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Joiner Street Bridge

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Tooley Street end of Joiner Street
Note buckling of LH chain links

This bridge carried and approach road over the now-pedestrianised Joiner Street at London Bridge Railway Station.

The focus of interest is the c.1850 girder design. These are early and unusual examples of Warren bridge girders (patented by James Warren and Willoughby Monzani in 1848). The unusual aspect is the use of cast iron for the top and diagonal members, together with wrought iron plate chain links for the lower horizontal members.

Designed by Peter William Barlow, c.1848.

1850 'Failure of a Railway Bridge.—
On Saturday morning last an accident of a rather singular character occurred at the South-Eastern Railway terminus, London-bridge. It appears that about two or three years since one of Warren’s patent iron span arches was thrown oyer Joiner-street, Tooley-street, Southwark, in order to afford accommodation to the increasing number of persons travelling by the railway. The span, which was about 60 feet wide, was supported by a number of iron chains, similar to those in use at the suspension bridges. From the time the structure was completed up to Saturday last not the least deflection was perceptible in any part, but during the past week or so, in order to afford space for stacking the bricks used for building the arcade leading to the entrance of the station, some tons of brick work have been placed on the roof of the arch. This seems to have been a greater dead weight than the arch was intended to bear, for all of a sudden, on Saturday morning, and whilst a number of pedestrians and several vehicles were passing under the span, a report similar to the discharge of a cannon occurred. In an instant the parties underneath made the best of their way out, but many were so frightened that they did not stop running until they reached the end of the street, no doubt expecting that the arch was about to fall. It was soon ascertained that the immense weight of bricks on the arch had caused some of the crossstays to split asunder, and for some time the entire demolition of the whole was expected. A number of men were quickly set to work, and having placed shoring poles under the arch, the dead weight was taken from the top ; but so dangerous was the arch considered that it was found necessary to stop the thoroughfare, and neither passengers on foot or in vehicles have since been allowed to pass through the street. The following is a copy of the report of the Engineer of the South-Eastern Railway Company as to the cause of the accident:

"South-Eastern Railway. Engineer’s office, Oct 19.
"Dear Sir,—As the accident of the girder of the Joiner-street bridge may create some unnecessary alarm as to the safety of the bridge, I beg to inform you that the accident arose solely from the bricklayers stacking bricks to the amount of 120 tons on one girder alone, which caused a displacement of one of the divisions of the bridge, but the great excess of strength the bridge is shown by its standing after this displacement while the weight of bricks still remained on.
"The girder would with ease have borne the 120 tons equally distributed, which is more weight by half than could by ordinary circumstances be placed on it.
"It is unreasonable to expect a bridge to be constructed to bear loading bricks in this way, and no bridge is expected and is calculated to bear such a trial.
I am, dear Sir, yours truly, PETER W. BARLOW." [1]

A special general meeting of the east division of the Southwark Paving Commissioners was held yesterday at the offices for the purpose "of taking into consideration the state of the iron bridge across Joiner-street, with a view to adopt such measures as the safety of the public and the stoppage of the traffic may require.”
Mr. Nash, the chairman, said he had requested their surveyor, Mr. Newman, to make a report to the board of that circumstances connected with the late accident to the bridge over Joiner-street, and it was for consideration of the subject that the board had been specially summoned to-day.
Mr. Newman laid his report, accompanied by a plan of the bridge, upon the table.
The report stated that "on Saturday last, the 19th inst., between the hours of 8 and 9 in the morning, one of the ribs of the iron bridge in Joiner-street gave way and caused fractures in three places, in consequence, I am informed, of the overloading the bridge with building materials. Immediately on hearing of the circumstance I gave orders for the stoppage of the thoroughfare of the street by hoarding. I have called on Mr. Barlow, the engineer of the South-Eastern Company, ascertain what steps the company intended to adopt so as to enable the board to restore the thoroughfare with safety to the public. He recommended that two engineers of great eminence should be called in to give their opinion as to the cause of the accident, and to advise thereon, on which an application should be made to the Board of Trade as to whether, after such a failure, the company should be permitted to retain such a bridge, or whether it should be entirely removed, and another substituted to the satisfaction of the board.”
Mr. Cutts then read the following letter from Mr. Barlow :
"South Eastern Railway, Engineers-office, Oct 23.
Sir,—Having been informed by Mr. Harrison that you have a meeting with the Commissioners to-morrow (Thursday), when you wish to be informed of the course intended to be pursued by the directors of the South-Eastern Railway Company in the case of the injured girder of Joiner street-bridge, I beg to state that the directors, acting under my advice, propose to repair immediately the injured girder, but to make no alteration in the remainder of the Bridge, as upon a careful examination of the subject I am perfectly convinced of its stability.
"I shall be happy to attend to give any information the Commissioners may require. I am. Sir, &c., PETER W. BARLOW"

