In London, an Ancient Bridge Bylaw Is Triggered

Bale of hay must hang from Millennium Bridge during repairs
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2023 12:05 PM CDT
In London, a Hay Bale Must Dangle From This Bridge
The lowering of the hay bale.   (City Bridge Foundation/X)

The bale of hay dangling from London's Millennium Bridge for the next three weeks could be mistaken for an odd Halloween decoration. But it's there for legal, not festive reasons. The Guardian reports the repair and cleaning work being done has kicked an ancient bylaw into effect, one designed to alert river traffic below to a reduction in headroom. "We're not making this up, honest," quipped the City Bridge Foundation on X. The foundation handles the upkeep for five major Thames crossings, with the Millennium Bridge being the most recently built.

The bridge had a "wobbly" opening in June 2000 that forced it to shut until February 2002 so that supportive struts could be added. The Foundation says the degradation to a layer of membrane that's happened since needs to be urgently addressed, and that the work will be done 24 hours a day in order to complete it as quickly as possible. "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 aluminum bridge deck and the steel structure underneath," explains a foundation rep. At night, the bale comes up and a light takes its place, reports the BBC.

Per 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." One odd sidenote: Chewing gum stuck to the bridge will be removed as part of the current work—eviscerating most of Ben Wilson's artwork. The BBC reports "the chewing gum man" has spent a decade painting on gum that has been discarded on the bridge. The Guardian reports the foundation said a "limited" number of his estimated 600 paintings will survive the work. (See photos of his bridge art here.)

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