The Building of Westminster Bridge

The Building of Westminster Bridge

ca. 1742
Samuel Scott
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 27 x 47 inches (68.6 x 119.4 cm)

Samuel Scott painted multiple views of Westminster Bridge, one of the most spectacular engineering feats of the eighteenth century. The need to relieve congestion on the Old London Bridge had long been felt. In 1736, Parliament passed a bill to support the construction of a new bridge, which was carried out under the direction of a Swiss architect, Charles Labelye. The first stones were laid in 1739 and the final pier completed in 1744, although the bridge would not open until 1750. This view is taken from one of the many timber yards that lined the south bank of the Thames and serviced the construction of London’s West End, and it includes the towers then under construction on Westminster Abbey, dominating the skyline at right, as well as a spire that was never built but was shown in a print published in 1739. At the extreme left of the picture are two technological innovations that facilitated the bridge’s construction: a horse-powered pile driver and a sinking caisson that was used to build the piers. Scott was evidently as much concerned with commerce and labor on the river as with the construction of the bridge over it: figures engage in fishing and in ferrying passengers, produce, barrels, and bales. 

B1974.3.33
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection