London Bridge

London Bridge
   Extends across the River Thames from Adelaide Place and King William Street to High Street, Southwark. Architect, J. Rennie.
   Erected 1824-31. Opened by King William IV. in 1831.
   It is made of granite, with 5 elliptical arches (Gent. Mag. Lib. XV. p. 318), and was erected 180 ft. west of the old bridge, which extended from Fish Street Hill and St. Magnus Church, and which was left in position until the new bridge was ready for use.
   The site of the old timber bridge is said to have lain still further east, and to have extended across the river from Botolph's wharf (S. 23, 18), but the ancient foundations discovered about 1830 during the construction of the new bridge tend to discountenance this theory and to place the timber bridge on the same site as the old stone bridge.
   The earliest mention of a bridge over the river is contained in a charter of King Edgar's time 963-975, in which mention is made of the drowning of a woman "at Lundene brigce" (Kemble, Cod. Dip. III. dxci.).
   In the Laws of King Ethelred provision is made for the tolls to be exacted from vessels coming "ad pontem" (Thorpe, Anc. Laws and Inst. I. 300).
   It is also referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the date 1013, when Swein besieged London and many of his men were drowned in the Thames "because they regarded not the bridge" (Thorpe, I. 271, and II. 119).
   In the "Heimskringla " II. 264, about 1010-12, the bridge is described as so broad that two waggons could pass each other on it ; it had towers and parapets, and was supported by piles driven into the bottom of the River.
   In 1097 the bridge was so severely damaged by storms that it was "almost dispersed by the flood" (Thorpe, Ang.-Sax. Chron. II. 202), "paene totus fractus" (Ann. de Waverley, p. 207).
   It was, however, speedily rebuilt, and is referred to in 1114 at the time of the great ebb-tide, when men could walk and ride over the river to the east of the bridge (Thorpe, Ang.-Sax. Chr. II. 212).
   The bridge was destroyed by fire in 1135 (Ann. de Berm.) and (Lib. de Antiq. Leg. p. 197) and new made 1163 (S. 23).
   In 1176 the stone bridge was commenced by Peter, Chaplain of Colechurch (Ann. de Wav.) and took 33 years to build, being completed in 1209 (ib.).
   It was built on 20 piers, including the drawbridge, the largest span being 25-34 ft. thick (Gent. Mag. Lib. XV. 301).
   Besides the Bridge Gate and the Chapel of St. Thomas erected on it, there seem to have been other buildings and houses, for in 1213, not many years after its completion, a fire broke out in the church of St. Mary Overy, Southwark, which extended across the Bridge, destroying three of the arches, the Chapel "et omnes domus supra pontem" (Annales Londoniensis, I. p. 15).
   The date of this fire is sometimes given as 1211 (Chron. Mayors and Sheriffs, p. 3).
   The Bridge seems always to have been a costly structure to maintain, partly on account of the storms and fires that desolated it from time to time, and partly on account of the weight of the buildings erected on it. From early times rents and lands were appropriated for its repair and upkeep (Anc. Deeds, D. 240, Ch. I. p.m. 20 Ed. I. 118), while the bequests made for this purpose by the citizens of London were surprisingly numerous and munificent (Ct. H. Wills). These gifts and bequests have assisted to form the property now known as the Bridge House Estate, and a list of the principal benefactions made to the work of the Bridge from the 12th century to 1675 is given in Welch's History of the Tower Bridge (p. 263).
   Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry III., was granted the custody of London Bridge 1265, after the battle of Evesham, and continued to enjoy the rents and lands for six years, during which time the bridge fell into disrepair. In 1271 it was restored to the citizens (Cal. L. Bk. C. p. 61 and note).
   In the Patent Rolls, 1265, the Bridge is said to be in the custody of the Hospital of St. Katherine (Cal. Pat. Rolls, H. III. 1265, p. 507) and was probably granted to the Hospital by the Queen.
   In 1281 it again suffered severely, five of its arches being broken down by the severity of the frost in that year (Ann. Lond. I. p. 89).
   In 1287 provision was made for the guarding of the City Gates, and guardians were appointed for the Bridge Gate, as well as for the others (Cal. L. Bk. A. 228), while, at an early period in its history, the management of the estates appertaining to the Bridge, together with its repair and maintenance, had been entrusted to Wardens specially elected for the purpose (See Letter-Books [not found]).
