The Glass Bridge

[Much text by Con Maloney]

Glengall Road, later Grove, used to run right across the Island, from Westferry Rd (near the current Sir John McDougall Park) to Manchester Rd (near the current Cubitt Town School). This meant crossing the Millwall Docks, where an iron swing bridge was built.

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Glengall Bridge from the air.

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Glengall Bridge from the east.

After decades of use, the bridge was continually breaking down, but World War II got in the way of structural repairs. Instead, a “a barge bridge” was introduced – a Thames barge with a wooden gangway over it – a barge that could be moved to one side if a ship needed to pass.

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Barge Bridge, looking east.

After the war, the PLA stated its intention to close the public right of way across the Millwall Inner Dock, but this led to strong local opposition. The Council, the LCC and Charles Key, the local MP, forced the PLA to reconsider and prepare schemes for adapting the pedestrian crossing. In 1960 the PLA suggested either high-level footways with a double bascule bridge which would cost over £100,000, a tunnel under the dock for about £400,000, or a 180ft-high aerial cable car for about £50,000. The bridge option emerged as favourite, the tunnel being too expensive for the PLA and the cable car unpopular with the Council. A high-level bridge would keep the public out of the docks and allow barges to pass, opening only for ships.

The plans for the high-level bridge and walkway were developed in 1961–2 and amended to include a single opening span pivoting on a trunnion. John Mowlem & Company built the bridge in 1963–4, but the opening span and machinery, separately contracted to Head Wrightson, of Thornaby-on-Tees, were not operational until 1965. The bridge, which cost £256,198, comprised a walkway that was 1,140ft long, 30ft above the ground, 7ft 6in. wide at foot level, and 8ft high, with a hollow rectangular-section steel frame, aluminium roof and translucent glass sides (Plate 56b; fig. 138d). It was carried on nine precast- and pre-stressed-concrete supports, T columns with upper sections enclosing the walkway, with support from the canopy linking F and G Sheds Lift towers at the estate boundaries and the operating tower for the 113ft-long opening section were built of reinforced-concrete with facings of Fletton brick. The bridge operated with oil hydraulic machinery.

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Bridge Construction

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Bridge Construction

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Bridge Construction

The Glengall Grove high-level bridge was immediately renamed by local people as ‘The Glass Bridge’. It gave the public the dubious privilege of a walk high over the Millwall Docks in an enclosed glazed tube.

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Photo courtesy of Jackie Jordan Wade 15060355111

The ‘glass bridge’ immediately became a prime target for vandals and pedestrians were so intimidated that few used it. The PLA had to spend about £20,000 on repairs. Severe damage to the glass and the lifts in 1975–6 caused the bridge to be closed.

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The glass bridge also featured in an episode of The Chinese Detective.

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The glass bridge was closed and demolished by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) in 1983.

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4 Responses to The Glass Bridge

  1. Bubbles says:

    Really interesting. The photos of the inner dock with the ships and cranes are amazing. There are a couple that show a ship moored at the exact point where the floating Chinese restaurant is today – the Lotus – and on the left you can just catch a glimpse of where the Old Docklands Arena was developed, itself now a distant memory. We were regular visitors to the Arena having moved to the Island back in 1999. And the view North to Canary Wharf – a sea of cranes. Imagine having to cross that thing to get to Crossharbour and Mudchute! not surprised it wasn’t very popular. Must be one of the most impressive urban transformations in history. Great blog. I’ve been working up some ideas on the Isle of Dogs etymology if you fancy getting in touch to share notes.

    cheers

    • Micky Lemons says:

      Have you seen my post here on the origin of the naming of the Isle of Dogs?

      • Bubbles says:

        Hi, yes. I found it very interesting – and I agree it almost certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with dogs and kennels. I have another theory, not seen it anywhere yet – and they can only be theories in the absence of evidence – but it ties in much better with the early history. I’ve read almost every entry on here, fascinating stuff.

    • Harry Sprackling says:

      Hallo Bubbles. In 1945 the only way to get from Glengall Grove to Mellish Street was to wait for the barge to swing round and then try to walk across, fighting the tide and swell of the dock water. Sometimes we would have to wait two/three hours if the ship got stuck, which they did quite often. All this movement was done by PLA dockworkers pulling on large ropes to move this barge, sometimes 6/10 times a day. If the concrete bridge at the end of East Ferry Road was up and letting a ship in we were stuck with no exit off the island.
      It was greater fun when a No 56 bus hit a stanchion on the other remaining bridge which was situated about a mile onto the Island after leaving Poplar’ This could take a week to mend as it was very old and very rusty.Our only way to get to Poplar and the Queens theatre to see vauldeville was to get a lift across the dock by a friendly lighterman.
      This was the way of life for many years and everybody took it into their stride. In a situation like that most Islanders went and sat in the George or Gun pubs until everything got back to normal.

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