An urban view — 19 February 2013

The first London Bridge was constructed by the Romans during their occupation of London around 50AD. It was probably a pontoon type giving a rapid overland shortcut to the Kentish ports, along the Roman Watling Street (the modern A2). After the Romans abandoned Londinium the bridge fell into disrepair as the River Thames marked the boundary between the Saxon Kingdoms of Marcia and Wessex nobody bothered to maintain the structure.

A later bridge was thought to have been destroyed by Norwegian Price Olaf in the service of Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred against the Danes. This act might have given rise to the nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down.

King John replaced an older bridge which had been destroyed by fire in 1136, all trace of the bridges prior to this date have been lost. Taking 33 years to build King John’s bridge boasted of having 7-storeys with shops below.

When this bridge was demolished in 1831 some features were sold off. Fourteen stone alcoves originally graced the bridge and four still survive. Two stand in Victoria Park, one stands in the grounds of Guys Hospital while the fourth, bizarrely ended up in the garden of a block of flats in East Sheen.


A coat of arms which was located above the bridge tollgate now can be seen above the door of the Kings Arms on Newcomen Street.

Kings Arms

In 1896 it was estimated that the bridge was the busiest point in London, with 8,000 people crossing the bridge by foot and 900 crossing in vehicles every hour. London Bridge was widened in 1902–04 from 52 to 65 feet, in an attempt to combat London’s chronic traffic congestion. A dozen of the granite ‘pillars’ quarried and dressed for this widening, but unused, still lie near Swelltor Quarry.

London Bridge Corbels

This bridge even after widening lasted barely a century when in the 1960’s it was decided to replace it. Instead of demolishing it one member of the body responsible for London’s bridges proposed that the bridge be sold.

Ivan Luckin – if ever a man needed to live up to the name – thought he could find someone to take the bridge off the City’s hands. This was not some 19th century granite monolith he argued; this bridge was the embodiment of London’s 2,000 year history.

Robert P. McCullock was building a city on the shores of Lake Havasu from scratch. The Colorado River had been dammed but the water at one end was in danger of going stagnant, he needed to redirect it by turning the peninsular obstructing the flow into an island, hence the need for a bridge.


McCulloch’s bridge was reconstructed around a concrete frame using the 1831 London Bridge’s stones as cladding. A few corbels from the Swelltor Quarry were sent as spares to America during this construction.

Not all the Rennie bridge made it to America. There is a piece of granite from the bridge behind the Duke of Wellington statue at Bank, commemorating his involvement with the London Bridge Approaches Act 1827.

Some pictures taken from The Great Wen by Peter Watts

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