   The work of building on the Bridge seems to have been in progress at this time, mention being made in a Will of 1288-9 of houses and shops newly built on the Bridge (Ct. H.W. I. 86).
   In 1306 and several succeeding years the bequests for repairs are particularly numerous (Ct. H.W.) and suggest that extensive works were in progress at this time. In 5 H. VI. the tower on the drawbridge was commenced (Gregory's Chronicle, p. 162).
   The Bridge seems to have been again in a somewhat ruinous condition in 1435-7 (Cal. L. Bk. K. 191), as the Gate at the Southwark end fell down with two arches 1436-7 (Chr. of Lond, Kingsford, 142 and 311).
   By 1481, partly in consequence of the weight of the houses and buildings erected on it, which now formed a continuous street, it had become necessary to take stringent measures for the preservation of the structure, as it was found that great damage was done to the Drawbridge Tower and other arches and piers of the bridge by vibration occasioned by carts, etc., going over the bridge, and it was ordained in consequence that no "shod" carts should go over, and that the drawbridge should only be raised in times of real necessity, and not for vessels to pass under, as had been done previously (Cal. L. Bk. L. p. 180-1). It was further provided that Fishermen were not to cast their nets near the starlings or foundations, and that ships were not to be anchored near them or under the bridge (Cal. L. Bk. L. p. 180-1).
   It was no easy matter in those days to pass under the bridge, owing to the narrowness of the passage between the piers, and passengers frequently had recourse to the stairs near at hand to avoid the necessity of shooting the bridge (H. MSS. Com. 6th Rep. IV. 154).
   In 1503 the houses on the northern side of the bridge were burnt (Chr. of Lond., Kingsford, 260) and again in 1632. They were rebuilt by 1645, but were again destroyed in the Great Fire 1666 (Strype, ed. 1720, I. i. 56).
   Strype says that these houses were rebuilt very finely and formed a marked contrast to the old houses at the Southwark end, which remained in much the same condition as when originally erected (ib.).
   It had been in contemplation to rebuild also the houses at this southern end, but the increasing trade and importance of the City made the narrowness of the Bridge, caused by the encroachment of the houses over the roadway, a very serious inconvenience, and it was eventually decided to enlarge the passage of the Bridge by the removal of the houses 1757-8, this improvement being carried out in 1761.
   In 1759 the middle pier was also removed, leaving 19 arches, the span in the centre being 70 ft., with a width of 48 ft. In 1826-7 two other arches were removed, one on the northern and one on the southern side for the purpose of clearing the waterway, thus leaving only 17 openings.
   The bridge was finally demolished in 1831, when the new structure was opened for use (Gent. Mag. Lib. XV. 301-2).
   It is noteworthy that until the erection of Westminster Bridge in 1738 the old London Bridge was the only bridge over the Thames at London.
   Traitors' heads were exposed on London Bridge, first over the drawbridge as recorded in 1416 (Cal. L. Bk. I. 166) and later over the bridge gate at Southwark.
   The houses on the bridge were largely used as shops, and in 1632 mostly by haberdashers, hosiers, etc. (Gent. Mag. Lib. XV. 308-9).
   The largest and most highly decorated of the houses in later times was known as Non-such House, erected over the 7th or 8th arch from the Southwark end.
   The great water works (q.v.) were erected in 1582.
   The bridge had three openings over the three widest arches, called the navigable locks, one of which was blocked up by the fall of the arches in 1436-7 and was called the Rock Lock (Gent. Mag. Lib. I. 304).
   During the excavations for the new London Bridge in 1830-1, 20 ft. under the southern abutment of the land arch, a line of embankment formed of oak trees was found, apparently Roman (Arch. XXIV. 191, and XXV. 601), and a second embankment of elm piles 60 ft. north from the Thames (ib. XXV. 601). Roman and other coins, bronzes, etc., were found in the bed of the Thames during the progress of the work of the Bridge.

A Dictionary of London. . 1918.

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