The present Cookham bridge structure was built in 1867 to replace the previous wood structure that had shown signs of rot. The main river traffic in those days were commercial barges as this was the cheapest form of transport during that period, where goods could be transported from London to the Midwest of the country, such as Reading and Oxford and places in between. Later when the Great Western Railway took away the dry good trade, the Barge Companies switched to hauling limestone and gravel used in the building of Greater London. Of course the Thames Conservancy had a fleet of tugs and barges, which were in continuous used in keeping the towpaths and riverbanks in good repair, also to carry dredging equipment as well.
The first photo shows the six bridge fend-offs to stop heavy barges from colliding with the bridge support structure. Going up stream it was not bad at all. First the barge would most likely be empty or lightly laden which gave the helmsman or bargee plenty of steerageway. It was coming downstream that the problem occurred when the flow of the river was say two to three knots and the tug was most likely having to make between five or six knots to give the helmsman enough steerageway for the barge with a payload of say 100 tons. Any impact with the bridge structure could be close to 1,000 tons. That is why those fenders are still in place today, the weight of the traffic today is considerably lighter, being in the main pleasure traffic.
The second picture is one of the older steam tugs, which are now giving way to diesel power. This picture shows it passing the Upper Thames Sailing club at Bourne End.
The barge picture is to show the very large tiller that the helmsman had to use to keep the barge on course. The last time that barges like this was used, was when the Jubilee Cut was built, and the excess gravel was off loaded in the Cliveden reach and trucked to the Somerleaze Gravel site