A Tale of Two Bridges - Hammersmith Has a Twin in Budapest

Striking similarities in the fates the William Tierney Clark inspired structures

SzĂ©chenyi Chain BridgeSzéchenyi Chain Bridge. Picture: YouTube

We are all familiar with Hammersmith bridge, its closure, its endless problems. Many are not so aware of its twin.

Civil engineer William Tierney Clark designed the first suspension bridge to span the River Thames in London: Hammersmith Bridge, it opened in 1827. The bridge was replaced in 1887 by a bridge built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette although he followed Clark's original design. 

Internationally, he is famed for his design of the similar Széchenyi Chain Bridge across the Danube in Budapest, Hungary. The first bridge linking Buda and Pest, it was designed in 1839 and opened in 1849.

So Hammersmith has a twin chain bridge in Hungary. In Budapest it is revered as a national (and tourist) symbol rather like Tower Bridge. But like twins separated at birth remarkable similarities pop up. Not least they at present are both closed for rebuilding. The Szechenyi bridge needs “an overhaul, an upgrade, reconstruction...resurfacing and structural repairs”. Sounds familiar.

Not surprisingly bridges built in the 1850s for horse draw traffic have not been fit for the 21st century

As with Hammersmith problems have been well rehearsed for at least five years but only last year was the chain bridge closed and is not scheduled to reopen until 2023. As with Hammersmith the enormous cost has led to bickering between the central government, the Budapest City Council and the Transport authorities. The lack of finance, as with Hammersmith, has slowed things up.

Historically there is another connection. While in 1996 the IRA tried and failed to blow up Hammersmith Bridge the retreating Germans were more successful with the Szechenyi in 1944. The bridge was rebuilt in 1949.

Hugh Thompson

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April 9, 2021