This year we’re launching a new regular edition to Exploring London in which we take a brief look at a moment in the city’s long and colourful history.
First up, we travel back exactly 1,000 years to 1014. The story – recorded in Viking Skaldic poetry but apparently not in Anglo-Saxon sources – goes that during the ongoing conflict between the Danes and Anglo-Saxons, the Danish had taken the city, occupying both the city proper and Southwark. At that stage, there was a timber bridge crossing the Thames.
Desperate to regain the city (the Viking ruler Sweyn died on 3rd February that year – this may have been why the attack was launched), the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred (known to history as ‘the Unready’) and his Norwegian Viking allies apparently under King Olaf II sailed up the Thames in a large flotilla.
Despite meeting fierce resistance from the Danish occupiers – they lined the bridge and attacked the invasion force with spears – the attackers, apparently using thatching stripped from the rooves of nearby houses to shield themselves, managed to get close enough to attach cables to the bridge’s piers and then pull the bridge down.
There’s much speculation that the song London Bridge is falling down was inspired by the incident but it, like much of this story itself, remains just that – conjecture (but it’s still a nice story!)
The bridge was subsequently rebuilt and King Æthelred died only two years later, on 23rd April, 2016. The crown passed to his son Edmund Ironside but he too died after ruling for less than a year before the Viking Canute was crowned king.
For more on the history of London Bridge, see our earlier posts Lost London – London Bridge and Lost London: Gates Special – The Stone Gate, London Bridge.
PICTURE: Not the original London Bridge