Westminster Bridge

London River Thames Boat Services

Frith photos of Westminster

The site of WESTMINSTER ABBEY, and the ground immediately surrounding it, was anciently called Thorney Island, it having been " overgrown with thorns, and environed by water," prior to the foundation of the Minster or Church, from which it obtained its present appellation ; and it is a curious fact, that the outline of the Isle may still be traced, notwithstanding the numerous alterations which have taken place in this neighbourhood during the lapse of so many ages.

605: It is said [ Londiniana by Edward Wedlake Brayley] that the original foundation of Westminster Abbey was by Sebert, King of the East Saxons, who having been baptized by Mellitus, Bishop of London, about the year 604 or 605, immediately, to shew himself a Christian indeed, built a Church to the honour of God and St. Peter, on the west side of the Cittie of London.
But Bishop Mellitus was then done out of his episcopal rights [rites?] by no less than St Peter himself! [It is said].
And the ferryman was an ancestor of mine ["Edricus" = "Richard Eade", my brother's name! Well no one can say he wasn't my ancestor, which is as certain as you can get when dealing with stories like this] -

Saint Peter descended on the opposite shore, on a stormy night, and calling on Edricus, a Fisherman, desired to be ferried over to Thorney, which was then flooded round by heavy rains. Having promised, also, to reward him for his compliance, the Fisherman obeyed, and St. Peter entered the Church, whence a light immediately appeared to issue, of such transcendant brightness, as to convert the darkness of the night into meridian splendour.
The Apostle then proceeded to consecrate the fabric amidst a company of the heavenly host, and a chorus of celestial voices ; and whilst the most fragrant odours spread around, the wonders of the scene were augmented by angels, who were beheld ascending and descending as in Jacob's vision, recorded in the Old Testament.
The astonished Fisherman, awe-struck by the miraculous assemblage, was, for a while, lost in admiration ; but, at length, being restored to his powers by the Saint, he prepared to re-cross the river. On his return, St. Peter unfolded his sacred mission and character, and commanded Edricus to make known to Bishop Mellitus all that he had seen and heard, and to direct him to refrain from a second consecration.
The Fisherman, taking courage, required his promised reward, and St. Peter bidding him cast his nets into the water, repaid his services by a miraculous draught of salmon ; assuring him, that neither he nor any of his brethren should at any time want a supply of that kind of food, provided they made an offering of every tenth fish to the use of the newly consecrated Church: — the Apostle then disappeared.
[Bishop Mellitus], therefore, desisted from proceeding in his appointed office, and in commemoration of the miracle, ordered the name of the place to be changed from Thorney to that of Westminster.
The belief of this legend was so successfully inculcated by the monks, that the offering of the tithe fish was frequently made by the Thames Fishermen, and even so late as the year 1382, that custom was still observed. Flete informs us that, in the year 1231, "there was a law-suit between the monks of Wesminster[sic] and the Minister of Rotherhithe, for the tithe of the Salmon caught in his parish ; the plea of the Monks being, that St. Peter had given them the tithe of all salmon caught in the Thames at the time he had consecrated their Church.

1578: Plan Of Part Of The City Of Westminster, Copied From Radulphus Aggas's Map, Taken In The Reign Of Queen Elizabeth, 1578.
Westminster Map
Note further proof that piers and landing stages were referred to as "bridges"!

1721: A petition was presented to Parliament for a bridge to be built at Westminster, the inhabitants of the City of London complained that the effect would be to create a "Rival City" at Westminster. A new bridge would:

take their Meat out of their Mouth, by drawing off their supply of Provisions, and pick up their Money out of their Pockets, by enabling the Inhabitants of Westminster to Trade at less Expenses … In short, it will make Westminster a fine City, and London a Desert.

1738: A Voyage up the Thames - Weddell -

... we were alarmed by a "Huzza" from the land, which was answered by all the mariners we had on board; and upon asking the occasion we were answered that we had just passed by New Palace Yard, where the bridge was intended to have been built, but that providence was kinder than to suffer it; we chose not to reply to them, being sensible of the difficulty of convincing a man's reason against his interest.
But Mr Gloworm said, he did not remember to have met with a more remarkable instance of the phrenzy[sic] which actuates a mob, than to hear them cry against a design, which must naturally conduce to the honour and advantage of the whole nation, and the damage of few or none.
Mr Sippit leared at him, and said, that whatever advantages might accrue from it, it had convinced him that castles were not the only buildings erected in the air.
This occasioned an enquiry into the means by which bridges were erected by our ancestors; since we in general agreed that had the building of them formerly been attended with as many difficulties as occur in our days, we must have had ferries much more generally in use than they are now.
... Mr Gloworm clearly demonstrated, that the expedition with which public buildings in general were erected in past ages, was owing to the vassalage and dependance of the vulgar on their superiors, which did not admit of disobedience to their commands; and concluded that the difficulties ... were far preferable to having the burden imposed on a few, though they could be no more than Common Sharers of the benefits arising from their separate labours.

Arch Bridges and their Architects 1735-1835, Ted Ruddock -

... timber designs for Westminster Bridge ...
One was a direct copy of Gautier's double trussed arch, with spans of 100ft, by a certain John Westley of Leicester.
The boldest design was by his brother William Westley, a design said to be 'of one arch and two water passages', which apparently meant a single arch of enormous span and two auxiliary openings at the ends. There are no further details and no surviving drawing.
Batty Langley offered two designs which were more realistic and, as was his wont, prophetic of future developments.

Westminster Wooden Bridge design by Batty Langley
Westminster Wooden Bridge design by Batty Langley.

Both [Langley's designs] consisted of trusses spanning 100ft between 'piers' of timber piles and masonry. The whole of the trusses was above high-water, thus avoiding decay, and below the road, allowing them to be at a lateral spacing of only about 10ft. The height for navigation above high-water was 22ft in one design and 13ft in the other. The disadvantage was that the road surface was about 40ft and 30ft respectively above high-water and the approaches required would have been very high and expensive. ...
The Westminster Bridge Commissioners rejected all these offers in favour of James King's design of thirteen arches standing on stone piers, the middle arch of 76ft span. ...
All King's arches were of approximately semicircular 'soffit'. Every arch had five ribs and each rib was made up of straight timbers extending the lines of each of the nine short members which formed the soffit 'curve'; they extended upwards as far as they could go - to the cross-beams under the road in the three interior ribs, to the top of the guard-rail in the two outer ribs - and downwards to the top of the pier or else to meet like struts from the next arch over the middle of the pier, from which the load was taken down to the pier by vertical posts. The five ribs were linked by ten cross-beams under the soffit, and radial members from these beams went up to the top of the guard-rail. There was also diagonal bracing in the soffits to prevent lateral sway of the ribs. The tops of the piers were at ordinary high-water level, so none of the timber would be wetted by a normal tide. ...
... the contract for this bridge was later anulled ...