'Mr. Bloyd moved that these documents be entered on the minutes of the board, which having been agreed to, then proceeded to say that, as one of the commissioners living in the locality, and in the immediate vicinity of the bridge, he fully concurred in the recommendation contained in their surveyor’s report — namely, that this board should at once take such steps in respect to the bridge as the public safety required. (Hear.) When he first heard of the accident he consulted a fnend and brother commissioner as to what was best to be done, and they agreed to order that a couple of "dead horses" as they were called, and some poles should be placed under the bridge so as to stop the traffic through it, and that one or two policemen should also be ordered to caution the people back ; but, to his astonishment, in a few hours after these obstructions were removed. He and his friend then advised with Mr. Newman as what was best to he done for the protection of the lives of those who were passing under. They called upon the railway company, but they appeared very indignant, and said the accident was a mere temporary thing and did not endanger life. was stated that only one of the girders had been injured, and yet all the other girders as well as that one had since been shored and propped up. (Hear.) He had seen statement in The Times from Mr. Barlow, to the effect that the accident to the girder had been caused by 120 tons weight of brickwork having been placed upon it; but he would ask how was it possible for 120 tons weight of brickwork to be placed upon girder only six inches thick and 42 feet long. (Hear.) He contended that the fact of all the girders having been propped and shored up was at variance with Mr Barlow’s own statement that only one girder had been injured. (Hear.) Mr. Bloyd concluded by moving that the recommendation contained in the latter part of Mr. Newman’s report be adopted. Mr. Evans said, he cordially seconded the motion, and in doing so wished to observe that as he was living opposite the bridge he had frequently remarked that the girder which had given way was in danger, and he had often been told by many of his friends that the principle upon which the bridge had been erected was wrong. (Hear.) In fact, he had been told that while the length of the girder which had given way was 42 feet, that of the outside one was 57 feet. Soon after the bridge had been erected his attention had been called to it by a friend, and it then appeared that in the short space of few months a very considerable deflection had taken place. (Hear.) On the morning of the accident he saw a great number of persons running about in a state of great confusion and alarm, at the same time that he heard a report like a cannon, and very soon found that it had all been caused by the yielding of this girder. Mr. Newman said, the deflection was about two inches at one end, three inches in the centre, and three and a half at the other end. Mr. Walker had great pleasure in supporting the motion, and had no hesitation in saying that the bridge was insecure. (Hear.) He believed that the real cause of the accident was not yet known, but he hoped that the investigation they were now about to institute would bring the real cause to light. (Hear.) The resolution was then put and carried unanimously, and Sir John Rennie and Mr. Brunel named as the engineers to be consulted. Mr. Barlow, the engineer, said, he had only this observation to make, that the accident could not have been occasioned by the bridge not being sufficiently strong: if that were the case the bridge must have come down. Mr. Walker wished to intimate to Mr. Barlow that as there was a reporter in the room, the board had taken care to repudiate the statement that had appeared in The Times, when there were 120 tons of brickwork on that girder that morning. The board had ascertained that such was not the case.

'Mr. Barlow said, he believed that such was the fact, but he was not there at the time. But it was his duty, as well as his intention, to see that the bridge was secure, as he would be the sufferer if it should fall, and therefore he was as anxious as the board to apply any test to its strength that could be suggested. With regard to the 120 tons, he wished to observe that when he arrived after the accident, he found men employed in removing a pile of bricks, 7 feet high, 10 feet wide, and 20 feet long, and undoubtedly the remainder of the bricks were outside the hoarding.
Mr. Barlow then withdrew, and the meeting adjourned until a report should be received from Sir John Rennie and Mr. Brunel.'[2]

1850 'The Broken Girder at London Bridge.
An argument against the exemption of the works of railway companies from the supervision of the official referees has been afforded by the bridge belonging to the South-Eastern Railway over Joiner-street, Tooley-street. One of the patent girders, it will be remembered, failed in October last, and the safety of the remaining girders being questioned, especially under the circumstances in which, through the alteration of the station, they will now be placed, Mr. Brunel and Sir John Rennie were appointed to inquire and report on the subject. The statement by Mr. Barlow, the company's engineer, that there were 120 tons weight on the girder when it broke, was questioned in our journal, and a doubt expressed whether the engineer could wisely test the remaining girders with half that weight. Last week the remaining girders were tested by placing carefully, upon a certain defined space of the upper surface of the bridge iron chairs of known weight. When 148 tons were upon the area the two girders broke. One, 42 feet 2 inches bearing it is calculated, had upon it 67 tons, 3 cwt., the other 46 feet bearing, 60 tons 12 cwt. In this experiment, it must be remembered, the load was applied uniformly all over the girder, and the road-construction, which is of considerable weight, was first removed. The outside girder, still remaining, has a bearing of 57 feet 3 inches, and is only of the same strength and construction.— The Builder.'[3]

