I was visiting my granny the other day. She’s 89 and lives in sheltered accommodation in deepest, leafiest Sussex. A fellow “in-mate” and my granny’s great friend, Dolores, dropped by when I was there. She is a very elegant lady well into her 90s who had just returned from a trip to London with her daughter and son-in-law. She seemed upset and after a little pressing by my granny, she revealed she had been effectively told that she was losing her marbles by her daughter’s husband and as a result she was starting to doubt herself as well. Dolores may be 94 in the shade but losing her mental faculties was something no one was expecting.
On her trip to London they had driven over the Thames via Chelsea Bridge. It simply connects the Battersea Power Station area of south London and the elegant grounds of the 17th century Royal Hospital, where the Chelsea Flower Show is held every year.
It would appear that when in the car Dolores had recalled how, when she was a little girl, there used to be domed houses or kiosks on either end of the bridge. Chelsea Bridge sports nothing like this. It is a very simple suspension bridge with the only structure looking anything like a kiosk being a shabby greasy spoon trailer on the south end of the bridge. In short, Dolores’ son-in-law had snorted at what he thought was her fading memory and that she was getting confused with the little wooden toll huts on Albert Bridge further along the river. Nothing more was said. Dolores was sure she was right but spent the rest of the day quietly wondering if she had been confused and those little houses had never been there.
I felt so sorry for her and thought that at least I might be able to put her worried mind at rest. It didn’t take long. When I returned home I rifled through my library of architecture and books on London's history and very quickly found the answer.
The current, simple suspension design of Chelsea Bridge was created in 1934 by LCC architects G Topham Forrest and E P Wheeler and completed in 1937. But before that, the old Chelsea Bridge or Victoria Bridge as it was known when it was opened in 1858 was a very different beast. Designed by civil engineer Thomas Page (1803-1877), it was a toll bridge and on either side of the bridge were beautiful domed toll booths. There was nothing wrong with Dolores’ memory!
I took great satisfaction sending a picture to my granny for her to pass on to her friend. I just wish I had been there when she showed her son-in-law.