This month marks the 187 years since the opening of “new” London Bridge – the first bridge built over the Thames in London for more than 600 years.

Designed by John Rennie (who had won a competition, beating the likes of Thomas Telford for the honour), work on the new granite bridge had began in 1825 and was completed in 1831.

It was constructed alongside the medieval bridge which had been first completed in the 13th century and added to over the years since (and was eventually completely demolished after the opening of the ‘new’ bridge).

The ‘new’ bridge, said to have cost £506,000 to construct, was formally opened by King William IV on 1st August, 1831, in an event described by The Times as “the most splendid spectacle that has been witnessed on the Thames for many years”.

The royal party – which included Queen Adelaide – had approached the bridge, lined with flags for the occasion, after setting off from Somerset House amid cheering described as “almost deafening” (to add to cacophony of sound, church bells were rung and cannon fired throughout the day).

Watched by thousands of onlookers (who were entertained by bands at various locations), the royal party had processed their way downstream on the river to the bridge with the royal bargemen wearing new livery specially designed for the occasion. Two parallel lines of rivercraft – including barges and steamers – had gathered along the river to provide a sort of honour guard and ensure they had clear passage.

The royals arrived at the bridge at 4pm and the royal party made their way up red carpeted stairs to the bridge’s City end. Following a short ceremony in which the King was presented by the Lord Mayor of London with the sword and keys to the City of London as well as a specially made gold medal to mark the occasion, their Majesties then walked across from the across the bridge to the Southwark end where entertainments had included the ascension of a hot air balloon.

The King and the royal party then returned to the City end of the bridge to attend a banquet – guests were said to number 1,500 people – held under a pavilion erected atop the new structure.

The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that food was provided by a coffee house proprietor, a Mr Leech, and was said to include 150 hams and tongues, 370 “dishes of chickens”, and 300 turtles as well as 200 fruit tarts and 300 “ice-creams”.

The King and royal party then returned up the river.

Rennie’s bridge was replaced in the mid-20th century with another bridge which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973 and rather than being demolished, was sold to US oil magnate Robert P McCulloch who had it dismantled and shipped to Arizona where it was reconstructed at Lake Havasu City where it can now be seen.

A couple of sections of the bridge survive in London – two of its pedestrian alcoves, one of which can be found in Victoria Park in London’s east and the other at King’s College London.

There is a famous painting – Clarkson Stanfield’s, The Opening of New London Bridge, 1 August 1831 – which captures the moment of the bridge’s opening and is part of the Royal Collection.

PICTURES: Top – ‘A View of the New London Bridge as It Appeared on the 1st August 1831, When Opened by His Majesty, King William the 4th’, Unknown artist, Lithograph on paper, Photo © Tate (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)); Right – The alcove in Victoria Park (Public Domain).

London-Bridge2

The current London Bridge, which spans the River Thames linking Southwark to the City, is just the latest in several incarnations of a bridge which originally dates back to Roman times.

This week, we’re focusing on first stone bridge to be built on the site. Constructed over a period of some 33 years, it was only completed in 1209 during the reign of King John, some six years before the signing of the Magna Carta.

Construction on the bridge began in 1176, only 13 years after the construction of an earlier wooden bridge on the site (the latest of numerous wooden bridges built on the site, it had apparently built of elm under the direction of Peter de Colechurch, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, a now long-gone church in Cheapside).

It was the priest-architect de Colechurch who was also responsible for building the new bridge of stone, apparently on the orders of King Henry II. While many of the wealthy, including Richard of Dover, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave funds for the construction of the bridge, a tax was also levied on wool, undressed sheepskins and leather to provide the necessary monies – the latter led to the phrase that London Bridge was “built upon woolpacks”. King John, meanwhile, had decreed in 1201 that the rents from several homes on the bridge would be used to repair it into perpetuity.

The bridge, which featured 20 arches – a new one built every 18 months or so, was apparently constructed on wooden piles driven into the river bed at low water with the piers of Kentish ragstone set on top. It was dangerous work and it’s been estimated that as many as 200 men may have died during its construction.

