Occasionally referred to as Fulham Bridge
Fulham on the Right bank, north east, and Putney on the Left bank, south west.
A Tour on the Banks of the Thames from London to Oxford, in the Autumn of 1829 By A. Walton has this account of the names -
It does not appear that Fulham was ever designated
or known by any other name than that
which it now bears, nor is it clear how it came
There is an old story extant, which is here merely mentioned for the purpose of showing how soon very improbable stories gain credence where they happen to go uncontradicted, when, from their very absurdity, they would seem to carry that contradiction along with them; it is as follows:
"That the two sisters [who are said to have founded the churches at either end of the bridge], living on the opposite sides of the Thames, were in the habit of visiting each other, and for that purpose were ferried over by watermen ; and in their giving directions to put in properly for shore, the one used to say, 'Full home, waterman,' while the other would exclaim, 'Put nigh'; whence the two towns took their names of Fulham and Putney."
The Century Magazine - A Literary Ramble along the Thames from Fulham to Chiswick (1886) -
... Sir Robert Walpole, spurring hard from his royal master at Hampton Court, found it impossible to cross the river
from Putney, because the Tory ferrymen, perfectly alive to his presence, were carousing at the "Swan" on the opposite bank.
With those who incline to the romantic side of history, this incident is supposed to have been the prime cause of the fine old wooden bridge - the oldest, indeed, existing  in the metropolis...
In 1726, the twelfth year of George I.'s reign, an Act of Parliament was passed for building a wooden bridge from Putney to Fulham, which was finished in the year 1729 at an expense of £23,975, and the ferry was bought up, those interested in it being paid proportionately. The plan for the bridge was drawn by the celebrated Mr. Cheselden, Surgeon of Chelsea Hospital. The bridge was 789 feet long and 24 feet wide, with openings for vessels to pass through, the largest of which, in the centre, was named Walpole's Lock, in honour of Sir Robert Walpole, who helped to procure the Act of Parliament to build the bridge. A toll of a halfpenny was charged foot-passengers, and on Sundays this was doubled, for the purpose of raising a fund of £62 a year, which was divided annually between the widows and children of poor watermen belonging to Putney and Fulham as a recompense to the fraternity, who were not allowed to ply on Sundays after the building of the bridge.
1729: First Putney Bridge, of timber with 26 openings. Initially people were reluctant to pay tolls - they did not pay when they went over London Bridge, why should they pay at Putney? Two toll collectors were stationed at each end of the bridge and issued with staves which were occasionally used to persuade the public to pay.
... we were put into the greatest consternation.
From a silence interrupted with nothing but the gentle contest of our ship with the water,
we were alarmed with a noise like a clap of thunder, bursting on our slender deck:
Digit said, it was impossible, for fifteen minutes before, there appeared not the least indication of thunder in the whole hemisphere, and assured us that it was not the season of the year to expect such a phenomenon:
Sippit cried Pshaw! at his information, and said drowning would be as disagreeable now as if thunder were in season;
and calling aloud to the mariners to know whether we were sinking?
was answered, that we were in no manner of danger, all the noise we heard being occasioned by nothing but falling the mast to go under Fulham Bridge
1750?: Putney Bridge
Putney Bridge about 1750
1793: Putney Bridge, Joseph Farington -
Putney Bridge by Joseph Farington, 1793
1802: Picturesque View on the Thames, Samuel Ireland -
FROM hence passing down the river, the decayed and apparently dangerous state of
Putney bridge cannot fail to disgust the observer.
This disgraceful appendage to the river was erected in the year 1729, when the pontage or toll was settled on the subscribers by act of parliament; and, as I am informed, was within twelve months after so greatly advantageous to them, as to repay all their disbursements.
At the extremities of this tottering bridge stand the rival churches of Putney and Fulham, which are said to have been built by two sisters.
[It was to stand another 84 years!]
Putney Bridge 1802, Ireland
1834: Recorded in The Century Magazine, 1886 -
It was while [Theodore] Hook was at Egmont Lodge that the author of "Ingoldsby Legends", calling one day at the house in its master's absence, left the following impromptu lines behind him - lines which Mr. Locker has thought good enough to be preserved in "Lyra Elegantarium":
As Dick and I
Were a-sailing by
At Fulham Bridge, I cocked my eye,
And says I, 'Add-zooks!
