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A bizarre vestige of the old bridge does and will remain, at least for another eight decades or so, in the form of stocks and shares. In 1581 Peter Morris bought a 500 year lease on waterwheels fixed to the old bridge. These were sold to Richard Soame in 1701 and even when water was no longer allowed to be drawn from the Thames his descendants were given shares in the New River Company which became the Metropolitan Water Board and is now Thames Water. The shares still carry dividends until the lease runs out in 2082
The bridge also still plays host to the traditional walking of a flock of sheep into the City, a right open to all who are Freemen of the City of London.
London bridge was famously preserved after being bought by the McCulloch
Oil Corporation of America (who came top of fifty bids). They shipped
10,246 pieces of stone across the Atlantic (it was imported as a 'large
antique') and had it re-erected, piece-by-piece, over a bit of Lake Havasu
in Arizona (originally over dry land with the water channelled through
later). This removal was a wonderful, if somewhat eccentric, feat of
organisation and engineering and, by way of a bonus, the ghosts of four
women in Victorian costume (allegedly seen on the bridge during the
dedication ceremony) made the trip over to the US as well. London
Bridge photographs copyright Steve Ibbs
London Bridge photographs copyright Steve Ibbs
The Roman city of Londinium was established in the first century AD and for much of the following 2000 years there was only one London Bridge. This was near the site of the current bridge which is close to where the Romans built their crossing over the Thames. The river had presented a barrier to their armies marching north and initially Celtic fords would have been used to cross it. The first Roman bridge was a temporary military structure replaced in AD120. The high ground of Cornhill and Tothill were a natural place to colonise, above the marshy floodplain of the river. The choice of crossing place would have been based on the narrowness of the channel, firmness of the ground on both sides of the water and quick access using the tide. A bridge allowed the Romans speedy access to both sides and provided a good defensive feature for their city. Had there not been a bridge built where it was then London itself would not exist in its current position.
What is referred to as Old London Bridge was completed in 1209 and took 33 years to build under the direction of Peter de Colechurch. It was 274 metres long with a 4 metre wide roadway that was supported by 19 piers. These were surrounded by starlings (boat shaped pilings) to help break the flow of the water and protect the piers. It also had a drawbridge (between the sixth and seventh piers coming from the south) that could be raised to make the city harder to attack. Traitors' heads were displayed on the bridge as a warning, a fact cheerfully commemorated by a giant white spike on the current bridge, some metres upstream. There were shops, houses and a chapel and the bridge was the scene of lavish celebrations, including jousting tournaments. The bridge maintained its defensive role but it was also part of the city not a just a means of crossing between two shores.
The construction of the current London Bridge took place from 1967 to 1972. The three span pre-stressed concrete bridge designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson was opened a year later. The concrete has been given a granite finish and the steel hand rails complete the slick appearance. It's 32 metres wide with traffic lanes and two footpaths and in a nice modern touch a heating system was built below the surface of the roadway and pavements to prevent freezing on the bridge. Worth noting as well is the odd coincidence that the cost of the bridge, at just over £4 million, was more or less the same as the cost of buying, transporting and re-erecting the Rennie Bridge in the US. It is a shame that something as famous as London Bridge should be reduced to something that from a distance resembles a suburban flyover. Beneath it on the north bank you do get a view of the rather elegant piers that flatter to deceive as the municipal product that rests on them fails to deliver any sense of grandeur.