The architect Henry Hutchinson designed this masterpiece for St John’s College of Cambridge University in 1827. Built across the river Cam in 1831, Bridge of Sighs bridges between original parts and New Court of St John’s College. The bridge becomes unique as it is the only covered bridge over the river Cam and the only college bridge built in the Victorian Gothic style. It is an architectural masterpiece which you can stalk at while punting through the River Cam in Cambridge.
It’s sibling, the Wren Bridge, or a punt moving in the river Cam provides the best view of the bridge.
The bridge design goes hand in hand with the romantic Neo-Gothic style, the signature of architectural fashion at the time. It’s one of the most loved and fascinating features in Cambridge. The bridge was Queen Victoria’s favourite spot in the city than any other tourist attractions in Cambridge.
The key feature of the bridge is the tracery opening having stonework elements to support glass. But the bridge doesn’t have any glass.
Key facts about the Bridge of Sighs
- Second bridge built by the St. John’s College
- The only covered bridge across river Cam.
- The bars in the open gothic fenestration prevents one from climbing in or out.
- The name bridge of sighs is so popular that there are a total of 9 bridge of sighs around the world.
- The bridge has a posh and plain side. The right side is the best for photography.
- The bridge has appeared in blockbuster movies; The theory of everything (2014) is the most recent.
Naming of the Bridge
In October 1843, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert visited Cambridge. A reigning monarch had been to Cambridge for the first time in about 120 years. And hence citizens were greatly excited with the royal visit.
On their trip, the royals visited several colleges, including St John’s. It was about 12 years after the completion of ‘New Bridge’ and the fellows of the college were enthusiastic to show them the ‘New Bridge’.
Reports say that Victoria fell in love with the sight and remarked it as the most “picturesque view in Cambridge”. She stated that this favourite view of her in the city reminded her of the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ in Venice.
The bridge is popularly known as the “Bridge of Sighs”. Although, the only factor it has in common with the Bridge of Sighs in Venice is that they are both covered.
However, another common myth is that the students named the bridge. It was in context of its existence within the college grounds. The function of the bridge supports the belief; it links 2 quadrangles of St John’s College in a covered path. On the contrary, its sister bridge, the Kitchen bridge is an open air bridge. The rumour says that the name of the bridge came from the sighs of the students on proceeding from their quarters back to the tutor’s office in the main college quadrangle.
St John’s college(founded in 1511) is 3 centuries older than the New Bridge and the New Court. St Johns was the first College to expand its accommodation westwards into the area known as “Backs of Cambridge”; until then, every college bridge in Cambridge was on the east side of the River Cam.
In 1827, architect Henry Hutchison, a pupil and business partner of Gothic revivalist Thomas Rickman, designed the new buildings and bridge. The expansion was named “New Court”; it was the newest part of the college. In 1831, they completed the entire project. A few months later, Hutchinson died.
The bridge was first named “New Bridge” as it connected New Court on the West bank with 17th century Third Court on the East Bank. However, soon it was known as the “Bridge of Sighs”. The famous Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy, an enclosed bridge that connects the ducal palace to the court and prison was the reference for the name.
Pioneer photographer, William Henry Fox Talbot took the first ever known photograph of the “New Bridge” in 1844.
Student pranks and Blockbuster movies
Since its construction, the Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge has been featured in numerous photographs and artistic projects. Some blockbuster movies, including The Theory of Everything (2014) and Elizabeth : The Golden Age (2007) had the bridge as one of their sets.
The bridge even has a history of cars suspended from its arches twice. The students were the pranksters. On both these occasions the bridge managed to escape from any kind of damages.
On both the occasions, students pulled the prank by dangling a car under the bridge. In 1963, students strapped an Austin 7 with 4 punts and it was punted down the river. And ropes tied hoisted up the car under the bridge. The prank became so infamous. In 1968, students used a Reliant Regal 3-wheeler car to repeat the prank.
St John’s is significant as the only Cambridge College to feature two bridges on its main site; The Bridge of Sighs and it’s sister, the Wren Bridge (also known as ‘Kitchen Bridge’). They run parallel to each other.
The Wren Bridge was constructed to replace a pre-existing wooden bridge and is a century older than the Bridge of Sighs.
Christopher Wren submitted his design for a stone bridge to St John’s in the 1690s. But, the building work commenced only in 1709. The workers completed the project in 1713. Robert Grumbold supervised the construction. Wren suggested urns and pyramids in his original drawing. But, the work didn’t have them in construction. But still, the bridge perfectly reflects Wren’s design.
Wren Bridge is a tourists’ pedestal route through the college. While access to the Bridge of Sighs is only for the ones in St John’s College. This enables an uninterrupted view of Bridge of Sighs for the visitors.