Above - London Bridge showing Traitors heads on the gate, day to day activity at street level, Billingsgate market in the city and ships anchored at quayside Pre 1666 - Courtesy Peter Roberts
This London Bridge, the first of stone, and in its day regarded as one of the `modern wonders of the world`, was opened in 1209. It was the brainchild of London priest architect, Peter de Colechurch, and took 33 years to build, outlasting its architect who died in 1205. Peter was buried in the first structure to be built on the Bridge, a Chapel dedicated to Canonised fellow London priest, Thomas Beckett, `... will no one rid me ...!`
Right - Old Street Plan of London Bridge showing both sides of the river Pre Great fire of London of 1666 - Courtesy Peter Roberts.
The Chapel and the Gateways, were in fact the only structures built of stone on the Bridge, all the houses, sometimes up to perhaps 6 storeys high, were constructed of wood, including the `fabulous` pre-formed` Nonesuch House` constructed in Holland, shipped piecemeal to London, and reassembled on the Bridge using only wooden pegs! Its richly decorated exterior was marvelled at by all, and it quickly became the `hottest` rented property in town - such `glamour` in construction was usually reserved for Nobles and was rarely on offer to the `lower classes`!
Basically it was a very large `box`, straddling the Bridge - totalling conforming to Bridge Estate building `manual`! This technique held the whole Bridge `Housing Estate` together, and primarily consisted of the innovative securing of opposing roof top lofts, one to the other, often with cross-connecting access, and the use at low level of well maintained heavy supporting-props . These features enabled the Bridge for its entire life, to successfully withstand collisions with sailing vessel [adrift on loose moorings], strong prevailing winds, gales and the occasional hurricane, preventing the whole superstructure from being toppled `en masse` into the inevitably `boiling` Thames below!"
The Bridge, and its revenues, ably and well `recordedly` managed by the Bridge House Estates, [as they came to be known] quickly developed into a thriving concern, acquiring money, land and property in London and further afield, from the Crown, the Church, grateful travellers, willed indentures etc., etc. It became home to a community of thousands of shopkeepers, artisans and merchants over the years, and had been the only dry crossing into the City for 541 years until 1750, when Westminster Bridge was opened. It survived the Civil War, the Rebellion, the Plague, the Great fire of London and had been the scene of much `Monarchle`[new word!] rejoicing, civil unrest, a horse ridden joust, and the less tasteful display of Traitors heads, until in 1760 the community was dispersed, their homes and work places demolished, the gates removed and the Bridge widened, ready for the impetus of the first stirrings of the Industrial Revolution!
Left - Author Thomas Brown, was an early
satirical writer, who wrote very humorously and `blackly` as we would
say today, hence the reference to 'Lucian`. This book is not morbid
at all, quite the contrary, and was very popular in its day, as evidenced
by this seventh edition! Both Publishing and printing took place on
the bridge, this example by Edward Midwinter - whose premises were at
the Looking Glass Bookshop near St Magnus Church [at the City end],
where he Published, Printed, and Sold this Book, in 1730 - is truly
an artefact of the bridge! - Courtesy Peter Roberts.
Also contributory was a brilliant idea to architecturally alter the Bridge`s central spans. It involved the removal of a single pier to create a wider central arch for safer navigation of the Bridge by river traffic - utterly sensible! But this created great structural problems in a Bridge of 19 piers [each with a defensive bulwark or `starling`], effectively narrowing the river, by over 50%!. At the various tides, water gushed through the arches, falling by up to 10 feet, or more depending on earlier rainfall, with an ebbing tide, almost mimicking `white water Mountain rivers`, some boat passengers alighted and walked round the Bridge, to continue by another craft!
Above Right - Memorial stone to Thomas Morris Jnr. Dated 2.6.1697 who drowned passing through the bridge having successfully returned from a voyage to Holland - Courtesy Peter Roberts.
These problems were such that the City of London, having just authorised the sale, demolition and removal of all the City Gates [because their narrowness restricted traffic flow!], were advised that the river bed was being scoured away from the arch bases and needed to be quickly replaced, they suddenly had to buy back all the stone they had just sold, and literally `throw` it in the River, right under the newly constructed arch! The widening of the central portal had created a `new` route for the river to flow and a terrific under-current threatened to completely undermine the new arches, the retrieved stone fortunately saved the day, and the Bridge survived another 71 years!
Above - Street plan, The borough of Southwark 1813, showing the borough water works built on the south bank. The triangle of land between High Street, Borough and Tooley Street is now occupied by London Bridge Railway Station - Courtesy Peter Roberts.
Above - This view looks North into the City, and shows the commuter laden London Bridge of 1831 [designed by Rennie], which eventually found its way to Arizona. At the City end on the left, is `Fishmongers Hall`, home to one of the City`s famous `Livery Companies` and on the right, stands `Adelaide House`, formerly a large Hotel, named in honour of King William IV`s consort Queen Adelaide. Now partly a Government Building, it completely blocks the view South from the Monument, down Fish Street Hill, to the River bank, and partially stands on the site of Old London Bridge, whose pavement[post 1760] passed through St Magnus Church tower!
In 1831 during the final demolition of the Old Bridge and Chapel [long since converted into shop premises], Peter de Colechurch`s remains were discovered by workmen who, not knowing of their importance, deposited them in the River Thames, and though his memory lives on as the name of a Tower block on the SE corner of today's Bridge, his remains are lost for ever!.
Left - Millenium Bridge 2003 - M.L.
Above - London Bridge 2003 - M.L.
A scale model of Old London Bridge is on display in St
Magnus Church, open week days.
Also see Tower Bridge here...
Visit The London Bridge Museum Website here...
A Celebration Concert
On the 26th of November 2009 the Trinity College of Music (Greenwich) gave a concert to celebrate the 800th anniversary of London Bridge at St. Magnus Church, London.
The Concert celebrated not just the 800th Anniversary of London Bridge, but also the often overlooked residents who over the centuries must have numbered thousands.
A Shopping Mall, before the Americas were even discovered, and then outmoded before making tea with sea water was found unpalatable. What were those Bostonites thinking? Warm the pot first!!
The music content for the Celebration was the same as that which would have entertained many of the Bridge community. Familiar to them all, it was the pop music of its day, from the quills of those renowned masters of composition also celebrating anniversaries in 2009, Henry Purcell and George Frederick Handel. Some of the latters pieces, were heard in the concert played on the in-house Jordan built, original swell organ. I hope the impressiveness of music from those composers thrilled you as much, as it must have done those who heard it for the very first time all those years ago.
To entertain, and interpret the quavers and semi-quavers for us, was The Early Music Faculty of Trinity College of Music, Greenwich, directed by Mr Sean Farrell, Head of Early Music.
If you attended the concert and would like to forward feedback to the organisers please Contact me here.