The bridge was almost completely lined with buildings on both sides of the narrow central street. These included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas á Becket – a stopping point for pilgrims heading to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury, as well as shops and residences (although, apart from the chapel, we know little about the original buildings). There was also a drawbridge toward the southern end and the Great Stone Gate guarding the entrance from Southwark.

Peter de Colechurch died in 1205, before the bridge was completed. He was buried in the undercroft of the chapel on the bridge.

Three men subsequently took on the task of completing the bridge – William de Almaine, Benedict Botewrite and Serle le Mercer who would go on to be a three time Lord Mayor of London. All three were later bridge wardens, the City officials charged with the daily running of the bridge itself.

One of key events on the bridge in the years immediately after its completion was the arrival of Louis, the Dauphin of France, in May, 1216. Louis had been invited to depose John by the rebellious barons after the agreement sealed at Runnymede fell apart and in 1216, he and his men marched over London Bridge on their way to St Paul’s Cathedral. (We’ll deal with this in more detail in a later post).

What became known as ‘Old London Bridge’, which stood in line with Fish Street Hill, survived the Great Fire of 1666, albeit badly damaged, but was eventually replaced with a new bridge, known, unsurprisingly as ‘New London Bridge’, which opened in 1831. Designed by John Rennie, this bridge was later replaced by one which opened in 1971 (Rennie’s bridge was sold off and now stands in Lake Havasu City, Arizona).

For a detailed history of Old London Bridge, check out Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe.

Waterloo-Bridge

Given the recent commemorations surrounding the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (including a re-enactment of the arrival of news of Wellington’s victory in London where it was delivered to the Prince Regent), we thought it only fitting to take a look at the use of the name in London.

The name Waterloo, which now refers to a district in Lambeth centred on Waterloo Station, was first used to designate the bridge which crosses the Thames here.

Opened in 1817 as a toll bridge, the John Rennie-designed structure was known as Strand Bridge during its construction but renamed Waterloo at its opening two years after the battle. (Rennie’s bridge was later demolished and rebuilt in the 20th century – the current bridge is pictured above).

The name was also used to designate Waterloo Road and in the early 1820s was given to the church St John’s Waterloo (now St John’s and St Andrew’s at Waterloo) located on the road.

In 1848, Waterloo Station opened and it was after this that the surrounding district, known in past ages for its swampiness (hence streets like Lower Marsh), generally became known as Waterloo.

Landmarks in the Waterloo district include the historic Old Vic Theatre, which opened in 1818, and the Young Vic Theatre as well as the Lower Marsh Market.

On 3rd July, Waterloo will host the Waterloo Carnival with a picnic on Waterloo Millennium Green and a procession (for more on that, see www.waterlooquarter.org/news/come-and-support-this-years-waterloo-carnival) while the month-long Waterloo Food Festival kicks on on 1st July. For more on events in Waterloo commemorating bicentenary, see www.wearewaterloo.co.uk/waterloo200/.

Seven of London’s bridges are being lit up at night until 10th September in an initiative called “Dazzle”. Being run under the Mayor of London Presents program, it celebrates the 50 evenings of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Here’s just a sample of what you can see…

The most iconic of London’s bridges, Tower Bridge has been a focal point for Olympic celebrations. One of the great structures of Victorian London, it was opened in 1894 and at the time was largest bascule bridge ever built (for more on Tower Bridge, see our earlier post here).

The most recent version of London Bridge, this links Borough High Street in Southwark (you can see Southwark Cathedral in the background) and King William Street in the City and was built in the late 1960s/early 1970s and opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. There have been bridges in this vicinity since as far back as Roman times (for more on the history of London Bridge, see our earlier post here).

The current Southwark Bridge – which links the City of London with the heart of Southwark – dates from 1921 and replaced an earlier bridge designed by John Rennie.

Initially plaqued by the wobbles, the steel suspension walk bridge known as Millennium Bridge is the newest of the bridges that cross the Thames in central London, linking St Paul’s Cathedral on the north bank with the Tate Modern on the south (the looming bulk of which is pictured here). First opened in July 2000, it was closed after concerns over its movement and then reopened to the public in 2002.

Other bridges taking part in Dazzle but not shown here include the Golden Jubilee footbridges, Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge.

For more on the program, see www.molpresents.com/dazzle.

PICTURES: All images courtesy of the City of London Corporation.