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Lambeth Bridge 150th

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The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s London headquarters building is just yards from the River Thames at Lambeth Bridge. The first bridge on this site opened 150 years ago this month (November 1862), although plans for a bridge had been drawn up as early as 1734, when the only bridge over the capital’s river was London Bridge.

But there had already long been a Lambeth river crossing, by means of a ferry. First mentioned in 1533, it is still remembered in the name of the approach road at the bridge’s Westminster end — Horseferry Road.

Lambeth’s ferry was operated by, and provided revenue for, Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It offered a short cut from Westminster to the City of London since, instead of following the long bend of the river’s left bank through Blackfriars, travellers could take the ferry, cut across the marshes of north Lambeth and cross back into the city over London Bridge.  

The ferry could accommodate a coach and six horses. But the crossing could be hazardous, and in 1633 the vessel sank under the weight of the belongings of Archbishop Laud. In 1656 it sank again — this time with Oliver Cromwell on board. He survived, but his coach was lost. The ferry service eventually closed in 1750 after the opening of Westminster Bridge half a mile downstream.

The 1862 Lambeth Bridge was a three-span suspension bridge. It deteriorated rapidly, and in 1932 was replaced by the present

five-arched steel bridge. At either end of the rebuilt bridge is a pair of obelisks, each surmounted by a stone pine cone, an ancient symbol of good fortune.

A popular but wrong belief — even repeated on nearby tourist signs — is that these pine cones are pineapples, supposedly in tribute to Lambeth gardener John Tradescant the younger, who is said to have grown the first pineapples in Britain. However, there is not a scrap of evidence to support the pineapple theory.

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