There's Theodore Hook's,
Whose Sayings and Doings made such pretty books.
I wonder', says I,
Still keeping my eye
On the house, 'if he's in - I should like to try'.
With his oar on his knee,
Says Dick, says he,
'Father, suppose you land and see!
'What, land and sea',
Says I to he,
'Together! why, Dick, how can that be?'
And my comical son,
Who is fond of fun,
I thought would have split his sides at the pun.
So we rows to shore,
And knocks at the door -
When William, a man I've seen often before,
Makes answer and says,
'Master's gone in a chaise
Called a homnibus, drawn by a couple of bays.
So I says then,
'Just lend me a pen';
'I will, sir', says William, politest of men;
So having no card, these poetical brayings
Are the record I leave of my doings and sayings.
Omnibuses, it will be perceived, were still strange objects in June, 1834.
1845: The Boat race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities first took place at Henley in 1829.
Then in 1836, 1839, 1840, 1841, and 1842 it was held on the long course from Westminster to Putney.
But then in 1845 it finally came to be held over what we know as the modern course, from Putney to Mortlake.
The normal start is above Putney Bridge, upstream with the flood tide.
In 1846, 1856 and 1863 it was rowed downstream on the ebb tide.
1849: Rambles by Rivers: The Thames By James Thorne -
On approaching Putney Bridge there will be
noticed, on the Left bank, a long stand-like erection, it marks the starting-place of the Thames Regatta.
The race is up the stream ; the suspension bridge is the goal for wherries, the Willow Ait
One of these annual trials of skill is worth anyone's witnessing. The Thames watermen are masters of their craft ; and they are as resolute as they are skilful. The style in which they manage the flimsy boats, sitting in them and wielding them as though a part of themselves, and the unflinching energy of the struggle for victory, are quite a study in their way.
Poor Haydon used to declare that for any English animal "from an historical painter to a bulldog" to be worth anything, he must possess, as an essential attribute, "plenty of bottom". There is no lack of this attribute in our boatmen now, and one may fancy there never was.
Putney Bridge, Whittock 1831
Old Putney Bridge, Whistler, 1879
Old Putney Bridge, Manskirch
[Putney Bridge] was the first bridge to be built between Kingston and London Bridge. Thirty subscribers each paid £74 for a share and the rest of the cost was met by receipts from the ferry during the construction of the bridge and the first few months tolls. The total cost of £23,085, included £8,387 paid in compensation to the owners of the ferry. In 1881, £53,812 was distributed to shareholders from the compensation provided by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The existing records provide dividend data for 1729, 1731, 1732, 1737 and 1771 onward, and net cash flow for 1745-70. Assuming dividends during this period averaged 98% of the net cash flow, and using interpolated dividend estimates for the missing years, the internal rate of return can be calculated as 8.2%. Hence, in 1876 its chairman could complacently remark that it has been a bridge for 149 years nearly, and during all that time it has paid a very handsome dividend, and it is an increasing dividend. So the oldest bridge was almost certainly profitable.
Putney Aqueduct Site
The Aqueduct was a few yards upstream of the old bridge.
It was needed to bring fresh water from above Teddington.
1856: Rowland Brotherhood, one of Brunel's engineers built the Putney Aqueduct which was carried on 8 piers, made of iron screw piles which were driven 14ft into the river bed.
[ See Cookham Bridge for description of similar method in 1867 ]
1856: Regatta above Putney Bridge with the new aqueduct in the background -
Putney Regatta, 1856
We must now retrace our steps down Putney Hill, and through the village to the river-side.
Here we meet with a few old-fashioned brick dwelling-houses, together with sheds for boat-building, boat-clubs, and boating-houses;
for Putney has long been the head-quarters for aquatic matches on the Thames.
The day of the annual boat-race between the rival crews of the Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which takes place generally in March or April, has been for many yearsindeed, almost without intermission since 1836a red-letter day in the annals of Putney.
