Workers on London’s Millennium Bridge are hanging a bale of straw under the structure after triggering an ancient bylaw.
Repair works to the footbridge mean straw must be dangled to warn oncoming boats of the work going on beneath it.
The large bale, which these days is lowered on climbing rope by workers in hi-vis jackets, is intended to alert river traffic of the reduced headroom.
Urgent repair and cleaning work means the bridge was closed on Saturday for three weeks, until 5 November.
According to the Port of London Thames Byelaws, clause 36.2: “When the headroom of an arch or span of a bridge is reduced from its usual limits, but that arch or span is not closed to navigation, the person in control of the bridge must suspend from the centre of that arch or span by day a bundle of straw large enough to be conspicuous and by night a white light.”
Part of the bridge had started to degrade and a layer of membrane needed to be replaced, according to the City Bridge Foundation, a charity that looks after London’s five major Thames crossings. The repairs are due to take place 24 hours a day to try to complete them quickly.
“This is one of those quirky traditions London is famous for, but it also does serve a practical purpose, to warn shipping when the headroom under a bridge span is reduced,” a City Bridge Foundation spokesperson told City AM.
“The bundle of straw is lowered by our contractor when they’re doing work under the bridge, in this case to install netting ahead of work to replace the separation layer between the aluminium bridge deck and the steel structure underneath.
“As a 900-year-old charity which maintains five Thames crossings and is London’s biggest independent charity funder, we’re proud of the part we’ve played in the history of London and our modern day role looking after some of the capital’s key transport infrastructure.”
The Millennium Bridge was the first new pedestrian bridge to be built across the Thames for more than a century, linking the City of London at St Paul’s Cathedral with the Tate Modern gallery at Bankside. It wobbled so much on its opening day in June 2000 it had to close until February 2002 while supportive struts were fitted.
Before its most recent closure, an artist who paints tiny pictures on discarded chewing gum has pleaded for his works to be saved after being told most of them will be removed during the works.