Ludgate: Requiem für eine Stadtbrücke

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No this is not some weird 1972 film review. I am aware of a film that goes by a similar name but this is not that either! On the other hand this post could easily be called Ludgate: Requiem for a City King – by decree of the area’s alleged association with King Lud. In short, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history of the Kings of Britain (circa 1136) this gate to London was first built by King Lud, a British monarch, sixty-six years before Christ. It is thanks to King Lud London gained its one and only Ludgate railway bridge!

What this meant was a stupendous entrance to the City of London had first been initialised by our King Lud. That’s why it was called Lud Gate. It is said King Lud was the founder of London. The gate stood on what eventually became known in more recent times as Ludgate Hill and it framed the approach to that stupendous Wren masterpiece – St. Paul’s cathedral.

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King Lud (centre) and his two sons – said to be the oldest statues in London – at St. Dunstans. Source: Twitter

It is said in 1260 King Henry III had the Ludgate decorated with these statues of the legendary king. The fact that these statues still exist at nearby St Dunstan’s is proof enough that King Lud must have had some considerable repute within the Briton’s consciousness.

On the other hand the opinion of many an expert historian upon Geoffrey’s histories is that its ‘usually considered a literary work of national myth containing little reliable history.’ Since it transpires King Lud likely had nothing to do with any of that enduring pantomime on Ludgate Hill, it is thought the name Ludgate in fact derived from ‘floodgate’ or ‘ludgeat’ and the king in question probably was no more than a mere fictional construct. Ouch!

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Ludgate in the 1650s. Source: Wikpedia

The old Ludgate was destroyed in the Great Fire of London so they built a new one – which didn’t last long. It was demolished in 1760. Clearly the idea of a gateway to the city was by now considered superfluous because all seven of its gates were demolished around that time, this heinous act having been authorised by law.

Just over a hundred years later, a new gateway was built on Ludgate Hill. Once again it formed a frame of reference – like the old gate had at one time – and it both elevated as well as guarded, the presence of the cathedral itself. And its said it could be thanks to King Lud for being such a glorious and splendid structure. What’s more is this fantastic new gate was actually steam powered!

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See what I mean? Steam powered!

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Old railway map of the area showing Ludgate Hill at centre. Source: Pinterest

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The City of London’s new railway bridge

Even though it was a mere railway bridge it was much revered, in fact one of London’s most popular locations! A most prestigious location that required elaborate decoration and shields and coats of arms to denote its importance. It was finished in 1865 and it helped to link up the railways on the south side of the Thames to those on the north side via the new Metropolitan Railway at Farringdon.

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Ludgate Circus and bridge form the setting for crowds celebrating the end of World War I, 1918. Source: Twitter

There are dozens and dozens of postcard views of Ludgate bridge with St. Pauls as a backdrop. In fact the railway bridge was considerably more popular than the cathedral -perhaps it was also the spectacle of modernity – steam and speed – placed against a medieval backdrop – which caused many to come and view this new city scene?

As a matter of fact the spectacle of steam trains chugging their way across the facade of the cathedral, billowing smoke (and rather blotting out God’s sacred building) was no doubt an exciting scene many photographers wanted to capture.

One person in particular saw the potential of the locality and decided to establish his new headquarters here. Good custom would be had in this part of London no doubt! And this was no-one other than Thomas Cook. Soon all the UK’s press were gathered here too for this was the very spot where London’s heart beat strong, long before the financial districts of the City or the shopping areas of the West End held any influence.

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Soon after trains began chugging their way across Ludgate Hill, the roads were widened in order to make Ludgate circus. By 1873 Cook’s had established its first head office here. Source: Twitter

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How Ludgate bridge originally looked. Note the elaborate decoration. Source: ITN News

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The bridge seen during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897. Source: Twitter

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Fantastic view of the bridge in the night fog during 1926! Source: Twitter

During the 1920s a new bridge was built along with improvements to the track layout and an upgrade of the nearby Ludgate Hill station. No matter that this had been done, passenger services through the Snow Hill tunnels soon declined leaving only those to nearby Holborn Viaduct.

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How the bridge looked for the 1935 Silver Jubilee – with a bit of colour I added!

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Much damage was done to the area during WWII. In 1944 it was proposed the roads be windened and Ludgate Circus made into a gyratory system. The big surprise was the railway would be retained and cross the centre of the gyratory by way of a modern concrete bridge! Source: Twitter (Note: The account @cabbiescapital is either suspended or protected thus an archived image has been used.)

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Rare view of the bridge taken just after WWII looking down hill towards Fleet Street. The bridge’s final iteration can be clearly seen here and its this which was demolished in 1990. Source: Picclick (Page seems to have expired…)

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Ludgate bridge probably late 1980s. Source: Twitter

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Ludgate bridge immortalised in the musicals…

As an example of how the old bridge had been revered, a near full scale model of it was built for the 1969 musical Oliver! This shows the film’s researchers had done their work for they faithfully copied the original bridge and not its rather more plain looking successor! They even had a steam train crossing the street, its crew tooting to the people below!

