London Bridge is the oldest bridge in the capital, connecting the City of London to Southwark. The Romans, who first arrived in 43BC, probably built the first bridge on this spot, but the rebellious Queen Boudicca destroyed it in 60 AD. The Romans rebuilt it, but the structure fell into disrepair when they left.
The earliest contemporary written reference to a Saxon bridge is in 1016, when it was by-passed by King Cnut‘s ships in his war to regain the throne from Edmund II “. The rebuilt Norman London Bridge was destroyed in 1091 by a storm known as the London Tornado. The repair or replacement of this was carried out by William II along with works at the new St Paul’s Cathedral and the development of the Tower of London. The bridge was destroyed yet again, this time by fire, in 1136.
The first really substantial structure took 33 years to build and was completed in 1209. With 19 narrow arches, supporting over 200 houses and shops, it provided a busy and congested thoroughfare into the city. Houses on the bridge were burnt during Wat Tyler‘s Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 and Jack Cade‘s rebellion in 1450, during which a pitched battle was fought from end to end. In 1390, a joust took place on the bridge between Lord Welles and Sir David De Lindsay, a Scots knight, who had quarrelled over the valour of their respective countrymen. De Lindsay was the victor and was later made ambassador to England.
The southern gatehouse to the bridge featured spikes on which the severed heads of traitors were displayed. These were dipped in tar to preserve them. The first to achieve this celebrity status was William Wallace in 1305, while others included Thomas More in 1535, Bishop John Fisher in the same year, and Thomas Cromwell in 1540. In 1598 a German visitor to London Paul Hentzner counted over 30 heads on the bridge.
In 1722, congestion was becoming so serious that the Lord Mayor decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the said bridge: and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the said bridge”. This has been suggested as one possible origin for the practice of traffic in Britain driving on the left.
Amazingly this early medieval bridge, narrow and congested as it was, survived for over 600 years, only being replace in 1831. This new 19th century bridge, however, began to sink, and in 1968 was sold to the entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch for US$2,460,000. The bridge was then dismantled, reconstructed at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and re-dedicated on 10 October 1971. It is now the centrepiece of an “English” theme park, complete with a Tudor period shopping mall, and has become Arizona’s second-biggest tourist attraction, after the Grand Canyon.
The current London Bridge was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 March 1973. It shows no signs of falling down yet, despite the fact that In 1984, the British warship HMS Jupiter collided with it, causing extensive damage.