For many days prior to the race one or other of the rival crews, while undergoing their preparatory trials and "coaching," take up their abode at the "Star and Garter," a comfortable hostelry overlooking the Thames, or in the private houses in the neighbourhood.
And the day of the race itself is looked forward to, not only by the inhabitants of the village, but by the public at large, with almost as much interest as is felt concerning the fate of the "blue ribbon of the turf" when the "Derby" is run for on Epsom Downs.
In 1829, the first year of the race, the contest took place at Henley, when Oxford was proclaimed the winner. In 1836, 1839, 1840, and 1841, the course was from Westminster to Putney, Cambridge on each occasion proving the victors. In the following year the Oxford crew came in first, the race being rowed over the same course. From 1845 to 1847 the river between Putney and Mortlake was the scene of the race, Cambridge on each occasion carrying off the honours. In 1849, 1852, and 1854 the Oxford crew were the winners; but in 1856 the Cantabs once more were hailed as the victors. From 1857 to 1860 each year's race was won alternately by the respective crews; but from 1861 to 1869 Oxford came in first on each occasion. The tables were turned, however, in the following year, when Cambridge won the race, and this they succeeded in doing on every subsequent occassion down to 1874. In 1875 and 1876 the race was won alternately by Oxford and Cambridge; but in 1877 the judges decided that the race was a "dead heat."
Putney is the starting-point of the race, and Mortlake its goal, and the course is about four miles and a half. The time occupied in the race has varied from about twenty-one to twenty five minutes. Formerly the race was sometimes rowed from Putney to Mortlake, and at others the reverse way; but of late years the starting-point has always been near the ugly iron aqueduct of the Chelsea Water-works Company, just above Putney Bridge.
On the day of the race the usually quiet village of Putney puts on a festive appearance, the place is gay with banners, &c., and many of the inhabitants, no doubt, reap a rich harvest for the time being.
All along the banks of the river, up to the winning-post by the "Ship" at Mortlake, the pathways and buildings commanding a view of the race are crowded with excited spectators, who watch with eager interest the animated scene which presents itself.
1878: Putney Aqueduct, Henry Taunt -
Putney Aqueduct, Henry Taunt, 1878
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT02353
1880: Photograph of the Aqueduct on the left and the old Putney Bridge on the right -
Putney Bridge & Aqueduct 1880
1885: Building of the new Putney Bridge. The old aqueduct was used as a gantry for the new bridge immediately downstream of it.
Building of Putney Bridge, 1885
The structures are on the left the old aqueduct,and then the pillars for the new bridge and on the right the old bridge
1886: The Century Magazine - A Literary Ramble along the Thames [also quoted above] -
[Old Putney Bridge] now soon to be supplanted by a modern structure.
For the moment it is standing, with its picturesque toll-house, reminding one vaguely of that chamber over the gate which Longfellow has sung.
But its days are numbered; and the mingle-mangle of sheds, and masonry, and snorting engines, and all the noisy concomitants of the new works, make it impossible to recover much of the ancient aspect of the town, still less to conceive it as a village remote from London ...
1886: A last sketch of the old Putney Bridge shortly before its removal -
Completed in 1729, Removed in 1886, OLD PUTNEY BRIDGE, from a sketch taken shortly before its removal, H H Statham
1886: The view from the Star & Garter of the old aqueduct just upstream of Putney Bridge [the boat race start] -
Watching scullers hard at work whilst eating a hearty breakfast - now that's living!
1886: 700 feet long, 74 feet wide. The current Putney Bridge has five segmental
granite arches with All Saints Church, Fulham,
at the northern end and St Marys Church, Putney, at the southern end.
Engineer: Joseph Bazalgette. Contractor: John Waddell
The water pipes (replacing the aqueduct) were run under the roadway.
Putney Bridge, undated
The annual Oxford & Cambridge University Boat Race which is held each spring begins here and it has now become a very popular area with many restaurants and other venues on the south side of the bridge where the rowing clubs are situated.
GALLANT ROWDY: "There's a selfish chap for you, Jemima; no room for a lady aboard along er him"
"Where's yer paper collar and yer high glass?"
1889: The Sculling World Championship started at Putney Bridge.
