Tuesday, 26 April 2005

Old London Bridge

"London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down..."
Have you ever wondered what the story is behind this well known nursery rhyme? Well, it may not be what you think.

Thoughts of London Bridge usually bring to mind Rennie's bridge, the London Bridge of the mid 1800s, which was sold to an American, dismantled and sent overseas bit by bit and put back together again. You would be justified for bringing to mind this bridge, with it's unusual history, but the one I am talking about has a much grander history.

The construction of Old London Bridge started in the year 1176. It took 33 years to build and was operational from 1209. It consisted of twenty arches and had on it buildings of 3 to 6 floors high, at various times. Yes, people actually lived on this bridge. There were houses, shops and stalls of all kinds - at one time 138 shops were counted on it. On the Southwalk-end side of the bridge the heads and quarters of traitors were prominently displayed on top of tall poles, no doubt as a warning to any new-comers entering the City from the Bridge. There was even a man who lived on the bridge, called the "Keeper of the Heads", who was responsible for re-arranging and adding to the gruesome spectacle. Old exhibits were thrown to the seagulls.

The most extraordinary thing about it is that it was in use for 622 years! There is no other bridge in the world that has been around for that long. It was almost like a fortress as its arches were so small that ships could not get past it and therefore gain access to the rest of the river. In 1831 a decision was made to replace it for a more modern bridge and so it was slowly demolished and replaced by Rennie's bridge. Hereby lie the origins of the famous London Bridge nursery rhyme.

The property on the bridge, as well as the tolls people had to pay to cross it, brought in much money over the years and since 1097 Bridge House Estates has accumulated so much money that it was able to fund the building of the rest of the bridges on the Thames. At present the Bridge House Fund has a portfolio of property worth well over £500 million.

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