Westminster Wooden Bridge 1737
The Wooden Westminster Bridge by James King, which was not completed
Notice how shallow the river is at low tide!

1737: The quotations are mainly from "A Description of Westminster Bridge" by the eventual Architect himself, Charles Labelye -

The Commissioners resolved also about that Time, that the Superstructure of the (then intended) Bridge should be of Oak Wood, according to a design of the late Mr. James King, with whom and his Partner Mr. John Barnard they contracted for such a Superstructure, for the Sum of £28,000, the whole to be compleatly finished within twelve Calendar Months after the finishing of all the Piers.
On the 2nd of June 1738, the Commissioners issued out the first Orders to proceed to the Execution, which was immediately taken in Hand, by preparing Piles and other Timbers, and making the necessary Engines in a small Spot of Ground on the Surry Shore.
The 13th of September 1738, we began working in the River, by driving the first Guard Pile for the Inclosure of the Western middle Pier.
On the 29th of January 1738-9, the first Stone of Westminster Bridge was laid by the Late Right Hon. the Earl of Pembroke, &c. On April the 23rd 1739, the first Pier was finished.

Notice the year given as 1738-9? I have found an explanation as follows -

Much confusion has arisen over dates from January 1 to March 24, inclusive, prior to 1753, because to and including the year 1752, the first day of the new year was March 25 instead of January 1. Consequently old style March 24, 1750, for instance, was the day before March 25, 1751; and January 1, 1750, was the day after December 31, 1750, and not the day after December 31, 1749.

The History and Survey of London and Its Environs from the Earliest Period by B. Lambert, 1806 -

The ballast-men of the Trinity-house were employed to open a large hole, for the foundation of the first pier, to the depth of five feet under the bed of the river; and this being finished and levelled at the bottom it was kept clear by a proper inclosure of strong piles. In the mean time, a strong case of oak, called a caissoon, was prepared, of the form and dimensions of the intended pier in the clear : this was made waterproof, and, being brought over the place, was secured within the piles.
In this wooden case the first stone was laid on the 29th of January, 1738-9, by the then Earl of Pembroke. The caissoon was above the high water mark, and, sinking gradually by the weight of the prodigious blocks of stone, the men could work below the level of the water, as conveniently as on dry ground. Thus the middle pier was first formed, as were all the rest in the same manner, and, when finished, the sides of the caissoon being taken asunder, the stone work appeared entire.

On the 26th of December following, the Thames begun to carry Ice, and the Frost increasing, a total Stop was put to the Works till the 18th of February following, and the Damages not made good till the 19th of March following.
The Ice carried off all the Piles then standing, about 140 in Number, and broke above half of them, as well as a Sett of Sides of one of the Caissons.
At that Time three of the Piers were built, the Westminster Abutment was brought above low Water Mark, and the Foundation of the Surry Abutment was begun.
On January 31st 1739-40, on a Motion made by the Right Honourable the present Earl of Bath, I was ordered by the Board to lay before them, on the 13th of February following, a general Estimate for a Stone Superstructure; Summons were sent accordingly to 184 Commissioners, out of which 36 attended (which was the greatest Number present at any one Board, either before or after).
On that Day, after Debates, (the Right Honourable the Present Lord Viscount Falconberg in the Chair), it was resolved by a Majority of 20 to 12, that the Superstructure should be Stone and I was ordered to prepare and to lay a Design for the same before the Board on the 5th of March next.
Soon after the Board agreed with their Carpenters, that they should deliver up all the Timber already provided by them; that they should be repaid all their disbursements, and be allowed Eight per Cent. (all they asked) on their whole Contract, viz. £28000, which upon these Conditions they gave up.
On the 5th of March I presented a new Design, which was very near the same as the Bridge is now finished; but the Board not being very numerous, they adjourned to the 12th next, on which Day my new Design was approved as high as the Top of the Ballustrade, and ordered directly into Execution.

There were strong advocates for a wooden bridge - and it seems that it was the ongoing cost of maintenance which finally scuppered them. Those arguing for it in the House of Lords became known by the splendid pun "the Wooden Peers"

On the 5th of May 1740 was begun the fourth Pier, which was finished in twenty Days. NB. I thought this fact worth mentioning, to shew the Readers what Dispatch was made by this Manner of building, whenever a sufficient Quantity of Portland Stone could be procured from the Quarries.
On the 14th of Auguft, 1740 was begun the Building of the Arches, by letting the N. W. Springers of the middle Arch, One Year, Six Months, and 16 Days after the laying the first Stone of this Bridge.

Westminster Bridge under construction 1740?
Westminster Bridge under construction

Westminster Bridge Construction 1741
Westminster Bridge Centring (Arch Construction Support Timbers)

  View under Westminster Bridge, Canaletto
View under Westminster Bridge, Canaletto
Notice in the design drawing that all the timbers are straight (except those in contact with the stone)
   Canaletto failed to notice that and painted them curved!

On the 21st of February 1743-4 the 14th and last Pier was finished; so that the building of both the Abutments, and all the Piers of this Bridge were happily compleated in five Years, and twenty-three Days, from the laying the first Stone, notwithstanding all the Stops and Difficulties occasioned by the Tides, bad Weather, Ice, and frequent Wants of Stone, which was kept from us by long easterly Winds, besides some Embargoes, extraordinary Prefixing of Seamen, and staying often for Convoy in Time of War.
On the 20th of July 1746 the last Arch was keyed in, five Years, eleven Months, and five Days after they were begun, and from that Day (if it had been proper) the Bridge was passable both for Foot Passengers and Horses, which was compleated in seven Years, five Months, and twenty-two Days, from the laying,the first Stone.
On the 25th of October 1746 the last Stone of all the Abutments, Piers, and Arches was laid, (but without any Ceremony) by the Late Right Honourable the Earl of Pembroke, who had laid the first but seven Years, eight Months, and twenty-seven Days before, and excepting the Foot Pavements and Ballustrades, the Bridge was then intirely finished and fit for Service.
On the 25th of July 1747 the last Center was taken down, and all the fifteen Arches of this Bridge were left intirely free and open.