Vanity Fair said -
Searle and OConnor are to race over the tideway course on Monday,
and all the sporting world will go out to see them.
The match is a remarkable one, if only by reason of the wonderful records
that the competitors bring to these shores with them,
Searle being the admitted successor to the once great Beach,
and OConnor having beaten every man of note in America.
It is also remarkable for its apparent genuineness. Rightly or wrongly, every waterman and every follower of aquatics believes that the match will be square, and this is in itself enough to account for the large share of public interest that has centred upon the meeting.
To speak of the respective chances of the scullers is a little difficult, as we know so little of them when actually racing; and many a man who practises well has not the head or the heart to carry him through a big race.
In style and especially for a short distance OConnor has the advantage; being almost a pretty workman, save for the bad fault of letting his shoulders stand out at the finish.
The present champion, Searle, has a long, dragging stroke, holding his slide well with his legs, and maintaining the power well past the rowlock a style which is most telling over a long course. Besides, he is a better built, and, I should say, a stronger, man than his opponent.
While, then, it must not be forgotten that OConnor is a tremendous spurter, and is possessed of some amount of staying power, I am inclined to think that Searle will win, if the water be at all rough. But it should be a close and exciting race.
The Sculling World Championship started at Putney Bridge, 1889
I think that is a twelve oared boat just beyond the two competitors.
The Australian Searle won - He died of typhoid three months later.
1923: Ward Lock, Guide to the Thames -
The River at Putney is the metropolis of Thames boat-racing.
At all times of the year - for winter is no bar to their activity - eights, fours, pairs and scullers
are hard at work on the nearly two miles stretch between Putney and Hammersmith Bridges.
Wide as the river is, little room can be found here for dalliance with the skiff and allied pleasure craft,
and the punt is at a discount.
Since the great clubs, with their imposing boathouses, appropriated Putney, the fiat has gone forth that boating must be taken seriously in this locality.
The question of healthful exercise aside, rowing here has but one aim - to beat the other boat.
To this end men will, early in the year, and despite inclement weather, turn out in "shorts" for strenuous work at the oar, while mingled instructions, reproaches, taunts and insults from deep-throated coaches reach them through more or less profane megaphones.
I have seen many megaphones sitting innocently on shelves in rowing clubs and have never observed the least profanity from them ...
The Boat Race (There is only one! Well - two!)
1836: Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens, Chapter 10, The River
A well-contested rowing-match on the Thames, is
a very lively and interesting scene. The water is
studded with boats of all sorts, kinds, and descriptions; places in the
coal-barges at the different wharfs are let to crowds of spectators, beer and
tobacco flow freely about; men, women, and children wait for the start in
breathless expectation; cutters of six and eight oars glide gently up and down,
waiting to accompany their PROTEGES during the race; bands of music add to the
animation, if not to the harmony of the scene; groups of watermen are assembled
at the different stairs, discussing the merits of the respective candidates;
and the prize wherry, which is rowed slowly about by a pair of sculls, is an
object of general interest. Two o'clock
strikes, and everybody looks anxiously in the direction of the bridge through
which the candidates for the prize will come - half-past two, and the general attention
which has been preserved so long begins to flag, when suddenly a gun is heard,
and a noise of distant hurra'ing along each bank of the river - every head is
bent forward - the noise draws nearer and nearer - the boats which have been
waiting at the bridge start briskly up the river, and a well-manned galley
shoots through the arch, the sitters cheering on the boats behind them, which
are not yet visible.
'Here they are,' is the general cry - and through darts the first boat, the men in her, stripped to the skin, and exerting every muscle to preserve the advantage they have gained - four other boats follow close astern; there are not two boats' length between them - the shouting is tremendous, and the interest intense.
'Go on, Pink' - 'Give it her, Red' - 'Sulliwin for ever' - 'Bravo! George' - 'Now, Tom, now - now - now - why don't your partner stretch out?' - 'Two pots to a pint on Yellow,' &c., &c.
Every little public-house fires its gun, and hoists its flag; and the men who win the heat, come in, amidst a splashing and shouting, and banging and confusion, which no one can imagine who has not witnessed it, and of which any description would convey a very faint idea.