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We grew up with the nursery rhyme:
“London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”
So when I visited London in 2017, on a girls’ trip with my sisters, mother and niece, I was surprised to discover that London Bridge isn’t the fanciest bridge crossing the Thames. However, it has a rich, interesting history.
Check out these fun facts about London Bridge! And plan to walk across this iconic landmark on your trip to beautiful London.
Many Versions of London Bridge
Many versions of London Bridge have spanned the Thames, beginning with the original Roman bridge, constructed from wood in 50 AD. Those early wooden structures fell prey to weather, fires and invading armies.
In 59 AD a piled bridge was constructed. The local Britons built a small trading settlement nearby, the town of Londinium. After the small town fell to invaders a year later, the Romans built a walled city. Some of the original wall remains today.
The first stones in a new bridge were set in this location in 1176. It took 33 years to complete the new stone bridge and it lasted for more than six centuries. This bridge boasted a width of 26 feet and a length of about 900 feet. Nineteen gothic arches, sunk into the river bed, supported the structure.
Houses Rested on the First Stone London Bridge
The new stone bridge featured a chapel at its center, a variety of shops, gates, a drawbridge, a mill with a waterwheel and houses that stood seven stories tall. The houses jutted out over the edges of the bridge and some nearly touched in the center, making the bridge more of a tunnel in places. The rent from those houses and shops funded construction and upkeep on the bridge.
One of London’s most notorious sights took place on the Stone Gateway at the southern end of the bridge. Severed heads of traitors decorated pikes stuck into the gate. The head of William Wallace (Braveheart) first appeared on the gate in 1305, starting a gruesome tradition that lasted 355 years.
A Bridge of Calamities
The bridge suffered many calamities. Fire broke out on both ends in 1212, trapping many people in the middle. In 1282, five of the nineteen arches collapsed, due to a build up of winter ice.
Houses on the bridge burned during Wat Tyler’s Peasant Revolt in 1381 and again during the Jack Cade rebellion in 1450. And a major fire destroyed a third of the bridge during the Great Fire of London in 1666.
By 1762, all the houses were removed and two arches in the middle replaced with one great arch. However, the burden of upkeep on the old bridge became too much. The city decided to replace the medieval bridge.
On June 15, 1825 construction began on a replacement bridge. Granite quarried from Dartmoor made for a sturdy bridge spanning five arches. Six years later, William IV and Queen Adelaide opened the new London Bridge and the old one came down.
London Bridge is Falling Down
In 1962, the granite bridge literally began falling down, sinking into the Thames. The structure could not adequately handle the increase in traffic across the bridge.
When the city once again decided to build a replacement bridge, the granite one went up for auction. Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City in Arizona, submitted the winning bid. After purchasing the bridge for $2,460,000, McCulloch spent another $7,000,000 to dismantle, move and reassemble the structure in Arizona. Today that old bridge is a popular tourist attraction in Lake Havasu City.
Current London Bridge
Queen Elizabeth II opened the current London Bridge, designed by Lord Holford, on March 17, 1973. The bridge contains three spans of prestressed concrete box girders. It is 928 feet long and cost 4 million pounds to build.
London Bridge is frequently featured in films and documentaries, most often shown with commuters streaming across on their way to work in the city.
Mistaken Structures – Tower Bridge
Two other bridges in London are often mistaken for London Bridge.
Tower Bridge, downstream from London Bridge, and considered the city’s defining landmark, boasts grand towers. As its name implies, this bridge spans the Thames near the Tower of London.
While London Bridge has many incarnations, Tower Bridge is the original structure, built in 1894. Watch for a future post on this gorgeous bridge.
Mistaken Bridges – Westminster Bridge
Many tourists mistake Westminster Bridge for London Bridge as well. This bridge is located near the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
The current 1862 bridge replaced an older version from 1750.
London Bridge became part of Queen Elizabeth II’s route during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames.
On June 3, 2017, London Bridge experienced a terrorist attack. A van rammed pedestrians on the bridge. Seven people died in this attack and a coordinated one in Borough Market. The presumed terrorists died as a result of police gunfire. Newly installed security barriers now protect pedestrians walking across the bridge.
As with any structure doused with centuries of history, ghosts inhabit London Bridge and the surrounding area. Impaled heads alone would leave some strong…and creepy…residual energy. There are also spooky tales of grave robbers, bandits, restless ladies of the night and former inmates from London’s oldest prison. Interestingly, the former bridge, now located in Lake Havasu City, claims London spirits as well.
Check out this London Bridge Ghost Tour.
Have You Visited London Bridge?
Is the magnificent city of London on your travel list?
There are SO many amazing sights and experiences waiting there for the adventure seeker. We loved our visit to this bustling city and I am looking forward to returning in the future.
On your visit, take time to walk or drive across one of London’s oldest bridges. Or better yet, catch a hop on/hop off bus. Sit back and enjoy the tour while a knowledgeable guide highlights points of interest.
If you’ve visited London, what fun did you experience?
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