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Historic Blackfriars Bridge is coming back, bit by bit

Construction crews have set up a "work table," on the west bank of the Thames River, where they've begun to reassemble the first arch of the historic Blackfriars Bridge.
Construction crews have set up a "work table," on the west bank of the Thames River, where they've begun to reassemble the first arch of the historic Blackfriars Bridge. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

A much-loved bridge is moving back — piece by piece — to its home in the Blackfriars neighbourhood.

Twelve wrought-iron pieces that make the first arch of the historic Blackfriars Bridge lay on their side on Tuesday morning on the west side of the Thames River, where construction crews will spend the next few weeks welding the structure back together as part of a large rehabilitation project.

Once reassembled, the city’s transportation manager, Doug McRae, says the arch will be lifted into a vertical position before crews move on to welding together the pieces of the second arch.

READ MORE: Blackfriars Bridge officially closes as rehabilitation work ramps up

“It too will be stood up into the vertical position, the two [arches] will then be brought slightly closer together in the precise bridge width that’s required for Blackfriars, and then the horizontal, or lateral bracing, will be added.”
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It’s unclear exactly when the next step — lifting the bridge back onto its abutments — will happen. But McRae says the work leading up to that move will span the next month.

“Our current approach, for the 2000s, is to avoid as much work in the river as possible,” he said, adding that elements like its deck and floor beams will be added after it spans the Thames River again.

Although unable to say just how much of the old bridge has been kept throughout the rehabilitation project, McRae emphasized a focus on preserving visible heritage features.

READ MORE: Blackfriars Bridge gets official send-off before extensive rehabilitation

These rivets are an old bridge-building technique that transportation manager Doug McRae says contractors researched during the rehabilitation project, to keep the bridge true to its original character.
These rivets are an old bridge-building technique that transportation manager Doug McRae says contractors researched during the rehabilitation project, to keep the bridge true to its original character. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL
A construction worker welds one of the arch's bearings to part of its frame.
A construction worker welds one of the arch's bearings to part of its frame. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL
The frame of the arch lies on its side on a "work table," on the west bank of the Thames River.
The frame of the arch lies on its side on a "work table," on the west bank of the Thames River. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL
Once the 12 pieces of this first arch are welded back together, it'll be lifted up vertically.
Once the 12 pieces of this first arch are welded back together, it'll be lifted up vertically. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

“The pheonix shape on the arch, the lattice on the vertical hangers, and the horiztonal cross bracings, the pedestrian railing — it’s not back on site yet but when it arrives, you’ll see that it’s all the original wrought iron. Those are the components that we were able to re-utilize and re-instate to their original beauty,” he explained.

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That’s in part because the design requirements are “much more rigorous” than they were in 1875 — when the Blackfriars Bridge was first erected.

PHOTOS: Historic photos of Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge as seen from the east bank of the Thames River, circa 1875. The old Carling's Brewery can be seen in the background.
Blackfriars Bridge as seen from the east bank of the Thames River, circa 1875. The old Carling's Brewery can be seen in the background. O'Connor & Lancaster via Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library
Blackfriars Bridge as seen from the east bank of the Thames River, circa 1880. The old Carling's Brewery can be seen in the background to the right.
Blackfriars Bridge as seen from the east bank of the Thames River, circa 1880. The old Carling's Brewery can be seen in the background to the right. Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library
Blackfriars Bridge as seen in an aerial photograph from 1922 taken by the Dept. of Lands and Forests.
Blackfriars Bridge as seen in an aerial photograph from 1922 taken by the Dept. of Lands and Forests. Map and Data Centre/Western Libraries/Western University
Blackfriars Bridge as seen from the east bank of the Thames River, circa 1930.
Blackfriars Bridge as seen from the east bank of the Thames River, circa 1930. Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library
The eastern end of Blackfriars Bridge, circa 1930.
The eastern end of Blackfriars Bridge, circa 1930. Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library

“In conjunction with using as much of the wrought iron as possible, there are additional steel components that are added to make it a safe crossing.”

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Linda Munn lives in Blackfriars, the area where she was born some sixty years ago. She says the bridge has always been an important fixture in the neighbourhood, and she’s pleased that it’s making its slow return.

“It’s like an old friend has been taken away from us,” she explained, describing the rehabilitation as its “rebirth.”

“We realize that changes have to be made because the structure has to withstand years to come, so that’s okay. So long as the bridge comes back.”

The $7.9-million rehabilitation, being worked on by McLean Taylor Construction Ltd., and Dillon Consulting, will add up to 75 years to the bridge’s lifespan. Pedestrians, cyclists, and eastbound vehicular traffic will be able to use the bridge once the work is finished. It has been closed to vehicular traffic since late 2013.

The wrought iron bridge was designated a heritage structure in 1992 and is one of a small number of bridges like it that are still in use.