1851: A side issue at the Court of Exchequer: 'FINLAY v. SLEE.
This was action to recover the sum 53s. for work, and labour and services rendered by the plaintiff, a civil engineer, for the Commissioners of Pavements in the eastern division of the county of Surrey.
Mr. M. Chambers and Mr. Millward conducted the case for the plaintiff; and Mr. Edwin James, with Mr. Hawkins, were counsel for the defendant, who is the clerk to the commissioners.
Some time since the railway bridge across Joiner-street, Southwark, gave way, whereupon the surveyor to the above commissioners was obliged to report upon the matter to the board. Being too old and too much indisposed to make the necessary surveys and plans, he employed the plaintiff, a former clerk of his, to do them for him. These things having been completed, Mr. Newman reported to the board, and amongst other suggestions he had made was one to the effect, that Sir John Rennie and Messrs. Brunel should be asked to survey the bridge for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the railway company should be required to erect a new bridge. These eminent gentlemen accordingly made their survey, and directed the testing of the girders in respect of their strength. In the end these were found to be faulty. The plaintiff was instructed, too, by those gentlemen to make all drawings and plans of the work, and it was for these matters, as well as for that performed under the direction of the surveyor to the commissioners, that the plaintiff now sought payment.
Mr. James, at the conclusion of the plaintiff’s evidence, submitted that there had been case of liability made out as against the commissioners. That the work charged for had been performed by the plaintiffs there was no doubt, but the commissioners were not the parties who had employed him, nor were they the parties who ought to pay him.
Mr. Baron Martin said that it was an extremely hard case for the plaintiff, but it was quite clear that there was no case against the commissioners—they were the real defendants. For the first part of the work he had been employed by their surveyor Newman for his own personal convenience, and for the remainder he had as distinctly been instructed by Sir J. Rennie and Messrs. Brunel.
Mr. James.—Yes, these gentlemen had not only charged for, but had been paid by the commissioners for the very drawings and plans which the plaintiff had made. Each of them had been paid something like 50l. Here are their accounts.
Mr. Baron Martin having looked over the accounts, said that some representation ought to be made to Sir J. Rennie and Messrs. Brunel upon the subject, for each had charged, and each had been paid for the work which the plaintiff had done, whilst he himself, having done all the work, had been left unpaid.
A nonsuit was then entered.'[4]

Post 1850: It is evident that the girders were replaced within a short timescale. An account of the 1850 failure[5] showed that the failure involved fracture through the ligaments close to the three corners of one triangle. Two of the fractures were in the horizontal member of that triangle. The article included sketches of the girders, and these show that although the superficial appearance of the girders today is very similar, there are appreciable differences. The 1850 sketch shows unadorned diagonal members of T-section, whereas the present diagonals are of cruciform section, and have ornamental 'thorns' on their inner edges. Also, it is evident that there are now individual triangular cast iron panels, whereas the 1850 drawing shows the triangles cast in groups of three. There are also differences in the chain links: in 1850 the lugs at the bottom apex of the triangles were interconnected by chain links arranged in two pairs, whereas there are now two parallel groups of three links, except for the three lugs at each end of the girder, where there are just two pairs. In 1850 the links were joined to the lugs by pins, having a head on one end and a cotter on the other, while there is now a mixture of cottered pins and bolts. The top chords of the triangular panels are surmounted by and bolted to a cast iron beam, and above this are cast iron deck plates. The outermost girder (of the six girders) is also surmounted by a cast iron parapet.[6]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Evening Mail - Monday 21 October 1850
  2. Evening Mail - Friday 25 October 1850
  3. Morning Post - Monday 25 November 1850
  4. Morning Advertiser - Thursday 20 November 1851
  5. Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal Vol XII 1850 - 'The Bridge Failure at the South-Eastern Station, London Bridge'
  6. I.C.E. Panel for Historical Engineering Works, site inspection record for footbridge, formerly road bridge, part of forecourt to London Bridge Station, by Malcolm T Tucker, 1974