A bridge with a life of its own..

The Tower Bridge of London is one of the most well known images associated with London. One which a lot of people mistakenly assume to be the London Bridge.  The first time I saw the London Bridge, I was quite disappointed, but as I read more about London,  the history behind the bridge enthralled me. The simple, normal looking bridge is one of the most well known bridges in the world, and has a fascinating history, right from the time when London was a Roman Settlement. It is the latest of in a series of Bridges to be called the London Bridge.


The iconic Tower Bridge (Courtesy: Google Image Search)


The unspectacular London Bridge.(Courtesy: Google Image Search)

Funnily, when I was searching for images of the London Bridge, I got loads of the Tower Bridge, mislabeled as London Bridge.

For such a nondescript bridge, it does have an amazing history. A bridge has existed at this place right from the time of Roman settlement, over 2000 years ago. One of the first bridges to be built over the River Thames.

As per the Wikipedia,’ The bridge fell into disrepair after the Romans left. As Londinium was also abandoned, there was little need for a bridge at this point, and in the Saxon period the river was a political boundary between the hostile kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. With the impact of the Viking invasions, the reconquest of the Roman city by the kings of Wessex and its re-occupation by Alfred the Great, the political conditions arose for a Saxon bridge crossing to be placed here. However, there is no archaeological evidence for a bridge before Aethelred‘s reign and his attempts to stem the Sweinian invasions of the 990s. In 1014, according to a much later skaldic tradition, the bridge was pulled down by the Norwegian prince Olaf, as he was aiding King Aethelred in what, if true, was a successful bid to divide the defending forces of the Danes who held the walled City of London plus Southwark, thereby regaining London for the Anglo-Saxon king. This episode has been thought to have inspired the well-known nursery rhymeLondon Bridge is Falling Down

After the 1136 destruction of the bridge, a new replacement was commissioned – an inhabited bridge. It took 33 years to complete. The bridge itself was about 26 feet (8 m) wide, the buildings on the bridge took up about 7 feet (2 m) on each side of the street. Some of these buildings projected another seven feet out over the river. The road for traffic was thereby reduced to just 12 feet (4 m) wide. This meant that horses, carts, wagons, and pedestrians all shared a passageway just six feet wide, one lane going north and one south. There were a few places where houses and shops were not built, which allowed people to get out of the traffic and enjoy a glimpse of the river and the shorelines of London. It was completed in 1209 and was also the first stone bridge in the world. Most of the shop owners lived in the houses above the shops. Apparently, it had 20 arches, and none of them similar. It would last for 600 years and was demolished because it had become very congested and because of the detrimental effect the bridge was having on the river, thanks to its narrow arches.

old london bridge

An artist’s impression of how the medieval London Bridge must have looked like. (Courtesy: Google Image Search)

In 1831, a new bridge, Rennie’s Bridge was opened a few yards upstream and that became known as the new London Bridge. This bridge, however, had a flawed design and could not take the load, so was soon replaced by the current London Bridge.  The Rennie’s London Bridge was dismantled and re-constructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

londonbridge- Lake Havasu CityThe Old London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona((Courtesy: Google Image Search)

The most fascinating avatar, if I may call it so, for me, of the Bridge that I found myself captivated by, was the inhabited bridge. I found it fascinating that people actually lived on the bridge.  I read loads about it and was lucky enough to be able to see an existing inhabited bridge in Florence. It is the oldest Bridge in Florence, and is still inhabited and was spared damage in the World War II – apparently by Hitler himself. Here are a couple of photographs that we took when we were there. It was a smaller scale(and much less grand – at least in my imagination) version of what the medieval London Bridge must have been like..

view of brgd

side view of brgd

There were lots of shops inside the bridge and most of them – jewellery shops!

inside the bridge

I just wanted to add, that one of the books that totally captured my fascination was Edward Rutherfurd’s London. It has the London Bridge as a main protagonist, while he sketches the history of London through 2 millenia.The first time I read it, we were living in London, I used to work at Southwark and used to pass the London Bridge station everyday. One of our favourite walks by the River Thames used to be from the Tower Bridge to Waterloo and we used to cross most of the historical places mentioned in the book. I used to feel the history behind those places.. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic!  I am now re-reading it and it now makes me all nostalgic and thankful that so much of the history is preserved, with plaques commemorating important events and through these wonderful books which give you a flavour of the time…

Most of the information is from Wikipedia and from some random reading that I had done earlier. There are so many more interesting pieces of information in connection to the Bridges, that I had a tough time deciding what to include and what to leave out.

