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Lea Bridge: old & new

Lea Bridge: old & new

View from the south of the the iron bridge designed by engineer James Walker and opened in 1820.Engraving by M. Dubourg dedicated to 'The Chariman and Trustees of theLea Bridge and Road Trust' (Hackney Archives)

Looking east across Lea Bridge c.1891. The former Prince of Wales PH is on the right with the chimney of the Waterworks rising up in the distance (Hackney Archives)

There was a bridge at, or near, this point from at least 1486, but there may have been a ford or ferry here (or slightly to the south) from Roman times (or even earlier).

The Lea Bridge of 1820 looking north (Hackney Archives)

In 1544, or possibly earlier,Monoux made a causeway and two bridges across the marshes called the ‘three arches’ and the ‘eight arches’. Lockbridge (an early bridge at Lea Bridge) may have been the twelfth bridge span in this series.

The bridge was reported to be in disrepair in 1551 and,between 1612 and 1630, collapsed.

The bridge was replaced by a ferry from 1646, known as Lockbridge and, later,Jeremy's Ferry.

In 1745 or 1757, the original Lea Bridge was built of wood, with three arches or waterways, the centre of which was 68 feet between the abutments. The bridge carried the Turnpike road of 1757 across the river with a Toll House located on the Hackney bank.

The Turnpike Act permitting the construction of the turnpike and authorising tolls to be levied, also required the rights to Jeremy's and Smith's Ferries to be purchased and extinguished. An old ford, presumably to the south of Lea Bridge (and possibly an ancient crossing point), was also removed.Residents of Hackney driving carts to and fro across the bridge to collect hay from Leyton Marshes or to graze horses and cattle there were exempt from tolls.

After standing for between sixty-two and seventy-five years,[1]the wooden bridge was deemed insecure and, in 1819, appeared in danger of collapse. A temporary bridge was erected prior to the construction of a new bridge (which commenced on 5thJune 1820).

The new iron bridge of 1820 was 140 feet long and was designed byJames Walker FRS FRSE (1781-1862). James was apupil of his renowned civil engineer uncle, Ralph Walker, who was the first Engineer of the East London Waterworks Company.

Lea Bridge was again rebuilt in1896-7, with contributions from Essex County Council, the Lee Conservancy Board and theLeaBridge, Leyton and Walthamstow Tramways Co. Some sources put the bridge reopening in 1901.

The new bridge was approximately double the width, encroaching upon Lea Bridge (or Iszards) Dock and a strip of land within North Millfields.

A plaque or stone mounted on the south west wall of the approach ramp reputedly marked the maximum height of the floods of 1947. This may have been encapsulated rather than destroyed by later reconstruction.

This bridge was replaced with a similar design in 1985 except that the footway on the north side was removed, the carriageway widened, and a separate pedestrian and cycle bridge was constructed to the north.


[1]The Municipal Parks, Gardens, And Open Spaces Of London. Lieut. Col. J. J. Sexby, V. Delliot Stock. 1905

leabridge.org.uk December 2012