Westminster Bridge, Lord Mayor’s Day, Canaletto, 1746
The more or less completed (but unopened) Westminster Bridge, Lord Mayor’s Day, Canaletto

On the 14th of November 1747, the Bridge, and the Roads and Streets on both Sides, were compleatly finished, and the whole was performed in seven Years, nine Months, and sixteen Days, from the laying of the first Stone.
The Commissioners intended soon after this to have opened the Bridge for the Service of the Publick, but were prevented by an Accident intirely unforeseen, and not easily accountable, of which I shall give but a very short Account in this Place, my intended Brevity not allowing me to enlarge thereon, ...
In the Months of May and June 1747, the Western fifteen Foot Pier of Westminster Bridge was perceived to settle very gently at first, but so much faster towards the End of July, 1747 that it was thought absolutely necessary to take off the Ballustrades, Paving, and Part of the Ballast, that laid over the said Pier, and the two Arches adjoining; by the Continuation of the settling of this Pier, those Arches lost their regular semicircular Figure, considerable Openings in the Joints shewed those Arches in some Danger, and some of their Stones both in the Fronts and their Sopheits were split and broken, one of them actually fell out of the least Arch in the River, and another was taken out to prevent its falling down.
Notwithstanding most of the confiderable Bridges of which we have any Account, have in the Course of their buiding, met with some Accident like this, it is certain that never was such an Accident so much taken Notice of; it was very sincerely deplored by all those who had any good Nature, or publick Spirit, and as heartily rejoiced at by those of a contrary Disposition, such as the Watermen, Ferrymen, &c. and great many others, nay by some, who were fed and maintained by the Commissioners, with much better Bread, than ever they deserved, or ever could earn.
In August and September 1747 many of the Commissioners returned to Town from their Country Seats on this melancholy Occasion, reassumed their Boards, had frequent Meetings, and asked the Opinion of every Person whom they thought able and willing to assist them with their Advice; they received Schemes and Proposals from Abundance of People, most of them absurd, improper, or impracticable, but in the great Number, some there were far from despicable, though faulty, for Want of the Projectors being truly informed of the State of the Case.
Till the Commissioners could fix on the most proper Remedy, and the most adviseable Way of Proceeding they previously resolved,according to my Advice, in which both the Master Masons, Messieurs Jelfe and Tufnel, unanimously joined, that the first necessary Steps were to build the two Piers next to the two Arches and Pier that were damaged, quite solid in Rubble Stone, and Mortar, and to load them sufficiently, in order to preserve all the other Arches and Piers of the Bridge; which was ordered accordingly, and immediately after set about and done.
The next Step resolved upon by the Board, on the unanimous Opinion of all the Persons concerned in the Works, was, that two Centers should be immediately framed, and set up as soon as possible under the two damaged Arches, in order to save them from falling, in case the fifteenth Foot Pier should settle much more, and to afford a safe Way of taking them down, if it was found necessary to be done.
These two Centers were ordered into Execution as early as the 15th September 1747. All the former Centers had been contracted for by the Foot, including the Iron Work, the Setting them up, and all Workmanship to be performed at a fixed Price, and within a certain limited Time; but the Price of the Timber only contained in these being agreed for, and all the Workmanship, and the Setting them up being suffered to be done by DayWork; the ill Consequence of this was, that notwithstanding my most earnest Solicitations, and repeated Orders to use Dispatch, from the Commissioners, the said two Centers cost great Sums of Money, and were above seven Months Time in making and letting up; during all which Time nothing could be down towards repairing the damaged Pier and Arches.

On 12 April 1748 the Master Masons joined with me in advising the Commissioners to load the Pier that had settled, as much as possible, which plainly appeared to us to be the best Way to try it, and to secure it for the future.
Orders were given accordingly, and soon after we begun loading the said Pier with Blocks of Moor, Stone, and large Iron Guns, condemned as unserviceable (obtained from the Office of Ordnance) and with Rubble in their Interstices, by which Means we depressed the Pier a few Inches lower: The whole Weight of the Load placed on the said Pier was so far magnified by Writers of daily News, and monthly Magazines as to be called 12,000 Tons, but it did never exceed 700 Tons, which was but about the third Part of what I intended to load it with, (and what could have been done at a very little Charge, and in a short Time) if my Opinion and that of the Masons had been followed.
The Reason why it was not followed, was this; soon after the Accident of the settling of this Pier had happened, I perceived (but, I own, not so soon as others did) by the Looks, and even the open Exultations of some, and the dilatory Proceedings of others, that a wicked Cabal, bent upon Mischief, chiefly for Mischief Sake, was resolved to exert themselves to their utmost, in order to distress and obstruct the Works of the Bridge, and if possible to hinder its being ever finished as was intended.
I could (if I thought it proper) paint the odious Characters of every Fool or Knave of which this Cabal consisted in their true Colours; but as this would be no Way interesting to the Readers, I shall proceed by informing them, that this Cabal had Credit enough (at that Time) with some of the most active among the acting Commissioners, to make them believe that the further Loading of the settled Pier would be dangerous to the Arches, which, they said, might thereby crush the Centers, and fall in the River, and even draw after them what they called a considerable Part of His Majesty's Ordnance; as I knew these Assertions to be false and groundless, I called to my Assistance four skilful and experienced Builders and Master Carpenters, who after a full Enquiry, and a careful Survey, joined the Masons and me in Opinion, and gave it under their Hands, that the two Centers were in no Danger, and might, and ought to be eased, and the loading on the Pier increased as much as possible; but some of the Commissioners being really terrified at these imaginary Dangers, moved the Board to cease loading, and even to unload the said Pier, which Motion (after Debates) they carried at last by a Majority of two Voices only (if I am not misinformed) and in Consequence, on the 5th of July 1748, I received Orders to unload the Pier, and to proceed next to take down the two damaged Arches.
This Order was the first and the only one that ever I received from the Commissioners, contrary to my Judgment or Opinion, and which I obeyed, but I own not without some Concern.
Whilst the Arches were unbuilding and taking down, the Commissioners continued receiving Proposals and Schemes for repairing the said damaged Pier and Arches, and examined such of them as would bear any Examination.