75 thoughts on “A bridge with a life of its own..

    • wow!
      the pics are so nice!
      for some reason..i loveed the 3rd pic the most…

      Me too – I always wish I could see the London Bridge in that form 🙂

  1. Me luvs u hopeless romantic for being that 🙂
    Its a treasure to be one na 🙂

    Yeah – some people think I am crazy 🙂

    I do that too and almost jump with joy when I visit a place i hv read abt somewhere and that tea estate in Munnar where we stayed and I saw Nishabd again after that, I ws like jumping arnd – this ws the room we stayed, this is where we hd our lunch and so on. Its so much fun na 😀
    I know – same here – I love it when something like that happens 🙂

    N that ws a wonderful description there Smithu 🙂 Muahss 2 u 😀
    You too! Hugs and Muahs!

    I found it fascinating that people actually lived on the bridge – Oh it is 🙂 Thanks for sharing the pics Smithu .. luv u {{{{{{{{{{{Hugs}}}}}}}}}

    I just find it very fascinating – so thought of sharing.. Hugs!!!

  2. Nice post and so much of story behind it!

    Glad you like it .

    Having said that, I didn’t like the idea of mentioning courtesy ‘Google’. They only aggregate the content from the actual photographers from various sites. The real credit should go to those photographers.

    I do understand that – but the same picture is in so many places and the real photographer is not mentioned – so I decided to leave it at that – instead of not mentioning it and people thinking that I have stolen their work 😦

  3. Wow! so much interesting info that I never knew.. first time I have heard about an inhabited bridge… Thanks Smitha…

    Yes, the first time I heard about it – I was fascinated and then I read every book I could get on it..

  4. When I came here there was only one comment of mystery saying I am first.. by the time I finished reading… 7 !!!

    that was not to tell you that you get so many comments…
    Thank you so much for your kindness;)

    that was to tell you I have decided not to be in the first first race… !!!! 😉

    Right, we believe you – totally 🙂

    lovely pics… !!! and even lovlier post !!!!!!!!
    Thank you!

    Geez… even I thought the tower bridge was the London bridge… sheesh… I really now need to apply for the passport…. sigh…

    Most people think that – because the Tower Bridge is one of the most well known symbols of London and combine it with the nursery rhyme – people automatically assume that it is the ‘London Bridge’ 🙂

    In Bharuch we have a Golden Bridge built in 1881.

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Bridge )

    Although Wiki says something else…

    There is a myth cum legend that so much money was spent by the British in the errors while building this bridge that if it were built properly even in Gold… it would have been cheaper… !!!

    Wow!!!!!! That many mistakes, is it?? Even about the medieval London Bridge, apparently some parts of it broke down as they were building it -apparently they learnt on the job.

    It is one of the sights… on a full moon night when the river is calm… the reflection in the river from the centre of the bridge is a sight !!!!! 🙂

    I love bridges! There are many bridges on Thames now and the Blackfriars bridge was close to my office – so sometimes, I used to walk to the station across the bridge just because it used to be so beautiful..We could see the lit up Tower Bridge in the distance.. it used to be beautiful. And we have some lovely pictures of bridges.. maybe, I should do a post on them..

    • The company that built the bridge even sent a letter to the collector at the completion of 100 years that their Guarantee is over… !!!!!!!

      Goodness 🙂 Now thats what is called service 🙂 I was just reading the Wiki version.. I love such stories – so many interesting facts..

      p.s. we have one Golden Stone also in Bharuch !!!!!!! 😛 😛 😛

      And what is that?

      • I so love talking about Bharuch !!!!!

        I was searching on google – when I saw your reply 🙂

        There was a big piece of rock supporting an old house… in the old city of Bharuch… the area is called “Lallubhai Chakla”


        The nagar palika wanted to broaden the road and wanted to remove the rock… the parsi guy whose house it was supporting said if they do it his house will fall… and didnt allow… the matter went in court…. !!!!

        they spent more money on the court than the actual weight of that stone in Gold !!!!!

