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The story of London is the story of river conquests.

From the first Roman pontoons, through the congested first London Bridge to the gothic splendour of Tower Bridge and onward to the prospect of a new Garden Bridge, these crossings are a reflection of a people and their times that carry more significance than mere engineering.

The bridges respond to the capital and, in turn the capital responds to the bridges. A major new exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands – its largest ever – aims to reflect how artists have captured the crossings from the very earliest photographs through paintings, prints, drawings, and etchings to sound and film.

Talking to guests on a Thames Clipper in the build-up to the exhibition, architectural historian Dan Cruickshank said: “Bridges of the 1200s were so daunting and so dramatic that they were regarded as acts of creation, they were acts only undertaken with God’s blessing. The first London Bridge was essentially designed by a team of clerics.

“They remain in our imagination sacred and strange, audacious intervention and they have a very powerful quality – they are bold feats of engineering that challenge nature.

“The tops of bridges are full of light and life with people bustling about their daily lives, and below the bridges they’re strange and dark and melancholic. It gives them such an emotional appeal. Things of life, and things of death.”

Museum of London director Sharon Ament said: “London’s bridges are multifaceted in their form and function. 

“They are among the city’s most compelling designs. Yet bridges are also crucial to the way in which people move about the city and offer unique vantage points for seeing – and feeling – the capital.”

“Bridge will celebrate the many different aspects of London’s bridges through the eyes of some of the capital’s most exciting artists and photographers, past and present.”

From June 27, Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay, FREE,

Where’s our bridge?

Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank held his audience spellbound as he gave a guided tour of the Thames to promote the Museum Of London Docklands’ new exhibition Bridge.

The Spitalfields resident, pictured, recognised the irony – as pointed out to him by The Wharf – that the exhibition sits in east London, famous for its lack of bridges.

He said: “It is true. That is exactly why Tower Bridge was built 120 years ago. It was the great eastern crossing to capitalise on the fact that the docks had been created around the Isle of Dogs.

“The problem there was to ensure that ships could get to the pool of London. Vast amounts of shipping was coming from the empire and to build a bridge high enough and wide enough was a technical issue. Tunnels were the solution then and that remains the case.”