Why Is A Straw Bale Dangling From The Millennium Bridge?

Under an ancient bylaw, a straw bundle must be dangled from London’s Thames crossings to warn river traffic work is being carried out and headroom is reduced.

One of the more unusual additions to the toolkit of workers repairing the Millennium Bridge in London this autumn is a bale of straw. The Guardian reports that under an ancient bylaw, a straw bundle must be dangled from the bridge to warn river traffic that work is being carried out and headroom is reduced.

The bridge will be closed for three weeks until early November to carry out cleaning and urgent repairs. According to the City Bridge Foundation, the charity that manages London’s main Thames crossings, the membrane that separates the bridge’s steel structure from the bridge deck has degraded and needs replacing.

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.”

 A City Bridge Foundation spokesperson told City AM: “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.”

“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.”

The Millenium Bridge opened in 2000 and was the first new footbridge to be installed over the Thames in over 100 years. It hit the headlines almost immediately when pedestrians reported a ‘wobble’. The bridge was closed for repairs a few days later and didn’t reopen until 2002.