Westminster Bridge construction, Canaletto
Westminster Bridge, the damaged arches being repaired, Canaletto

On September the 27th 1748, they ordered me to explain, at large, and to lay before them, what Schemes I had to propose for the same Purpose, in Writing.
My Report was thoroughly examined on the 13th of December following, and (after I had explained wherein all the best of the Schemes proposed were deficient or impracticable) of the two Schemes I proposed, as equally practicable, that which the Masons and I seemed to incline most to (on Account of its preserving the Regularity and Symmetry of the Bridge, and it being the cheapest of the two, the easiest in the Execution, and lastly, requiring the least Time) was approved by the Commissioners, and ordered into Execution (under my Direction) as soon as the Season would permit, to the great Disappointment and Mortification of the whole Cabal, and of a great many other Projectors.
It is not possible to explain, in a very clear Manner, the Method which I then proposed, and have since put in Practice, with Success, for the repairing the damaged Pier and Arches, without annexing several Copper-Plates which is not suitable to this short Tract: However, to give the Reader some Idea thereof, I shall only say, that the first Steps, after the Arches were taken down, was to take down also a confiderable Part of the settled Pier, which was at first built solid a good Way up between the Arches.
The next Step was to inclose, by a Case of large dovetailed Piles, the Gravel (in which this and all the other Piers were built) and whatever other Soil there might be under the Stream or layer of Gravel, from giving Way, spreading, or slipping from under this Foundation.
These dovetailed Piles were driven all round close to the Bed of Timber, on which the Pier is built, and so deep as to reach about fifteen Feet under it all round, and afterwards were all sawn low enough below low Water Mark, as never to be any Obstruction to the Navigation of any Boat or other Vessel.
Then the two damaged Arches were rebuilt the very same in Appearance, but with much less Materials in the Inside, which I contrived chiefly by Means of a Counter-Arch over the settled Pier, between the two Arches and two Semicounter Arches butting against the opposite Side of the sixteen and fourteen Feet Piers.
So that upon the whole, the Weight pressing on the Foundation of the Western fifteen Foot Pier was lessened in the Proportion of nearly four to three; and as it was known what Weight the Pier bore when it ceased settling, so it may be confidently asserted, that the Present Western fifteen Foot Pier (though in all Appearance the same as it was at first) supports several Hundred Tuns less Weight than it did before.
The next Winter, and Part of the ensuing Spring 1749, were wholly employed in taking down the damaged Arches and Turretts.
About the End of April 1749, by the Removal of one Person, and the Death of another (which happened soon after) the Cabal was totally routed, its mischievious Intentions seen through and prevented, and Peace and Harmony returned again among all the Persons concerned in the Works of the Bridge.

The Rooms of those removed or dead, being filled up with Persons fully as honest, at least more capable, and much more willing to do their Duties, the Repairs wanting were then pursued with Alacrity, and a Dispatch which made itself remarkable not only to the Commissioners but to the Eyes of the Publick.
On the 26th of April 1748, the Commissioners appointed for their Master Carpenter Mr Edward Ruble, whom I recommended to them, and had known many Years for a Man of strict Probity, and of great Skill and Experience in all Works of this Kind; and he has since very diligently and fully answered all Expectations.
On the 17th of July following we began driving the dovetailed Piles, and by an Accident which happened to the Engine the next Day, were prevented from driving any more till Auguft the 3rd following, when we begun driving again without any more Interruption, every Tide, almost Day and Night, by which Diligence we had them all driven by the 5th, and all sawn off by the 20th of December following, at which the next Board expressed so much Satisfaction, that they ordered a particular Minute thereof to be inserted in their Minute Book.
The three following Months were employed by the Masons, in restoring the Pier (that had settled a little out of an upright) to a perpendicular Position, which being done by chipping only, took a good deal of Time, and by the Carpenters in new framing and setting up the Centers, which, together with a hoisting Stage, were both compleated the 18th of April, 1750.
The Masons begun the rebuilding the two Arches on the 23rd of April; and though by their Contract, they were allowed 12 Months Time to finish them in, after the Centers and hoisting Stage were compleated for their Use, the Materials being all at Hand, they used such Diligence, that both the Arches were keyed by the 2Oth of July; so that there really was much less Time employed in rebuilding them than in taking them down.
The Centers were eased and struck from under them on the 27th and 28th of the same Month, and neither of the new Arches descended or followed their Center sensibly, not even so much as the Thickness of a common Packthread; the three following Months were employed in building the Counter Arches, filling the Spandrels, building the Foot-ways and Ballustrades, and in clearing the Bridge, and gravelling the Carriageway the whole Length of it; and after working at last for a few Weeks, Day and Night, Westminster Bridge was compleatly finished on Sunday the 18th of November, 1750, Eleven Years, Nine Months, and Twenty-one Days, after the laying the first Stone, which was on the 29th of January 1738-9.
I conclude this Article by mentioning, that on the said Sunday, the 18th of November 1750, Westminster Bridge was opened for the Service of the Publick, by Order of the Commissioners, of which previous Notice had been given for several Days before, in the London Gazette, and in several other publick News Papers.

The last stone of the bridge was laid on the 10th of November, 1750, by Thomas Lediard, Esq. in presence of several of the commissioners; and, on the 17th of the same month, about twelve o'clock at night, it was opened by a procession of several gentlemen of the city of Westminster, the chief artificers of the work, and a great number of spectators, preceded by trumpets, kettle-drums, &c.

1782: Moritz's Travels -

At length we arrived at the magnificent bridge of Westminster. The prospect from this bridge alone seems to afford one, the epitome of a journey, or a voyage in miniature, as containing something of every thing that mostly occurs on a journey. It is a little assemblage of contrails and contrarieties.
In contrail to the round, modern, and majestic cathedral of St. Paul's, on your right, the venerable, old-fashioned, and hugely noble, long, abbey of Westminster, with its enormous pointed roof, rises on the left.
Down the Thames, to the right, you see Blackfriar's bridge, which does not yield much, if at all, in beauty, to that of Westminster: on the Right bank of the Thames are delightful terraces, planted with trees, and those new tasteful buildings, called the Adelphi.
On the Thames itself are countless swarms of little boats passing and repassing, many with one mast and one sail, and many with none, in which persons of all ranks are carried over.
Thus, there is hardly less stir and bustle on this river, than there is in some of its own London's crowded streets. Here, indeed, you no longer see great ships, for they come no farther than London bridge.

"The Thames OR Graphic illustrations of Seats, Villas, Public Buildings, and Picturesque Scenery" by William Bernard Cooke, 1811 -

[Westminster Bridge] is considered to be one of the finest bridges in the world.
The first stone was laid on the 29th January, 1738, by the then Earl of Pembroke, a great judge, with an uncommon practical knowledge of architecture. The last stone of it was laid on the 20th November, 1750.
> It was built by Mr. Laberly, a Swiss architect, and consists of thirteen semicircular arches, besides a very small one at each end. The ascent to it is very easy as there is a semi-octangular recess at every pier. The two middle and two extreme ones on each side are covered, as places of shelter to the passengers.
These are the dimensions of this noble structure:

The whole length of the bridge is1225 feet
Width of the centre arch70 feet
The rest decrease regularly four feet in width on each side
The width of the two small arches at the abutments, is about20 feet
Width of the raised foot-ways on each side7 feet
Height of the balustrade within6 - 9 feet

This bridge was built with uncommon attention to its foundation, materials, and mechanical construction. The materials of the piers are much superior to those generally used on such occasions. They are the same within as without, and consist of solid blocks of Portland stone, many of which are four or five tons weight, and are fastened with iron cramps, so concealed and covered as not to be affected by the water. The soffit of every arch is turned and built quite through the same as the fronts; in short, the whole is so contrived, that each arch may be said to stand singly, without affecting or being affected by any of the others. Between every two arches there is also a drain to prevent the water and filth from accumulating.
Eleven years and nine months were employed in erecting this magnificent structure, and the expense of it amounted to three hundred and eighty-nine thousand five hundred pounds: part of which was raised by lotteries, and the rest granted by parliament.

