London Bridge Fragment
London Bridge Fragment
The London Bridge has been an iconic structure in film, literature, and perhaps most notably, in nursery rhyme. However its history is more complicated than we often realize. There is no singular London bridge in history, but rather a series of different constructions that date back to the Roman occupation, before the city itself was even recognized.
This specimen is a fragment of the New London Bridge, a construction that lasted from 1831 to 1971. Each fragment is encased in a gem jar inside a handsome display case. An informational card which serves as certificate of authenticity is also included.
A Piece of London History
The original London Bridge was not built in London, but rather London was built around the bridge. When the Romans were occupying Britain, Londinium was settled around a key crossing point of the Thames.
Many smaller bridges were built and destroyed over time, but in 1209 a more permanent structure was built which we now call the Old London Bridge. This too was eventually supplanted by the New London Bridge in the 19thcentury, and in turn by the current version in the 1970s.
This specimen is from the New London Bridge, completed in 1831 and designed by celebrated civil engineer John Rennie. This bridge measured 928 feet across and was supported by five stone arches. In 1971, this bridge was decommissioned and actually sold to an American industrialist, who relocated it to Arizona.
This bridge was built with granite and the pattern of this rock can be seen in the specimen cross sections. These pieces once sat in the historic River Thames, and can now be a part of your personal collection. They date all the way back to the Victorian era, when the bridge was constructed.
Each specimen is enclosed in a handsome, glass-topped riker box case measuring 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". A small information card which serves as the authenticity statement is also included.
📸 Photograph of the New London Bridge taken at the turn of the 20th century (Library of Congress)
MORE ABOUT THE LONDON BRIDGE
📸 An engraving of the Old London bridge in 1616. Note the pleasant severed heads in the bottom right. (Claes Visscher)
One Name. Many Bridges.
Today the London Bridge is a massive concrete structure that carries five lanes of traffic across the width of the Thames. But this is only the most recent in a long line of bridges that have carried that name. The London Bridge is not any one structure, it’s an idea that evolves and changes along with the city it rests in.
The London Bridges were not built in London, but rather London was built around its bridges. When the Romans were occupying Britain, Londinium (as it was called then) was settled specifically because the Thames was easiest to cross there. These bridges were modest wooden affairs that facilitated trade during the Roman occupation.
The Middle Ages also saw a series of bridges built and destroyed during the various battles and conquests of the era. Only in 1209 was a more permanent structure built, what we now call the Old London Bridge. This bridge was eventually supplanted by the New London Bridge in the 19th century, and in turn by the current version in the 1970s.
📸 New London Bridge under construction (William Henry Kearney, 1826)
The "New" London Bridge
This specimen is from the New London Bridge, completed in 1831 and designed by celebrated civil engineer John Rennie. Though it's called the "new" bridge, it is actually quite old itself. The so-called New London Bridge opened in 1831 and was replaced in 1971 by a modern construction.
Rennie was originally consulted by the city to see about renovating the Old London Bridge, but he found it beyond repair and recommended its destruction. Rennie drew up plans for a new iteration, but died soon after authorization was given for the bridge.
A competition was held for a design for the bridge, but ultimately Rennie’s plan was selected. Construction on the New London Bridge began in 1824 and lasted six years, with work supervised by Rennie’s sons. This bridge measured 928 feet across, supported by five stone arches.
📸 The New London Bridge in 1927
The New London bridge was a purely functional construction. The previous bridge had been home to a collection of houses that straddled the edge of the structure, a neighborhood of London onto itself.
This new iteration was more utilitarian, simply for the ferrying of traffic across the river, from the horse drawn carriages of the wealthy to the pedestrian movements of the common people. It connected the city’s historic center to the poorer Southwark borough.
📸 The New London Bridge where it stands today, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA
Crossing the Atlantic
As time wore on into the 20th century, the New London Bridge slowly began to sink into the Thames, burdened by the weight of modern traffic demands. Yet another version of the bridge would need to be built. But what to do about the current iteration? In a bizarre historical episode, the New London Bridge was sold to US industrialist Robert McCulloch to be disassembled and rebuilt... in Arizona.
Robert McCulloch was a chainsaw magnate and land developer who founded Lake Havasu City in 1958 as a company town for his business. His purchase of the New London Bridge was a stunt to bring attention to the newly built city.
At a cost of nearly 10 million dollars, McCulloch had the bridge disassembled in London, shipped through the Panama Canal to California, and then driven to Arizona, where the numbered bricks were reassembled into their original configuration. The bridge still stands today, where it’s a hot spot for tourism.
The London Bridge has been memorialized in classic literature, film, and nursery rhymes. Perhaps one day, the current London Bridge will have to be replaced, just as it replaced the bridge before it. It’s a symbol of how London adapts and changes, how few cities are ever quite finished being built.
Front of the Specimen Card
Back of the Specimen Card
Brown DJ. Bridges. Macmillan; 1993.
Gerhold, Dorian. London Bridge and Its Houses, c 1209-1761. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2021. Print.
Graves B. London Bridge. Trailer Life. 2006;66(1):98-98,97.
Karwatka, D. (2013, 04). John Rennie and the London bridge. Tech Directions, 72, 10-11.
Milne, Gustav. “Further Evidence for Roman London Bridge?” Britannia, vol. 13, 1982, pp. 271–276.