        Dunno if you like the story… but I loved telling it..

        So did they finally move the rock – what did the courts rule?

        • nope it wasnt moved… it still lies there on a side.. !! like a monument !!

          Wow! So from their point of view – all that money was worth it – the owner’s point of view, that is..

    • Aww now Hitchy is showing the bollywood Superstar attitude…I don’t believe in the comment race?? Man I can believe Smithu saying that the bridge I thought all my life to be the London bridge is not the one; but Hitchy not in comment race? *faints*

  5. It’s not first comment or second comment that matters, it’s the thought behind that comment that counts.

    That I agree with , IHM – I am never first on any blog – I have to take solace from this 🙂

  6. My only knowledge of London Bridge was from that poem in school….
    “London Bridge is falling down….”

    Me is also fascinated by bridges. More so coz I’ve seen a few documentaries on how they are built and what goes behind to bring up these iconic structures. The science and engineering is a marvel. And over and above that, we have the legend behind it. Makes it all the more fascinating.

    You know, Masood, in UK, I have come to admire their engineering. So many things.. Way back in early 19th century – if I’m not mistaken – they understood the need for the underground and went ahead and planned for it. Apparently, a lot of people were against it – because they were worried that the French would use it to invade UK 🙂 I find it all fascinating..

    • After reading the first thing that came to my mind was ‘London Bridge is falling down….’ and that was going to be my line. I see that it is already taken. 😀

      Yeah -that got taken long back 🙂

      I feel the same about Golden Gate bridge in SFO. They have a story of their own.

      Love piece. Made a nice read, Smi!

      Oh yes, most of these bridges/constructions have a story of their own.. And crazy people like me read so much about it that we have to post about it too 🙂

  7. Wow! the history of the London Bridge is fascinating.

    It is, isn’t it?

    And the thought of living on a bridge is quite thrilling! 😀

    I liked the artist’s sketch of what the bridge might have looked like in the 1200s

    Me too! I found it fascinating..

    Very informative post Smithus! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    I like the history so much – that I could not resist sharing..

  8. It built first 2000 years ago…can’t believe….kudos 2 those architects..Have seen the london bridge in movies and picture(who can for get the rhyme “london bridge…), But never heard about the history behind it.Thanks for sharing it here 🙂

    Yes, my first introduction to the London Bridge was via the rhyme too 🙂 I read up all this after coming here. I like to read about the history of places.

  9. Truly, I knew “Tower bridge” as london bridge… even in my childhood, I had a t-shirt where tower bridge was fabricated and caption was “London Bridge” 😀

    I know – most of us are under the same impression.

    Thanks Smitha, for such wonderful and informative post 🙂
    The London bridge is such historical! I never heard it… but I’m feeling that seeing such beautiful and historical bridge in eyes is a sweet experience…..
    You worked a lot for this post;) hai na? 😀

    I had actually read all this earlier – some five years back and it all came back when I was reading that book again – so decided to post – so not too much of work, to be honest 🙂

    off the topic: I tagged you in my last post 😀
    But Alas!! you even didn’t had a visit to my blog 😦
    I did – after seeing your comment 🙂 Thanks so much for tagging me – will do..

  10. good one and thanks for sharing this. No, Im not kidding. When I visited London, I had this confusion too.

    Goodness! what’s up with you? Are you unwell? No sarcastic comment?

    • oh he is very much the same Vimmuuu(‘u’ raised to the power of infinity),IHM & Smits..he has just been his real self in my post..:lol:

      maybe he has some sarcasm hidden in this comment which he wants us to decode 🙄

      Maybe he’s talking about being confused about why the inhabitants will be needing a bathroom afterall,when there’s so much of water flowing along the bridge 😛 😯

  11. WOW!Its a well researched post,Smits! The images are beautiful and you’ve shared some amazing piece of information relating to them.

    Deeps – I have read so much about all this, that it was quite easy – to put it together.. And since I found it all so fascinating, I thought it would be interesting to share..

    Thank you so much for that,Smits 🙂

    You are totally welcome, Deeps.