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How it looked in Oliver! The set was eventually reused for other films with a number of changes and finally it became a set for one of the Avengers episodes. Source: Oliver 1968

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The bridge (despite its being marked as LNWR) bears quite a resemblance to our Ludgate bridge – because it was in fact meant to be that! Source: Oliver 1968

This scene was meant to be the bottom of Ludgate Hill (with some artistic licence) and the view above in fact looks from would be St Bridge Street towards the railway bridge. This part of London was used in Charles Dickens’ stories, thus it needed to be included! The only problem was as soon as the railway bridge was built it was decided to construct Ludgate Circus. Thus if the scenes in Oliver were to have any sort of true historical representation it would have had to be the first year or two the had bridge existed before Ludgate Circus was built. The scene below shows how it looked before the railway came thus we can see it wasn’t really a faithful representation of those buildings – but then again most films are rather make believe!

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Ludgate Hill as seen from Fleet Street before the railway bridge was built. Photo prob late 1850s. Source: Twitter

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Where did the trains go?

Generally they came from the south side of the Thames through Blackfriars and Ludgate Hill stations before either terminating at Holborn Viaduct or heading north towards Farringdon. The new Thameslink services ventured across the bridge in its last couple of years before dropping immediately into the Snow Hill tunnels.

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Where most of the trains across Ludgate bridge went – Holborn Viaduct station, seen in 1913. Source: Twitter

There were through trains to Farringdon and points northwards in the line’s early days however after those had stopped the only trains that ventured beyond Holborn Viaduct was the occasional goods train. Even these had stopped by the sixties. The Snow Hill tunnel route was closed, its tracks ripped up and the tunnels used for storage or car parking.

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Goods train emerging from the Snow Hill tunnel to the side of Holborn Viaduct station. Source: RMWeb

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Goods train going the other way through Ludgate Hill towards Blackfriars with St. Pauls in the background. Source: Twitter

As history has shown (I have written on this too) the bridge was given a revival of sorts when it was put into full use again for the new Thameslink services during 1988. That new role would be short lived however – and after 130 years our third gateway to the City of London would disappear.

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View looking from Holborn Viaduct with the Ludgate Hill station platforms clearly visible in the distance. Prob late fifties. The Snow Hill lines still in use for good trains at the time. Source: Pinterest

It cost £7 million to restore the through lines between Farringdon and Blackfriars. This was quite cheap compared to the slightly later works that saw the removal of Ludgate Hill bridge and a new underground station at constructed at St. Paul’s (now City Thameslink.)

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Thameslink descending into Snow Hill tunnels while a Southern EMU stands at the last remaining Holborn Viaduct platform. Source: Twitter

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How the entrance to the Snow Hill tunnels looked in their final year. The removal of Ludgate bridge would see all this put underground and on a new alignment just to the left. Source: Twitter

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The last morning peak service at Holborn Viaduct on 29 January 1990. Source: Twitter

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The bridge’s demolition

The 150 tonne bridge was demolished 30 years ago, this being the 12th and 13th of May 1990. The last ever trains on the old route over Ludgate bridge and down the Snow Hill ramp were a number of engineers trains on the 11th May. Thameslink passenger services were not restored until 29th May 1990.

The work also saw the final demolition of Holborn Viaduct station and the long disused Ludgate Hill station. A whole new area of the City of London was given over to new development and today itss difficult to know a railway once came through this part of the City.

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Demolishing the bridge over Ludgate Hill. Source: Pinterest

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Going, going, gone! The City of London’s last ‘gateway’ is progressively removed. Source: Twitter

Actually many of the pictures purporting to show the bridge itself being lifted in fact only showed the sides of it lifted away. I think the eastern span was lifted either late at night or early morning 12/13 May 1990.

My own notes show demolition began on 12 May and continued the next day. Here are some photographs I took on the 13 May…

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Its clear from my photographs part of the bridge still remained on the 13th May. From Author’s collection.

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I brightened up the picture a bit to show clearly how the western span at Ludgate remained in place the next day. From Author’s collection.

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As work got underway to remove Ludgate bridge, the approach viaduct and remains of Ludgate Hill station were also demolished. From Author’s collection.

Beneath all this demolition work a brand new railway station was built as part of an enhanced Thameslink route and breifly known as St. Paul’s before becoming City Thameslink, a name it is still known by.

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The construction of City Thameslink station. The old Ludgate bridge can just be seen through a gap on the left. Source: Wikipedia

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The old Thameslink line in use whilst the new route and the new railway station on its east side is built. Source: Alchetron

Here’s a film of City Thameslink in its early days as shown on You Tube

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The former bridge’s location today courtesy of Google Streets. The old King Lud pub was on the left where Leon’s is.

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