Saturday, 17 May 2014

Blackfriars Bridge

The 1881 census gave Muir’s occupation as “granite agent”.  Ross of Mull granite had been used in a number of engineering projects of the 1860s and 1870s, such as the piers of Blackfriars Bridge across the Thames, docks in New York, parts of the Thames Embankment, and bridges in Glasgow.

The first Blackfriars Bridge was designed by Robert Mylne and built in 1760-9. Constructed with nine semi-elliptical Portland stone arches, it strongly reflected the influence of Piranesi, with whom Mylne had spent much time when in Rome. This bridge, the third bridge across the Thames in London, cost £230,000 and was mainly paid for by fines that had accumulated from men refusing the City post of Sheriff. It was officially known as William Pitt Bridge but the public insisted on calling it Blackfriars. In 1780 Gordon Rioters broke down the toll gates and stole the money. It was freed from tolls in 1785. It was replaced in 1860-9 by the present structure (designed by Joseph Cubitt and H. Carr) of five wrought-iron arches, faced with cast iron, on red Ross of Mull granite piers. This may be the earliest use in London of stone from the Tormor Quarry. In later years the decorative qualities of the granite (it has a distinctive pink colour) were exploited by architects and sculptors. Ross of Mull granite was used in buildings of Glasgow University of around the same date.

Queen Victoria opened the new Blackfriars Bridge on the same day as she opened Holborn Viaduct. So unpopular was she at the time that she and John Brown, her Scottish servant, who rode behind her in the state carriage, were hissed in the Strand. The bridge was widened on the west side from 70ft to 105 ft in 1907-10.

Roberto Calvi, dubbed "God's banker" because of his work with the Vatican Bank (Istituto per le Opere di Religione), was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge on 18 June 1982. Bricks had been stuffed in his pockets and he had more than £10,000 in cash on him.

Further reading

Joan Faithfull.—The Ross of Mull granite quarries.—Iona : New Iona Press, 1995.
2nd ed.—Iona, 2004.

Ben Weinreb.—The London encyclopaedia ... new photography by Matthew Weinreb.—3rd ed.—London : Macmillan, 2010.

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