    And yes,get well soon 🙂

    I am enjoying the fact that I am not cooking today so much that I would not mind prolonging the illness 🙂

    ummas to Poohikutty & hugs to you 🙂

    ummas and hugs to Nammukutty too! Yesterday Poohi was very interested in seeing Namnam after your call 🙂 Hugs to you too!

    • awww..Poohidearest…tell her when Namnam comes to London,whenever that is,she will be spending a whole day with her and then they can have all the fun in the world 🙂

      Do plan to come while we are here – we can have loads of fun too 🙂

      I was feeling really bad that I had to hang up so soon.Next time I’ll make sure we yack and yack araam se 😀

      I know – I wanted to call you – but I am right now more croaking than talking – so have to get this throat sorted before I can call 😦

  12. Lovely photographs and very well written post, Smitha. I loved London very much because of its ancient history. Saw these bridges and my grand nephew recited all the stories enthusiastically too! So much history.

    I love London because of the history. It just makes me feel sad, that we have so many such places in India – which are just not maintained well – so it won’t be long before a lot of interesting places disappear thanks to lack of maintenance and upkeep..

    It is interesting to know about the bridge on which people live and with so many jewlery shops! Eye catching jewelery photographs, thank you, Smitha!
    It was amazing to go to an inhabited bridge 🙂 That was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Florence..

    Read Dhiren’s comment. Post a photo of the ‘house on the rock’, Dhiren!

    ‘they spent more money on the court than the actual weight of that stone in Gold !!!!!’ Interesting!

    I agree! Dhiren – please post the pic 🙂

  13. Great post Smitha. Loved the facts and the photos. Makes me want to visit these places ;), always stays in our to do list…

    Come over 🙂 I’ll show you around 🙂

  14. Ok I am one of those lunatics who thought London Bridge was the one with Big Ben near it. Che I think I need a trip around the world to get myself some worldly knowledge now that you have proved Google is wrong 😯 ….sigh…all that free trip around the world was such a waste :mrgreen:

    Come, start with the UK – stay here and we’ll go around here and I can take you to the real London Bridge 🙂

    You have got some lovely pictures and am fascinated with the one showing people actually living on top of it. Wow what an awesome view it would be to wake up every morning and see the water sparkling in the sun 🙂 But I wonder how their drainage system works? Gosh I looked underneath the bridge and can’t find any pipes 😯

    You know, this is what we had discussed too 🙂 Apparently Thames did become extremely polluted when London Bridge was a populated one 🙂

    So you went jewellery hunting in them? So what do you call a person who is interested in the history of Bridges? HY-BRID? *sakshi runs off and hides under the bridge away from holes ducking Smitha’s jewellery collection*

    What makes you think I will throw jewellery at you???? Rotten tomatoes ans eggs should do 😉

  15. Fascinating Smitha!! Like Masood I also believed in “…build it up with iron and steel” part of the ‘London Bridge is falling down’, but I recently saw this fascinating movie ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ based on a literary historical cross-genre novel, in which this guy works in a perfume shop on a bridge … I tried googling for exactly where in France, but couldn’t find… but in the movie warehouses plunge into the river below as the bridge collapses…

    Wow – I haven’t seen that movie. But after coming here, I have read a lot of historical books and have really learnt so much from them. I am re-reading some because I could not find any more 😦

    • @IHM, I remember that film. That’s how the character played by Dustin Hoffman dies….it was in Paris, but Paris had quite a few of these bridges, so it would be difficult to identify which one this was, unless the novel specifically names it! Also, apart from its setting, I don’t think the novel is ‘historical’ in the strict sense.


      Quirky Indian

  16. the first image is very popular and not the 2nd. good to know, at least i have some clue

    with water all around us we cross bridges and tunnel very often. there is one draw bridge near our place – it is a great sight when it opens – but we get stuck in traffic. And the toll !!! it is only at night all these bridges look good – aerial view.

    your pictures reminds me of how an artist would paint these –

  17. Great piece of information. I tend to get carried away – researching old places, buildings and bridges and loved the way you have put together all the interesting bits of information and pictures.

