raised or lowered depending on the state of the tide. In 1763 they didn't work when the river was frozen and this caused all sorts of water supply problems in the City.
Watermen plied their trade on the Thames to ferry people across the river and up and down it. They were greatly affected by the building of the bridges and often resorted to 'strong measures' to try to stop their construction.
Traffic on the river was very heavy - fish were landed and sold at Billingsgate and colliers docked at the wharf or the Coal Exchange nearby (in summer there could be up to 700 colliers alone waiting to discharge their cargo). The shipping from Kent with fruit also came there. and it was the terminus for the wherries carrying passengers and light cargo to Gravesend. So great were the problems caused by London Bridge that the wherries needed to leave exactly at high tide to get through London Bridge.
There were water-taxis on the river: 4d for oars to cross the river directly, 6d from London Bridge to Westminster, 8d from Temple stairs to Vauxhall. One can see why the watermen were against any more bridges.
'Father Thames' saw many Great Occasions. In the 17th and 18th century, during winter freezes, a rare treat was the Frost Fairs, held on the river with ox roasting barbecues, stalls, fairground amusements and performing animals. The winter of 1788-9 brought one. The Public Advertiser declared on 5 January 1789: 'This booth to let, the present possessor of the premises is Mr Frost. His affairs, however, not being on a permanent footing, a dissolution or bankruptcy may soon be expected and a final settlement of the whole entrusted to Mr Thaw.'
The winter of 1813-14 saw the greatest frost fair, with a grand mall running from Blackfriars Bridge and named 'City Road.' It was the last. Though fun for many, the freezing of the Thames was a tragedy for boat skippers who could not move, nor could they leave their precious cargoes to find other work. The replacement of the old London Bridge in 1831 meant that the river flowed faster and no longer froze sufficiently to bear public events.
When the Thames froze, as in the winter of 1739-40. it was traditional to hold a Frost Fair. Printing presses on the ice turned out these souvenirs. Near London Bridge people are watching bear-baiting. More people are waiting in line for a slice of ox being roasted nearby. Stalls sold jewellery and other fairings.
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