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 rhyme “London 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.
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.
The 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..
There were lots of shops inside the bridge and most of them – jewellery shops!
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.