  18. I never had the London Bridge-Tower Bridge confusion, but also didn’t know much of the history behind London Bridge. Strange, because the Tower Bridge itself doesn’t have much of a history.

    Thank you for another informative post. A few more posts like this, and we can rename your blog ‘smithapedia’! 🙂


    Quirky Indian

  19. I didn’t know there were inhabited bridges – wow!

    Like QI, I never confused to London Bridge with the Tower Bridge but I also didn’t know the entire history…Cool…Thanks for adding to my knowledge…

  20. Nice topic and good info smiths.I always used to wonder about the rhyme london bridge is falling down,my fair lady built it up…..

    I read a lot after coming here about all this – I used to find it fascinating..

  21. By the way Smitha, you were the first to comment on my latest post! 🙂 Actually I love to be the first to comment but I feel odd to say it!! 🙂 Particularly as I am usually late!

    Was I ? I did not even notice 🙂 That must be a record for me, Nita 🙂

    Anyway, I found this post very interesting specially as I have just returned from London. I sort of assumed that the first one was the famous London Bridge and in fact took out a lot of photos of it! Reading about the history was very interesting. In fact one of our most interesting jaunts was inside the Tower of London. There is a museum there and the history is interesting. However when one thinks of our own Indian history one realises how recent theirs is!

    I agree – we have so so much more – but we just have not maintained it as well, nor have we marketed it as well. I never went to the Tower Museum – my token of protest against them – for having taki our Kohinoor 🙂 Call me crazy – but I kind of still feel bad 🙂

    I always love the history behind things – surprising when I used to hate History in school 🙂 But it fascinates me now.. So I do try and find out whatever I can..

  22. Oh God, tell me about it. Any time there are friends coming to London for the first time the conversation goes thus:

    “Oh hey I want to visit London Bridge, it looks so pretty in the pictures”

    “That’s TOWER Bridge … London Bridge is elsewhere and is rather plain”

    “But it’s called London Bridge no?! Everyone calls it London Bridge! You know? London bridge is falling down … that bridge?”

    There are like ten bridges at least … can’t see how all of them can be called London bridge!

    You know exactly what I mean 🙂 Yes, most people are so disappointed with the real London Bridge 🙂

    A tour guide once told me that Southwark bridge isn’t really known to many people … the roads there are so twisted and confusing that people can only find it by accident 😛

    I used to work in Southwark – so a lot of times would just walk around there – we used to love it! My office was very close to the Blackfriars Bridge and the view from the bridge is amazing!

    Oh and Ponte Vecchio is one my favourite places … the view from there is so breaht-taking! It also helps that the gold market keeps you enthralled 😀 Apparently one the kings had the original butcher shops there replaced with goldmsiths because he couldn’t stand the smell of meat and blood when he walked between the different palaces.

    Yes – I can totally understand the logic behind replacing the butcher shops with goldsmiths 🙂 Yes, Ponet Vecchio is beautiful, isn’t it? And the river – it is so incredibly pretty too!

  23. The idea of having houses on bridges is intriguing! The realtors here would push the govt to approve it if they come to know of this. There is one very attractive bridge in K R Puram, Bangalore – wonder why it has not become famous as bglore bridge!!

    Destination Infinity

  24. Awesome pics smitha..and interesting story behind..

    Most exciting is living on bridge 🙂

    I am working for UK from last 3.5yrs…all my colleagues are stevange based…i always want to visit london as heard so much abt london from colleagues as well as from karan johar movies 🙂

  25. First and Foremost – A well written documentary like post! I had no clues of any of the info you had provided here.

    Thank you, Suji!

    Secondly excellent fotos – clear and well taken shots!

    Only the last three pics have been taken by us 😦 The rest are from the internet..

    Awesome post Smiths!

    Thanks again!

    • look who’s talking??whoever gave her the right to demand for a post?? :mrgreen:
      Oye Saksh,do you even remember the date when you published your last post??It seems like ages! 😈

      I know, Deeps! Pot calling the kettle black 🙂 Look who is talking!

  26. Smitha.. thanks for the wonderful history behind that wonderful monument Smitha..

    but somehow the old monuments never fascinated me.. 😦 but this one is really beautiful and I love to walk on that bridge…

    hope I visit once there.. 🙂 🙂

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