Westminster Bridge
Westminster Bridge.

This bridge was esteemed one of the most complete and elegant structures of the kind in the world. It is built entirely of stone, and extends over the river at a place where it is 1,223 feet broad, which is above 300 feet broader than at London Bridge. On each side is a fine balustrade of stone, with places of shelter from the rain. The width of the bridge is 44 feet, having on each side a fine Footway for passengers. It consisting of fourteen piers, and thirteen large and two small arches, all semicircular, that in the centre being 76 feet wide, and the rest decreasing four feet each from the other; so that the two last arches of the thirteen great ones are each 52 feet. It is computed that £40,000 value in stone and other materials is always under water.
This magnificent structure was begun in 1739, and was finished in 1750, at the expense of £389,000 defrayed by parliament.
It was built after a design of Mons. Labelye, an ingenious French architect.

Sir Howard Douglas (in the 1840s) -

Westminster Bridge was built about the middle of the last century, under the direction of Mr. Charles Labelye.
The bottom courses of the piers were laid, or built, in floating vessels, called chests or caissons, which, when so loaded, were conducted to their proper positions, and there sunk upon the natural alluvial bed of the river properly reduced to a level, after the superincumbent mud, or other matter, had been removed; the bottoms of the chests or caissons thus forming, when the sides were taken away, the platforms or foundations of the masonry, unsustained by underpiling, or any other support than that of the gravel and sand on which they rested.
The serious defects and dangers of this mode of proceeding speedly appeared.
In the months of May and June, 1747, the western 15-foot pier of the bridge was perceived to settle very gently at first, but so much faster towards the end of July, 1747, that it was thought absolutely necessary to take off the balustrades, paving, and part of the ballast that lay over the said pier, and the two arches adjoining ; but by the continuation of the settling of this pier, those arches lost their regular semicircular figure; — considerable openings in their joints showed those arches to be in some danger ; and some of their stones, both in fronts and soffits, were split and broken — one of them actually fell out, and another was taken out to prevent its falling down.
Thus, before the bridge was completed, it became necessary to take down and rebuild two arches; and at different periods since, the whole of the structure has more or less settled or given way;

Westminster Bridge, Samuel Scott, 1746
The Thames at Westminster with barges, Samuel Scott, 1746

Power gives way to sail. However that Royal Navy vessel (flying a pennant) on the far left maybe indicating that he will tack before running across the two sixteen oar ceremonial boats ahead of him. He appears to have just fired a gun which maybe demanding his right of way, or possibly saluting the (royal) occupants of the rowing vessels?
(Or there again maybe Samuel Scott just had a good imagination!)

Westminster Bridge featured semi-octagonal turrets at intervals to provide shelter for pedestrians but they soon became haunts for cut-throats and prostitutes. Twelve nightwatchmen were hired to guard travellers.

1747: An early electrical experimenter was so keen to use the bridge that he did so before it was completed -

... Dr. Watson, with the assistance of the leading members of the Royal Society. A circuit was formed by a wire which extended the whole length of Westminster bridge, at a considerable height above the river : one end of this wire communicated with the outer coating of a charged phial, the other being held by a person on the opposite side of the river, who formed a communication with the water by dipping into it an iron rod held by the other hand. The circuit was completed by another person, who stood near the phial, and who likewise dipped an iron rod into the river with one hand, and was enabled, by means of a wire held in the other, to effect a contact with the knob of the phial. Whenever the discharges took place, the shocks were felt by both persons : thus proving that the electric fluid must have been in motion along the whole line of the circuit, including both the wire above and the river below.

1749: Westminster Bridge survived two earthquakes. - There were two earthquakes in London, 8 February and 8 March 1749, and they gave rise to a new explanation: (perhaps the story of Dr Watson's experiment had got about?) - anyway William Stukeley knew the answer -
These earthquakes gave rise to alarmist predictions of a great earthquake which would wipe out the city. When it didn't happen there were satirical comments -

The Commissioners of Westminster-bridge have ordered this calamity to be entered in their books, as a glorious excuse for the next sinking pier.
The town received some comfort upon hearing that “the Inns of Court were all sunk, and several orders were given that no one should assist in bringing any one lawyer above ground.”

[ Six years later the news of the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake must have made the satirists wonder ... ]

1750: Poem from the London Magazine -


WHEN late the river gods would visit Thames,
Rhine, Danube, Tagus, Seine and other names;
Allured by fame, who told what fleets he bore,
What wealth, what splendor, what dignified his shore:

As from the Sea, high surging on his tide,
Through woods of ships they with amazement ride;
Still new delights the varying scenes disclose,
Till interceptive, the first bridge arose.

"Is that", they ask, "the work of human skill?"
"Or springs the river from yon people hill?"
This doubt, by slow approach, is solved at last,
And the pressed arches, they with trembling past.

Now mingling spires and Paul's stupendous dome
Attract their eyes as westward on they roam;
Till winding to the left as leads the flood,
Sprung the last wonder and before them stood.

Astonished! Ravished! "No confusion's here,
Th'uncumbered structure swells distinct and clear,"
They cry'd - "But whence? How raised? O Thames impart!
Wrought all thy sons by learned Isis art?

Wey, Kennet, Wandle, Mole and Cole, and Lee,
Their beds relinquished, laboured they for thee?
Or say, if from the deep, to succour those,
(His favourite thou) our common father rose?

He, ancient architect, with Phoebus toiled
On Ilion's walls, which long the Grecians foiled:
And he, or Phoebus, or the blue eyed maid,
Must plan this bridge, and lend the workmen aid.

Like this, no pile did e'er our streams bestride,
Though crowded towns rise thick on either side;
Though, thine except, through fertile plains they stray,
And wash more spacious kingdoms in their way."

1772: July -

On Friday Night, at Eleven o'Clock, a Butcher's Man, with his Tray on his Shoulder, was observed to stop on Westminster Bridge, from whence he threw several Joints of bad Meat into the River. A Mob soon gathered round, and it was with Difficulty the Fellow escaped alive.

