(Westminster Bridge) Price, John ; Langley, Batty ; James, John ; Labelye, Charles

(A collected volume of pamphlets on the alternative designs for a new bridge over the Thames at Westminster, including two by John Price, two by Batty Langley, one by John James, one by Charles Labelye, and two which are by anonymous authors (but of which one was probably in fact written by Labelye)).

London, 1728, 1736, 1736, 1736, 1737, 1738, 1743, 1739.

Reference: 09549
Price: £8 [convert currency]

Full Description

8vo. 8 pamphlets bound in one. (Price), 15 + (1)pp ; (Price), 16pp, long folding engraved plate ; (Langley) (2) + 30pp, large folding engraved plate ; (James) 59 + (1)pp, a few ink marginal notes ; (Langley) 54pp, folding engraved plate ; (Short Narrative) (2) + 70pp ; (Present State) 30 + (2)pp ; (Labelye) (4) + vi + 82pp, 4 engraved plates (originally engraved as one single sheet , but here bound separately : one is large folding, with an added printed caption pasted above the engraved image of the bridge). Contemporary full calf, gilt spine. From the library of the Earls of Macclesfield, with early Macclesfield shelf mark (VI.7.42), list of contents in ink in a contemporary hand, mid 19th century armorial Macclesfield bookplate, and small blind-stamp of Macclesfield coat of arms on first three leaves of the first pamphlet by Price (as customary with books from this library).

