The Inns of Court in London have long fascinated me, and though their history, ritual, and shadowy recesses reveal something new every time I am in London – sometimes what catches my eye is much more pedestrian – and is simply there, along my route. That is the joy of the urban environment – there are multitudes of worlds to be discovered, all available and within reach as you walk down the street (provided you aren’t glued to your smart phone). The infrastructure of the city – from streetlights, walls, and bridges – can be as beautiful as it is practical. The marque bridges across the River are the most noticeable, but I rather like the bridges tucked away in different areas of the City.
The Holborn Viaduct, vivid in its blaze of red paint, dates from between 1863 and 1869. Designed by William Haywood, a city surveyor, the bridge opened at the same time as the Blackfriars Bridge – both recognized for the occasion by Queen Victoria. The Holborn Viaduct was the first overpass (also called a flyover) constructed in central London; it stretches over Farringdon Street and the buried River Fleet. The bridge, which is 1,400 feet long, connects Holborn with Newgate Street. It cost more than £2 million when built, and I can’t imagine any engineering firm approving such an exuberant design today – or accomplishing the feat for that price.
I love all of the elements of the Holborn viaduct -starting with the materials. Steel (of course), polished granite – from Aberdeen, Gueurnesy and Cornwall – Portland stone, and bronze. Dragons perch everywhere – from roundels in the spandrels to flanking the base of the streetlights. Intricate floral and foliate patterns fill the balustrade, and cluster around the dragons. There are four statues – the ones on the south side, sculpted by Henry Bursill, represent commerce and agriculture, while the statues on the north side, created by the firm Farmer and Brindley, embody science and fine art. Four winged lions add to the gravitas of the viaduct (these were also by Farmer & Brindley).
Transportation and edification of the mind? Oh, the Victorians knew how to make a bridge…