Westminster Bridge 1792 © MOTCO
Westminster Bridge. June 30, 1792. From Surrey side.

1792: Picturesque Views on the River Thames by Samuel Ireland -

Westminster Bridge 1792 in Ireland
Westminster Bridge shown by Samuel Ireland 1792

APPROACHING Westminster, the grand assemblage of venerable and Gothic scenery, combined with the stately bridge, and other modern edifices raised within the last century, cannot fail to inspire the mind of every observer, whether native or foreigner, with an exalted idea of the wealth and splendor of the British empire. ...
Westminster-bridge, a structure which, amidst all our boasted improvements in this species of building, we have not yet exceeded.
THIS elegant work was begun and completed from a design, and under the management, of Mr. Charles Labelye, a native of Switzerland. The first stone was laid on the 29th of January, 1739, by Henry Earl of Pembroke, a nobleman to whose skill and taste we owe much of its excellence. The whole of the superstructure is of Portland stone, except the spandrels of the arches, which are built of purbeck, a material, that is not only much cheaper, but being of a darker hue, makes a good back-ground, and gives a relief to the other parts constructed with Portland stone.
The bridge was opened for carriages seven years, nine months, and sixteen days after the laying of the first stone, and was completely finished, says the architect, in eleven years, nine months, and twenty- one days ; he likewise informs us that the whole expence did not exceed two hundred and eighteen thousand eight hundred pounds.
THIS bridge is twelve hundred and twenty-three feet in length, and its five principal arches have each more space than the width of Westminster-hall : The quantity of stone used in this building, is nearly double to that employed in St. Paul's cathedral.
IT is matter of asftonishment that we find at that period so much opposition made to the building of a stone bridge. The plan and estimate for one composed of wood was laid before the Commissioners, and favorably received but on urging the builder to fix a sum for keeping it in repair, for a certain number of years, he declined making any proposal ; notwithstanding which the wooden project had many friends, and it was only by a small majority in the House of Lords that the plan for a stone bridge was carried; those in the minority obtained the appellation of "Wooden Peers".
THE utility of a bridge on this spot was urged as far back as the reign of Elizabeth [ I ]. The ferry at this place is known to have been established ever since the time of the Romans, and on digging the foundation of this bridge, was found a copper medal, well preserved; upon one side of which was the head of the Emperor Domitian, and on the reverse the figure of a woman, holding a pair of scales in her right hand, and supporting a cornucopia with her left.
AT the completion of Westminster-bridge, the advantages arising from the ferry-boat, which had from time immemorial been the property of the Archbishop of Canterbury, having ceased, the sum of two thousand two hundred and five pounds, was given to that see as an equivalent.

Westminster Bridge 1802
Westminster Bridge, 1802, Samuel Ireland

And in that same year, 1802 Dorothy Wordsworth wrote –

We mounted the Dover Coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning.   The City, St  Paul's, with the river and a multitude of little boats, made a most beautiful sight. The houses were not overhung with their cloud of smoke and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly with such pure light that there was even something like a purity of Nature's own grand spectacles.

What a poetic diary entry! Dorothy Wordsworth might have become famous for that quotation were it not for what her brother wrote. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) -
Composed upon Westminster Bridge - September 3, 1802
Listen to 'Earth has not anything to show more fair'

Earth has not anything to show more fair
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

There is a 1941 version of this by F S Boas, which, after the bombs in London, sounds just a little too relevant in 2005 -

Earth has not anything to show more fair
So Wordsworth sang enraptured with the sight
Of Westminster clad in morning light
Of beauty, radiant and beyond compare;
Its towers, domes, temples glittering in the air,
And nought above them but the birds in flight.
But now the sky-borne engines of the night
Have rained their bolts with thundering and flair.
Ah! Could the singer take his stand again
Upon the bridge, how measureless his pain
To see the lovely vision maimed and marred –
But he would hear the ‘mighty heart’ still beat -
Undaunted, undismayed, and smiling greet
A Westminster whose soul could not be scarred.

Westminster Bridge 1810 © MOTCO
View of Westminster Hall and Bridge. J. Bluck aquat. Feb 1 1810.

Westminster Bridge 1828 © MOTCO
Westminster Bridge. W. Westall A.R.A. delt. R.G. Reeve sculpt. Published 1828 by R.Ackermann, 96 Strand, London.

1830: Westminster Bridge, published S Leigh -

Westminster Bridge, 1830
Westminster Bridge, 1830

1831: The Bridge was becoming increasingly unsafe -

At different periods since [it was built] the whole of the structure has more or less settled or given way; and notwithstanding the costly works now in progress to secure the foundations from any further subsidence, and the abstraction of some thousand tons of material from the roadway, parapets, and spandrels, Westminster Bridge has again settled, and is unquestionably in a very insecure, if not in a highly perilous state. The more remote dangers of this defective mode of laying the foundations of piers, were to a certain extent kept in abeyance so long as the river remained undisturbed, in that somewhat artificial state in which it was when the bridge was constructed. But no sooner was that condition altered ; first by opening the great arch of London Bridge, then by removing the London Water-works, and ultimately by taking away old London Bridge, than all the defects of this mode of construction became very sensible, and the danger daily greater. By removing the dam which had so long obstructed the natural outfall of the River, as well as the upward passage of the tidal current, the velocity of the stream both ways has been increased, the section of the bed of the river considerably altered, while all the circumstances which constitute stability, have undergone, and are still undergoing, great modifications.
If to the removal of the obstructions, which may be considered as the main cause of these changes, there be added the construction of the embankments, such as that which extends along the river front of the Parliamentary Palace, and the numerous wharfs which protrude into the channel, diminishing its breadth and displacing vast volumes of its waters, it will be evident that not only is the velocity of the current greatly augmented, but its direction partially changed, old passages being closed and new ones formed. The sand which used to lodge on both banks is in some places nearly all gone, leaving gravel and rubbish in its place, and at other parts pestilential mud banks appear, where formerly there had been comparatively clean and deep water.
The attempt to secure the old foundations from further subsidence has been made by driving rows of sheet-piling into the blue clay round the old caissons, as a girdle, in order to prevent the materials of the natural bed of the river from being underwashed by the current, or squeezed out by the weight of the bridge into the gradually deepening water - courses ; but notwithstanding the skill and ability with which this expedient has been devised and applied by an eminent engineer, — notwithstanding the removal of between twenty and thirty thousand tons of material from the roadway, parapets, and spandrels, and even an extension of the lengths of the piers, some of these continue to sink; and it may safely be pronounced that it is beyond the resources of science or of art to render the elongated but still defective foundations capable of bearing the weight of a new superstructure, especially with an enlarged roadway.