An excellent collected volume of pamphlets, all in good, fresh condition, put together before the middle of the eighteenth century and relating to the long controversy over the design and construction of a new bridge over the River Thames at Westminster. At least six and probably seven of the eight pamphlets involved are written by those directly involved in the successive projects, and the remaining pamphlet is by a well-informed anonymous contemporary. No library or institutional collection holds all the items concerned, and it would be difficult indeed to locate or put together any similar volume. The earliest pamphlet in the volume is an apparently unrecorded one by the London builder and architect John Price (died 1736), entitled “A short history of bridges, ancient and modern ; referring to the drawings made by John Price, architect, Part I”, with the imprint “London, printed in the year MDCCXXVIII” (not in BAL Cat or British Library, and not traced elsewhere). The text on the final page concludes “Strand, Oct.22, 1728, from my house in Villar’s-Street, York-Buildings, John Price”, followed by the words “End of Part I”. The address in York Buildings which Price gives for himself demonstrates that he was the same John Price who designed the tower of Laleham Church, Middlesex, in 1730-1, a fact of which Colvin has been doubtful. Although the pamphlet is described as “Part I”, it is likely to represent all that Price published at this time, for its text is recycled, with minor alterations and without an accompanying part II, as pp 11-5 of Price’s pamphlet of 1736 (next item). The drawings referred to in its title are shown in the pamphlet’s text to have been of historic bridges of the past, ranging from the Ponte San Angelo in Rome to Old London Bridge, evidently done by Price as parallels and advertising aids for the designs that he was submitting in 1728 for a new bridge over the Thames from Fulham to Putney. The next pamphlet, again by John Price, is his “Some Considerations humbly offered to the Honourable Commissioners … for building a stone-bridge over the River Thames, from the New Palace Yard, at Westminster, to the opposite shore at Lambeth. together with some proposals relating to a design annexed, drawn for that purpose, The second edition”, London, “printed in the year DCXXXVI” (this expanded second edition not in BAL Cat or British Library, but held in Guildhall Library and New York Public Library). Here Price explains and illustrates his new design for a nine-arch stone bridge across the Thames from Westminster to Lambeth, in a letter addressed to an unnamed member of the House of Commons and carrying the printed date 25 May 1736 (in the first edition of the pamphlet, published in the previous year, he had merely reoffered for the Westminster site his earlier unexecuted design for a bridge from Fulham to Putney). This is followed by Batty Langley’s pamphlet, “A design for the bridge at New-Palace Yard, Westminster … composed of nine arches … with observations on the several designs published to this time (etc)”, London, printed for the author and J.Millan, 1736 (BAL Cat 1747). Langley’s design for the bridge, explained here in a letter with the printed date 5 June 1736 addressed to the Westminster Bridge Commissioners, involved the construction of “chain arches” (on a catenary principle), in preference to the semi-circular arches favoured by other designers, and he takes the opportunity to stress the advantages of this method of construction over those of a rival design then recently prepared by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Next comes John James’s pamphlet, “A short review of the several pamphlets, and schemes, that have been offered to the publick, in relation to the building of a bridge at Westminster (etc)”, London, printed by H.Woodfall (and sold by J.Roberts and J.Stagg), 1736 (not in BAL Cat, but held in British Library and elsewhere). By 1736 James was one of the most senior and successful of British architects, but the criticisms that he makes of the schemes by Price, Hawksmoor and Langley are patronising rather than telling, and although he offers an alternative scheme of his own this is not fleshed out in convincing detail. He was however better read than the others in the literature of European bridge building, and is able to correct misunderstandings by Price and Hawksmoor about comparable bridges in France and Italy. His remarks are dated “Greenwich, 30 July 1736” at the end. A contemporary has added a few critical marginal comments in ink. Not unnaturally, James’s remarks provoked a further pamphlet by Batty Langley, “A reply to Mr.John James’s review of the several pamphlets and schemes … wherein his many absurdities are detected (etc)”, London, “printed for the author ; and sold by J.Millan, next Wills’ Coffee-House, near Scotland-Yard”, 1737 (BAL Cat 1754). This is bound next in the volume, and offers a detailed and often sarcastic refutation of James’s criticisms, particularly of those directed by James at apparent errors in Langley’s own mathematical and geometrical calculations. Langley dates it “Parliament-Stairs, Jan.27th 1736/7”. Attention now shifted to the deliberations of the Commissioners appointed by Parliament to decide on where the bridge should be built, and to what design, and their proceedings are described at length by an anonymous but well-informed writer in the pamphlet that follows, “A short narrative of the proceedings of the gentlemen, concerned in obtaining the act, for building a new bridge at Westminster”, London, printed for T.Cooper 1738 (not in BAL Cat or in British Library, but held elsewhere). It takes the form of a letter dated 10 November 1737 to an unnamed Member of Parliament, with a lengthy response written as from the MP concerned – but perhaps also written by the original author – dated 24 November 1737, and it describes the course of events between June and September 1737, during which Thomas Ripley, the official of the Board of Works asked to report on the bridge’s site and cost and the feasibility of the various schemes, argued initially that a wooden bridge would be sufficient ; this suggestion was ridiculed in the press, and Ripley, who had initially indicated that he disliked all the existing designs except that by John James, then provided a new design for a timber bridge that could be built either on wooden or on stone piers. Ripley’s conduct is sharply criticised in the letter dated 24 November. The Commissioners eventually decided in May 1738 to entrust the construction of the piers of the proposed bridge, now to be built in stone, to the Swiss engineer Charles Labelye, and his pamphlet on the subject is bound at the end of the present volume : “A short account of the methods made use of in laying the foundation of the piers of Westminster-Bridge … to which are annex’d, the plans, elevations and sections belonging to a design of a stone-bridge, adapted to the stone piers … with an explanation of that design”, London, printed by A.Parker for the author 1739. The preface to Labelye’s pamphlet carries the date “Westminster-Bridge foot, April 24 1739”, by when only the foundation for the first pier had been constructed, but Labelye took the opportunity to append a large engraved plate providing plans, sections and an elevation of his design for the bridge itself, which had not yet been approved by the Commissioners. This plate, “published the 10th of May 1739” (engraved caption below fig.III), carried five numbered illustrations, and these are bound here as three separate plates. The elevation of the bridge, a long folding engraved illustration with an added engraved caption title pasted above the image itself, is bound as a fourth plate. It appears from the description of the copy of this pamphlet that is BAL Cat 1707, from which these illustrations are absent, that our copy and the copy in the Royal Academy are the only copies in which these engravings of Labelye’s designs are present. Finally, our volume also contains “The present state of Westminster Bridge, containing a description of the said bridge … in a letter to a friend. The second edition, corrected”, London, printed for J.Millan 1743 (BAL Cat 1706, under Labelye). This is a pamphlet written as though by an anonymous writer (it takes the form of a letter to an unspecified correspondent dated 8 December 1742), but it is strongly supportive of the finalised design for the bridge by Labelye, and recent scholarship is agreed that it was written by Labelye himself, not least because material from it is incorporated in a subsequent pamphlet by Labelye published in 1751.

Leave a comment