W.L. Wyllie's Imaginary London Bridge

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    Sam Willis

    Dear Forum members,

    I am just editing a piece for the Society’s Maritime Art page on a little known etching by W.L. Wyllie. Wyllie spent much of his life in London and particularly enjoyed drawing bridges. One of his drawings is entitled ‘Imaginary W.L. Bridge‘ and appears to be a bridge from his imagination – a bridge that would be sufficiently stylish to carry his name.

    I’ve just noticed that two of the bridge supports [the first and fourth from left to right] are in the shape of the bows of a sailing warship and the third appears to be a face of some sort – perhaps Wyllie himself? The second bridge support is unclear. Any ideas or suggestions? And any comments on the sailing warship’s bows? Later in life he became heavily involved in the restoration of HMS Victory and perhaps he chose her for his bridge, but I think it is unlikely he would have used her twice. So perhaps Victory and Temeraire?

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    Frank Scott

    HMS Victory is certainly logical for one of the ships. Perhaps HMS Implacable (ex Duguay Troin) could be the second, as by then she was the only other survivor of Trafalgar?

    Malcolm Lewis

    This excellent sketch is based on John Rennie’s 1817 Strand Bridge later named Waterloo Bridge identified by the old shot tower which I used to see walking to school every day along the Victoria Embankment. It was demolished to make way for the South Bank Exhibition in 1951.
    Rennie’s bridge piers had serious problems in the mid-1800s due to scouring by the tidal river flow which had greatly increased when the old London Bridge was demolished. In the 1920s the bridge had to be closed for safety reasons. Wyllie who, as you say, loved painting London’s bridges and the busy river scenes would have been aware of the problems with the bridge piers from press reports and may be this sketch was his tongue in cheek suggestion to solve the problems. I think bridge piers are often described as cutwaters as are ships’ prows and what better than a pier in the style of a stem and figurehead of a man-of-war; a bit of Nelson’s Trafalgar to chime with Wellington’s Waterloo.
    Giles Gilbert Scott’s bridge with it sweeping arches was opened in 1942 and was the only Thames bridge to be bombed by the Luftwaffe.

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