Bridges of Sighs, and pranks

History of British Bridges

There is a bridge, made of limestone, that connects a prison with an interrogation room. The bridge is enclosed (covered), and is supposedly the last opportunity for a condemned prisoners to see the city of Venice. The bridge, called Ponte dei Sospiri, was built in 1600 and rumoured to be given an English name by Lord Byron. The Bridge of Sighs, so called because the prisoners sighed as they stood looking out of the windows, their last look at freedom.

Ponte dei sospiri (Venice)

The name was stolen by two universities in England. The covered Hertford Bridge, constructed in 1914, spans New College Lane which divides Hertford college in two. It doesn’t look like the Venetian Ponte dei Sospiri, but has adopted the name of Bridge of Sighs.  (Covered bridges are not a typical feature of bridges in Britain; they are very rare.)

Bridge of Sighs, Oxford

A different rumour is attached to the Oxford bridge. Supposedly the college student were a tad overweight and the college closed off the bridge, forcing the students to exercise by climbing the stairs. It turns out, more steps are climbed if the bridge is used.

Cambridge also has a Bridge of Sighs. The bridge connects St Johns College New Court on one bank of the River Cam with the Third Court on the East bank. St Johns College was established in 1511 (not as old as Hertford which was established in 1282 as Hart Hall), and the bridge, also known as Bridge of Sighs, was constructed in 1831. Picturesque Cambridge’s version has the advantage over Oxford due to a river, punting boats and student pranks.

In the 1960s students took to suspending cars under the bridge – fortunately without damaging the bridge. One time, a 1928 Austin make was transported down the river using punts – flat bottomed boats that are not the same as gondolas, which use an oar, punts use poles. Punts were originally cargo boats, so I suppose carrying a car on four punts lashed together is appropriate usage. Hanging the car from the bridge using ropes isn’t.

But just like Oxford, Cambridge’s Bridge of Sighs bears no resemblance to the Venetian bridge. Its Gothic Revival style was fashionable and suited to the landscape of the Cambridge Backs (the backs of the college used by the college as grazing land for livestock). I can’t imagine students sighing as they crossed these two bridges, so the stolen name has little meaning or context, but as tourist attractions, all three bridges serve their respective cities very well.

2 comments

  1. They are certainly all very scenic!
    S is for Sentience

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s something special about covered bridges.

      Like

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