Plans for a Charing Cross Bridge Without Trains
Updated: Jul 24, 2022
Less than fifty years after the opening of Charing Cross, there were plans to close the station and replace its rail bridge with a grand new road bridge.
The station opened in 1864 but by 1908 Thomas Collcutt had already proposed its demolition and hoped to replace the bridge with a grand, shop-lined, Charing Cross Road Bridge.
Over the following two decades many other plans for the removal of Charing Cross station and the building of a new bridge were to follow and for a time the idea had official backing. The scheme only died a death when government backing was withdrawn in 1931.
Collcutt’s scheme may have been the first to propose the removal of Charing Cross station and the associated rail and pedestrian bridges but in 1857, even before the station had been built Charles Barry had proposed a new road bridge at Charing Cross. Writing in 1930 The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres said:
How right Barry was – but the railway interposed with its notorious bridge, an active and passive eyesore, being itself an object of shame as well the obstacle to a noble view, for the bridge lacks all the qualities of structural dignity which characterise great efforts of engineering.
By 1918, as part of much larger War Memorial (more on this in a future post) W D Caroe had published his plan for The Bridge of Empire.
By 1924 Paul Waterhouse (son of the more famous architect Alfred) had started producing detailed plans for the new roads that would be required to link with a Charing Cross Bridge.
Later in the 1920s Ernest Herbert brought his plans to life with this model of his scheme.
By 1929, the idea for a new bridge had taken hold. London County Council were actively engaged in promoting the scheme which had in principle backing from the ill-fated second Labour Government. Sir George Humphrys, Chief Engineer at LCC drew visualisations of the possibilities. One key point of contention was the height of the bridge; should it be level with Strand or with the Embankment?
In the end this double-deck bridge at Strand-level won out and detailed plans were drawn up as LCC sought government backing for their private London County Council (Charing Cross Bridge) Bill.
In this scheme a new station would have been created where the Southbank Centre stands today. LCC commissioned the master model maker John Thorp to produce this three-dimensional version of the plan.
But the debate about whether the bridge should finish level with Strand or Embankment continued. Even as the bill was being prepared alternative plans were being put forward.
In the end the LCC Bill was rejected by a Commons Select Committee. They hoped to represent the Bill with a revised plan that would satisfy all the various stakeholders but were unable to do so. In the meantime the ailing government, in the mist of the depression, had decided that it needed to withdraw its offer of a grant of up to 75% of the cost.
In July 1931 Herbert Morrison, Minister for Transport, explained the government’s final decision; not to proceed. And that has been the end of the matter.
All images are from Charing Cross Bridge by Arthur Keen publisher: Ernest Benn, London 1930.
If you feel the need to immerse yourself in still more unrealised grand plans for London there is an excellent series of features on Unbuilt London on the Londonist site. I have also written about The Royal Academy’s plan for a post-war London and Mr Cawston’s 19th Century vision for the city.