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What is London Bridge?

By Deborah Walker
Updated May 17, 2024
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One variation of London Bridge or another has spanned the River Thames in Britain's capital city for over 2,000 years. Today's steel and concrete bridge connects the City of London and Southwark in central London. It was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996. The history of London Bridge is fascinating, with many twists, turns, and plenty of intrigue. Rennie's bridge, built in the 1800s, was sold to an American oil company and taken to Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

The modern bridge sits between the Cannon Street Railway Bridge and the Tower Bridge. Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge Station are on the south end of the bridge. The Monument to the Great Fire of London and the Monument tube station are on the north end. The bridge acts as the western edge of the Pool of London.

In 52 AD, the Romans built the first timber bridge at Londinium, present day London. Queen Boudicea and her army burnt the entire town to the ground in 60 AD. The Romans rebuilt the wooden bridge in 80 AD. Within the next ten years, a permanent bridge was built. In 407 AD, the Romans withdrew from London and took the bridge down. It was not until 842-872 AD that another bridge was built by the Anglo Saxons.

Through the years, the bridge was destroyed by fires and floods. Peter de Colechurch began building the first stone London Bridge circa 1176 and completed it in 1212. The bridge was 40 feet (12.1 m) wide; in 1201, after King John declared that houses and shops should be built on the bridge, it had only one lane in each direction that could be used for foot traffic, animals, and carts. In 1282, London Bridge's arches collapsed.

Beginning in 1305 and continuing until 1684, the heads of notorious Englishmen were displayed on the bridge. These included William Wallace, Jack Cade, and William Stanley. Perhaps the most famous heads displayed on London Bridge were those of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators, whose heads were summarily cut off after attempting to blow up the Parliament building in 1605.

The 1700s saw the introduction of tolls, fires, and the installation of waterwheels. In 1779, the last rental house contract expired, the tenant moved out, and the house was torn down. This made the bridge wider than it had been in centuries. Oddly, the first time the bridge was actually measured and drawn accurately was in 1799 by George Dance the Younger.

The cornerstone of John Rennie's London Bridge was laid on June 15, 1825. During construction, Peter de Colechurch's bones were found under the old bridge chapel. This may have started rumors that each bridge had the bones of a human sacrifice built into it; no evidence of this has been found in any of the reconstructions. In 1839, London Bridge Station opened and the people started to use the bridge to get into the city.

In 1967, the London Bridge Act was passed and construction began on a new bridge. The old bridge was disassembled and sent to Lake Havasu City. There it was reassembled, dedicated in October 1971, and still stands today.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Jan 31, 2014

Does anyone remember the old children's song "London Bridge is Falling Down?" We used to sing it and play the game that went along with it here in the states when I was growing up. When I went to college, my roommate, who was from England had never heard of the song or the game.

By Sporkasia — On Jan 30, 2014

Animandel - You are not alone in your lack of knowledge concerning London Bridge. I was not aware of the previous bridges that were in place before the structure we know as London Bridge today. And the Tower Bridge in London does get more attention from tourists than does the actual London Bridge, so I can understand how the two could be confused.

By Animandel — On Jan 30, 2014

For many years, I mistakenly thought the Tower Bridge in London was the bridge people were referring to when they spoke of the famous London Bridge. I didn't know there was a bridge named London Bridge. I thought the Tower Bridge was called that because it is in London. Needless to say, European history wasn't my best subject in school.

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