1834: The Houses of Parliament on fire, JMW Turner. (There is another watercolour by Turner "The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons" which is far more atmospheric but with much less detail) -

Houses of Parliament on Fire, 1830, JMW Turner
The Houses of Parliament on Fire, 1830, JMW Turner.

1834: October 16th. The House of Parliament on fire, from The Gentleman's Magazine -

This evening a most lamentable event took place, which may be regarded as a national calamity, never to be forgotten. The two Houses of Parliament, with nearly all their various offices, the old Painted Chamber, associated with a thousand historical reminiscences, the libraries of the two Houses, &c- all fell a prey to a destructive fire, which broke out about half-past six o'clock in the evening.
The flames suddenly burst forth near the entrances of the two Houses, and immediately burnt with a fury almost unparalleled. In less than half an hour from the first discovery of the flames, the whole interior of the building, from the ground-floor to the roof, presented, through the numerous windows with which it was studded, one entire mass of fire. Thousands of persons instantly assembled, the engines were in attendance, the police and soldiery were on the spot, and every exertion was made to save the public papers and other important documents, vast quantities of which were conveyed to a place of safety, although many were unfortunately consumed.
All attempts to save the House of Lords proving abortive, the firemen wholly directed their attention towards the House of Commons, and to the preservation of that venerable structure, Westminster Hall, which, from the beauty of its architecture, and its close connexion with some of the most important events of our country's annals, is equally admired and estimated by the antiquary, the historian, and the citizen.
The wind, which, previous to this time, had blown from the south, ..., at near eight o'clock, veered somewhat towards the west, thus throwing the flames immediately upon the House of Commons ; the angle of which, abutting upon the House of Lords, caught fire, and, notwithstanding the utmost exertions of the firemen, assisted by the military, the roof ignited, and fell in with a tremendous crash, accompanied with an immense volume of flame and smoke, and emitting in every direction millions of sparks and flakes of fire. This appearance, combined with the sound, resembling the report of a piece of heavy ordnance, induced the assembled multitude to believe that an explosion of gunpowder had taken place.
The flames now took a different direction, but the danger to the Hall appeared to be more imminent than ever. From the House of Commons the fire appeared to retrograde as well as advance, and whilst the Speaker's house (which was partially burnt) was placed in jeopardy on the one side, the range of committee-rooms, situate immediately over the Members' entrance to the House of Commons, opposite to Henry the Seventh's Chapel, appeared to be entirely enveloped by the devouring element. A dense black column of smoke issued from the roof of this part of the building, which was almost immediately followed by a large column of flame, and the south end of the Hall was, therefore, at this time encompassed by burning edifices.
At this period several engines were introduced into the Hall, and an immense quantity of water was distributed over every part of the building. The firemen and soldiers employed on the exterior of the building also redoubled their exertions, apparently wholly regardless of the danger to which they were exposed by the falling of burning rafters and the showers of molten lead which poured down upon them on every side. Their efforts were eventually crowned with success. That venerable structure escaped comparatively uninjured ...

Houses of Parliament Fire, 1834
Ground-plan of the two Houses of Parliament and adjoining Edifices, showing the Extent of the Conflagration. 1834

1836: A ten year program to reconstruct the bridge started.
1836-1842: The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th University Boat Races started upstream of Westminster Bridge.
Click Boat Race 1836-1842

1839: American Railroad Journal and Mechanics Magazine -

... a dam has since been completed round two of the piers on the Westminster side, and a beginning made with the piling round them.
The great extent of the coffer dam (being no less than 500 feet in circumference,) as also the difficulty experienced in driving the piles through a hard crust of gravel which overlays the clay at this place, and the care that must have been taken in doing the work, by so effectually shutting out the water, makes it appear to us truly astonishing that so much has been done in the short period of eight months, especially as all works of this nature depend so very much upon the weather and tides.
Great credit is due to the parties in charge of the work; and, if we may judge from the earnest manner in which they are proceeding, the public will have no cause again to complain of the tardy progress which hitherto marked every thing connected with this bridge.
Neither can we omit to state, that upon our late visit, the gratification we experienced in witnessing the very dry state of the work, and although the level at which they are now proceeding is several feet below the bed of the river, there was not the slightest leakage; and we understand that the same has been the case since the completion of the dam.
The plan of operation for protecting the foundation of the piers from being undermined by the wash of the river, is, by surrounding the caisson upon which the pier is built with sheet piling, driven as close as it is possible to bring wood and wood together.
The piles are driven fourteen feet into the solid ground below the bottom of the stonework; they are 12 inches thick, and the space between the pier and the piles is afterwards filled in solid with concrete, upon which masonry of square stones of large dimensions is laid, the top of the piles being dressed off to a fair and uniform line, and further secured with a strong band or wailing of timber, encircling the whole tie, which is held in its place by iron caisson bars, firmly fixed to the main timbers of the caisson.
By this plan very little obstruction will be offered to the current, should any further increase of depth in the river take place, and from what we saw of the care taken to make the joints close, there will not be, in our opinion, the slightest apprehension for the safety of the bridge, should the river deepen three times as much as it has since the removal of London bridge — a circumstance very unlikely to happen.

1842: Westminster Bridge seen from Waterloo Bridge -

1842: Westminster Bridge seen from Waterloo Bridge
Westminster & Hungerford from Waterloo Bridge, 1842
Next to Hungerford Market a jetty protrudes into the river; Brunel's Hungerford Suspension Bridge was not built until 1844-5.
A group of boys is bathing and fishing on the unembanked foreshore below Waterloo Bridge.
Sepia and body colour drawing (215 x 4lOmm) in Museum of London (A 22150).

1854: Work started on a new wrought iron Westminster Bridge.
1856: A survey showed that the increased currents due to the new 1823 London Bridge had scoured away a considerable amount of sediment. Some eight feet! -

1856: 1823 London Bridge tidal scour
1856: The changes to the river above the 1823 London Bridge

Notice that the old Westminster Bridge impeded the water sufficiently to show the change in Low water mark either side of it. In 1823 the river was definitely fordable at low water just below the bridge. The 1737 and 1741 pictures above suggest that this might have been the case before a bridge was built here.

1862: the current bridge was opened.
748 feet long, 85 feet wide. Seven elliptical cast and wrought-iron arches supported by granite piers cross the river between the former County Hall and the Houses of Parliament. Gothic shields in the spandrels and ornamental shields emblazoned with the arms of England and Westminster provide decoration appropriate to the site. It is painted green in reference to the benches in the House of Commons (Lambeth bridge is painted red after the Lord’s benches).
Architect: Charles Barry. Engineer: Thomas Page. Contractor: Thomas Page.
It is now the oldest bridge across the Thames in London.

