This aquatint in the King’s Topographical Collection depicts the Thames at the City of London from a bird’s eye perspective. It was produced and published in 1802 by the English landscape painter William Daniell (1769–1837), after his own painting exhibited at the Royal Academy that year.
Daniell’s work visualises a design for a new London Bridge by George Dance the Younger (1741–1825), architect and surveyor to the Corporation of London. Dance’s father had overseen the removal of the medieval houses which lined the sides of the Old London Bridge. Having trained under him, the architect was responsible for renovating the dank and redundant marshland around Blackfriar’s with a system of new roads. The younger Dance had a personal interest in this area of London, so when a Parliamentary Select Committee announced a competition for designs to rebuild the bridge in April 1800, the architect was keen to submit a proposal.
Dance’s creation is shown in the foreground: two stone bridges run parallel to each other, each with a towered drawbridge at centre which could be raised to allow river traffic to pass. The purpose of a twin bridge, as Daniell explains in the subtitle to his aquatint, was to facilitate pedestrian movement at all times. ‘By the alternate elevation of a draw bridge in either of the two bridges’ an ‘uninterrupted way over the other is afforded at all times for carriages and foot-passengers’, he writes.
In his scheme Dance proposed a crescent-shaped piazza at the south end of the bridge. This was to mirror the existing and ‘extensive amphitheatrical area on the north side of the Thames’, at the centre of which stood Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to commemorate the Great Fire of London. The fluted Doric column topped with a gilded urn can be seen at left.
As a focal point of the southern semi-circular piazza, Dance designed a grand obelisk topped with a ‘Naval Trophy’. Dance also planned to remodel the Embankment, enlarge the Legal Quays (authorised wharves on the Thames), and build a new customs house and a series of warehouses that would extend right the way down to the Tower of London. This transformation of the northern embankment, Dance hoped, would enable goods to be ‘conveyed by carts’ overland rather than by boat which would add further traffic to the already congested Thames.
In the event the architect’s design was not realised. Its Venetian-inspired grandeur came at the eye-watering price of £1.25 million. It was nonetheless praised as a splendid design, worthy of being commemorated and exhibited in a painting by Daniell and in subsequent prints.