22 May 2022

"Thames Bridges" by David C. Ramzan

I do love a bridge book which takes a specific river as its focus, and Thames Bridges (Amberley Books, 96pp, 2022) is a nice addition to this genre.

As far as the Thames goes, it's a pretty crowded field already, with Crossing London's River (1972), Thames Bridges (1973), Thames Crossings: Bridges, Tunnels and Ferries (1981), Cross River Traffic (2005), Thames Bridges: Then and Now (2006), Thames Bridges: from Dartford to the Source (2007), London's Bridges: Crossing the Royal River (2009), Bridges: XXXIV Crossings of the Thames (2011), Crossing the River (2015), All the Thames Bridges from Source to Dartford (2019), Bridges over the River Thames: From the source to the Sea (2020) .... you get the idea! For collectors of bridge books, is there any need for another one about the bridges of the Thames?

Thames Bridges covers the entirety of the river from its source in Gloucestershire to its estuary, passing under over 200 bridges along the way. The book is extensively illustrated, with photographs on almost every page. For some of the minor bridges, the photograph sufficiently illustrates what they are, and their context. The images are a mixture of old and new, and I especially liked the inclusion of the older photographs - so much of the narrative relates to the history of the land, the river, and its crossings, that these help bring that tale to life.

Outside the heart of London, this is the river of Clark's Marlow Suspension Bridge, Brunel's Maidenhead Railway Bridge, the old and new bridges at Runnymede (Lutyens and Arup), Hampton Court Bridge, and of course the mighty Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. It is undeniably an important river, spanned by many undeniably important bridges.

Thames Bridges rarely wastes too many words on any span, and this is definitely not a book that can be considered an in-depth gazetteer. However, it's concisely written, with enough on each structure to grasp key facts, understand their significance, and relate them to the wider history of the area. There is plenty of history, and the book touches on Mesolithic settlements, Roman construction, as well as more modern attempts to reshape the landscape.

I particularly enjoyed the book's sense of pace, which remains unhurried throughout. I think it is best read in order, starting with relatively humble spans and a river that is little more than a stream, and seeing the images of bridges growing very slowly steadily in scale, with tales of increasingly impressive engineering achievement as the book draws you steadily downstream.

For those with a general interest in the Thames, and its history, I can certainly recommend Thames Bridges. It is an accessible, well-written survey. I think that those with greater knowledge of the Thames and its bridges should also enjoy it: it left me with a little bit of a desire to hunt out some maps of the Thames path, as this book would make an excellent companion to a river tour!


For some other examples of books in the bridges-by-river genre, here are some that I have reviewed previously:

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