Westminster Bridge and Parliament
Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament

1882: England, Picturesque and Descriptive, Joel Cook -

The Victoria Tower, Houses of Parliament, Joel Cook, 1882

1894: Plan of the Houses of Parliament -

Westminster Houses of Parliament 1894
Westminster Houses of Parliament, 1894

1884: The Colchester Earthquake (5.2 on the Richter Scale) caused three foot waves on the Thames at Westminster.

1890: Westminster Bridge, Francis Frith –

Westminster Bridge 1890 © Frith
Westminster Bridge 1890, Francis Frith

Westminster Bridge, 1896 -

Westminster Bridge, 1896
Westminster Bridge, 1896

Houses of Parliament, 1896 -

Houses of Parliament, 1896
Houses of Parliament, 1896

1899: 'The Riddle of the Thames' by William Watson -

AT windows that from Westminster
Look southward to the Lollard's Tower,
She sat, my lovely friend. A blur
Of gilded mist, — ('twas morn's first hour,)-
Made vague the world : and in the gleam
Shivered the half-awakened stream.

Through tinted vapour looming large,
Ambiguous shapes obscurely rode.
She gazed where many a laden barge
Like some dim-moving saurian showed.
And 'midst them, lo! two swans appeared.
And proudly up the river steered.

Two stately swans! What did they there?
Whence came they? Whither would they go?
Think of them, — things so faultless fair, —
'Mid the black shipping down below!
On through the rose and gold they passed.
And melted in the morn at last.

Ah, can it be, that they had come
Where Thames in sullied glory flows.
Fugitive rebels, tired of some
Secluded lake's ornate repose.
Eager to taste the life that pours
Its muddier wave 'twixt mightier shores?

We ne'er shall know: our wonderment
No barren certitude shall mar.
They left behind them, as they went,
A dream than knowledge ampler far;
And from our world they sailed away
Into some visionary day.

1902: Westminster Bridge –

Westminster Bridge, 1902
Westminster Bridge, 1902

1924: Some repairs were made.

Westminster Bridge © 2000 Doug Myers
Westminster Bridge © 2000 Doug Myers

Above Westminster Bridge

Westminster 1792 Ireland
The House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey in Picturesque Views on the Thames, Samuel Ireland, 1792

Florence Nightingale Museum

St Thomas' Hospital

1610: Camden -

Saint Thomas Hospitall, re-edified, or founded rather, by the Citie of London for the sustenance of feeble and impotent persons.

St Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament
St Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament

1837: Knickerbocker -

Last Saturday I took it into my head to go to Woolwich, nine miles from London, to help the Prince of Orange review the troops.
By dint of active exertion, I attained a seat on the deck of a bit of a steam-boat, loaded with two hundred and fifty pleasure-seeking mortals like myself, while as many more were left disconsolate on the wharf— inadmissible.
Off we went with the tide, under Westminster, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark, and London Bridges, over Thames Tunnel, and between a multitude of ships and steamboats, large boats and small boats, rowed perhaps by a Jacob Faithful, or his posterity, and following the serpentine course of ' Old Father Thames' through a beautiful green meadow, passed Greenwich, and arrived at our ultimatum in good time to see the show.
The prince was dressed as a general, decorated with half-a-dozen badges of different orders; and he galloped about the field in true military style, accompanied by his two sons, and a squadron of princes, dukes, lords, etc.
They fired bombs, and had a grand imitation-battle, with horse-artillery — in other words, a sham-fight, which was all vastly fine.

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, Chapter 10, The River –

This is the most amusing time to observe a regular Sunday water-party. There has evidently been up to this period no inconsiderable degree of boasting on everybody's part relative to his knowledge of navigation; the sight of the water rapidly cools their courage, and the air of self-denial with which each of them insists on somebody else's taking an oar, is perfectly delightful. At length, after a great deal of changing and fidgeting, consequent upon the election of a stroke-oar: the inability of one gentleman to pull on this side, of another to pull on that, and of a third to pull at all, the boat's crew are seated.
'Shove her off!' cries the cockswain, who looks as easy and comfortable as if he were steering in the Bay of Biscay. The order is obeyed; the boat is immediately turned completely round, and proceeds towards Westminster-bridge, amidst such a splashing and struggling as never was seen before, except when the Royal George went down.
'Back wa'ater, sir,' shouts Dando, [the boatman]
'Back wa'ater, you sir, aft;' upon which everybody thinking he must be the individual referred to, they all back water, and back comes the boat, stern first, to the spot whence it started.
'Back water, you sir, aft; pull round, you sir, for'ad, can't you?' shouts Dando, in a frenzy of excitement.
'Pull round, Tom, can't you?' re-echoes one of the party.
'Tom an't for'ad,' replies another.
'Yes, he is,' cries a third; and the unfortunate young man, at the imminent risk of breaking a blood-vessel, pulls and pulls, until the head of the boat fairly lies in the direction of Vauxhall-bridge.
'That's right - now pull all on you!' shouts Dando again, adding, in an under-tone, to somebody by him,
'Blowed if hever I see sich a set of muffs!' and away jogs the boat in a zigzag direction, every one of the six oars dipping into the water at a different time.

1839: Rowing Match -

The grand scullers' wager, for a purse of sovereigns, given by the amateurs, took place on Thursday. The whole of the competitors were picked from the best on the river, and large sums of money depended on the result. The distance was from Westminster Bridge to Putney, with tide, and seven scullers were to contend for the golden prize, whose names are as follow: H. Barrow (Blackfriars), scarlet; Ivy Noulton (Lambeth), black; H. Norris (Hungerford), light blue; G. Maynard (Lambeth), green; T. Loader (Bankside), orange; J. Parish (Strand lane), white; C. Campbell (Westminster), stripe.
The start was very good, but Norris might have been quicker. Campbell and Parish were close up with Norris rather in the rear; Parish, however, lost his place in a few seconds, and Campbell and Norris, as first and second, kept their positions the whole of the way. Campbell only won by a few lengths.
On Friday ten gentlemen, belonging to the Guards, contended in a sculler's match, from Westminster bridge to the Red House, for a sweepstakes. The start took place about half-past three o'clock, and, after an excellent match, Captain Douglas came in first, followed by Captains Stanley and Dixon. The remaining seven shortly after arrived at the stipulated distance.
Viscount Chetwynd started the men. The match was under the management of R. Wright, coxswain to the Guard's boat.