Yesterday in 1831, London Bridge was opened. This is a misleading statement because the bridge opened on that day was just one of several bridges referred to as London Bridge over the course of the history of London. Not only that but these London Bridges have often been confused with other more famous bridges, such as Tower Bridge. So here’s a run through of the history of London Bridge.
The first London Bridge was built by Henry II in order to memorialise famous Londoner Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been murdered 1170. Henry II built a chapel in the centre of the bridge which served as the starting point of the pilgrimage to Thomas Beckett’s shrine in Canterbury. The bridge was only finished in 1209 in the reign of King John.
The bridge was eight metres wide and was supported by 19 arches. A drawbridge allowed river traffic down the river and defensive gatehouses were erected at each end of the bridge. The bridge was full of buildings from the beginning and the king sold plots on the bridge to try to cover the costs of the construction.
Over time, London Bridge became increasingly crowded and unsafe with fire being the most common hazard. By the sixteenth century the buildings on the bridge reached up to seven stories high and hung over the river. It must have been the most spectacular sight and if I could go back to see a building from London’s past it would be that bridge.
By the eighteenth century, common sense and health and safety took control. Between 1758 and 1762, all of the buildings on the bridge were demolished and then in 1799 a competition was held to design a new London Bridge. John Rennie won with a design for a bridge with five stone arches and a new bridge was built 30 metres upstream of the old bridge, which continued to be used during the construction of the new bridge. The new London Bridge was opened in 1831 and the old bridge was finally demolished.
The new bridge was nearly twice as wide as the old bridge, which is amazing when you consider how much they managed to fit on the medieval bridge. By the turn of the century the bridge was the busiest in London and even had to be widened by 13 feet.
It was discovered that the bridge was sinking so need replacing and it was suggested that it should be sold. On 18 April 1968, Rennie’s bridge was sold to entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch of McCulloch Oil for US$2,460,000. There is a myth that he thought he was buying Tower Bridge, however this is untrue. The bridge was deconstructed stone by stone and rebuilt at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
A brand new bridge was built in the same location as the Victorian bridge by architect Lord Holford and engineers Mott, Hay and Anderson.It began construction in 1967 and was opened by the Queen on 17 March 1973.