February 21, 2018

London Bridge through the Ages

The London Bridge has been at the heart of the English capital for its entire history, playing a vital role in linking the north and south banks of the River Thames. There has not only been one London Bridge, however.  The name has referred to a number of very different structures over the ages.


London as a major metropolis came into being after the Roman invasion in AD 43. Although trade along the Thames was by then well established, it was the invaders who first bridged it, probably with a pontoon bridge of the sort used by troops. The first permanent, substantial London Bridge appeared a little over a decade later, but this wooden edifice was destroyed during the revolt led by Boudica in AD 60. Once the rebellion had been put down, the London Bridge was rebuilt.  This cross-river link helped to confirm London as the capital of the Roman province of Britannia.

Medieval times

When the Roman legions departed from Britain, around AD 410, the engineering skills required to maintain the London Bridge went with them and the bridge gradually decayed until late Saxon times. During this period and the first century of Norman rule, the London Bridge was rebuilt several times after destruction resulting both from military action and natural causes, such as the tornado of 1091. The final structure from this period, originally ordered by Henry II, was finished in 1209. This timber bridge survived for 600 years and, at its height during the Tudor period, boasted 200 shops along its 800-foot length.

London Bridge at night London England

London Bridge Illuminated by burge5000

The 19th century bridge

By the 19th century, it was clear that the ancient bridge was inadequate for the much larger London of the Industrial Revolution. In 1831, the new five-arched stone bridge was opened and the medieval bridge was then demolished. Although the new London Bridge had more capacity than the one it replaced, as the city continued to grow, it in turn became overcrowded. By the turn of the 20th century, the London Bridge was the single worst point of congestion in the entire capital.  In fact, the sheer weight of vehicles crossing it every day lead to the foundation beginning to sink.

London Bridge today

Despite its flaws, it took until the second half of the 20th century for this London Bridge to be replaced. Famously, it was purchased by an American businessman, who had it shipped in pieces to the US and reassembled in Arizona. The replacement bridge, the one that stands today, was opened by the Queen in 1973. This is a straightforward concrete box girder bridge, which does not have the elegance of some of its predecessors but is able to stand up to the high demands of 21st-century traffic.

The many visitors who stay in London Bridge hotels today may well pass over the bridge regularly without ever realizing the two millennia of history behind this Thames crossing!


Have you crossed the London Bridge without realizing its history?


This article was brought to you by Mercure hotels.

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  1. Yes, I did, Debbie. I love bridges but it was only after I started writing about travel that I started reading up on them. Thanks for this info.
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Goodbye, Sandy. So Glad You’re Gone!

  2. Yes, i did cross the bridge several time without realizing it’s history. Thanks for the history lesson. Who knows that a bridge can have that interesting history.
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates.com recently posted..Meteora: Monasteries in the Sky

  3. Such interesting history! I’ve seen the original one in Lake Havasu and it wasn’t as large as I expected. This one is pretty all lit up at night.
    Mary @ The World Is A Book recently posted..Strolling through New York City’s Central Park

  4. Interesting history. The bridge is so pretty when it’s lit up at night. It’s funny how many people think that Tower Bridge is actually London Bridge. I love all of the bridges in London, one of my favorite cities.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Flavors of Catalonia

  5. I’ve seen the original London Bridge that’s now in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It still amazes me that someone purchased it from England and transported it all the way to the American Southwest!
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..National Cruise Vacation Week 2012

  6. Marlys says:

    Many folks still mistake the Tower Bridge to be the London Bridge of that nursery song. It might as well be because it’s the more picturesque one.
    Marlys recently posted..The Back Alleys of Antibes

  7. Steve says:

    So at what point do we start singing “London Bridge is falling down…”? Does the song have any relation to the bridge sinking or are those things completely separate? Very interesting recap of the bridge’s history.
    Steve recently posted..Taking Your Kids to the Vegas Buffets

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      Well you can start singing at anytime! But I don’t the origins of the song. . . it would be interesting to find out though.

  8. Leigh says:

    Very interesting chronological discussion of the bridge. I have a terrible grasp of British history though I find this is fascinating stuff. I would have loved to see the bridge back in the day when it was made of timber and covered in stores.
    Leigh recently posted..Kayaking to Sidney Spit in the Gulf Islands NP Preserve

  9. I’ve walked past those bridges so many times, but never thought much about their history. Thanks for the write up.
    Italian Notes recently posted..Before fame came to Bernalda

  10. Denise L says:

    The picture in your post is actually Tower Bridge. London Bridge is very plain in comparison. But an interesting post on London Bridge nonetheless.

    • Debbie Beardsley says:

      And that is why you should always confirm pictures included in a sponsored post! Thanks for the heads up. It was an interesting bit of history.

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