London Bridge

bridge of one kind or another has crossed the river Thames at London since Roman times. Remains of parts of the bridge and clues of Roman occupation has been found on the riverbed. At this time the bridge would have been made of wood. A wooden bridge possibly spanned the river through the Dark Ages but there are no clues to what it may have looked like. In 1014 the bridge was attacked by Ethelred II when he attempted to regain the throne from the Danes. With the help of Olaf of Norway the bridge was destroyed by pulling away the wooden piles. The bridge was obviously rebuilt as in 1066 William the Conqueror decided to not attempt a crossing of it and went all the way around via Berkhampstead and finally entered London from the north. In October or November of 1091 a storm, possibly a tornado, hit London and the south-east with such force that the bridge across the river was destroyed. Many houses were also destroyed.

After a fire in 1136, the reconstruction again in wood was undertaken by Peter of Colechurch. He then began the reconstruction across the river Thames this time in stone in 1176. The work to build the new bridge a few yards to the west of the old wooden one continued after Peter's death and ended in 1209. The stone bridge had nineteen stone arches and a drawbridge and was not very wide. Two carts could pass each other on the bridge with care. Each of the twenty gaps had their own name and varied greatly in size. Some of the gaps had water mills for grinding corn. Over time the foundations of the piers began to be eroded and so the piers were strengthened with wider constructions around the base, known as starlings. The gaps between the piers constricted the flow of the Thames creating a row of fast flowing rapids between them. Ships could not pass under the arches so goods had to be unloaded from ships on one side and reloaded onto new ships on the other.

On top of the bridge houses and shops were constructed running along both sides and near the centre a two-storey church was constructed.


London Bridge Reconstruction

With houses made of wood fire is always a danger and in 1212 a fire that started on the southern shore spread to the bridge. People who had crossed the bridge to either help putting out the fire or just to watch found themselves trapped when the fire lept over them and started burning at the north end. Boats tried to rescue the trapped from bridge but too many people tried to get of the boats and they were overturned.

Funding repairs to the bridge has been a problem since it was constructed. Taxes and rents raised on the bridge made it an important source of funds and King Henry III decided that these funds should go straight to the Crown rather than provide funds for repairs. King Henry also gave his wife the right to use the revenue from the bridge for her own needs. After many years of neglect a bad winter and ice around the base of the piers caused several arches to fall down. This was put right by Edward I who organised new taxes to be levied on the bridge from those crossing over it. The extra funds were used for much needed repairs. In 1426 the tower at the north end of the bridge with the drawbridge was rebuilt with a better drawbridge that could be raised to allow ships with their cargo to unload at Queenhithe Dock.

In 1450 London bridge was the centre of fighting during an uprising against the poor rule of King Henry VI. The rebels from Kent were led by Jack Cade. Cade had raised an army and threatened to burn down the bridge unless it was opened to him. The drawbridge was lowered and the rebels gained entry to the city. After killing those of importance they found the rebels returned to the south side of the bridge. They had taken the precaution of cutting the drawbridge ropes to prevent it being raised and trapping them on the bridge. But Lord Scales, the Constable of the Tower and his men attacked the rebels during the night. After a night of fighting a truce was declared. Cade agreed to return to Kent and not cause any more trouble in return for a pardon. But this agreement was ignored by the King's men and many rebels were killed including Cade a few days later.

YearMonthEvent
1014   London Bridge destroyed
 An attempt was made by Ethelred II to take back his throne from the Danes. He was assisted by Olaf of Norway and sailed up the Thames to London. The tactic was to destroy the wooden bridge and so divide the Danish army. The bridge was heavily defended and so by using rafts with coverings to protect those onboard Ethelred's men were able to get close enough to place ropes around the bridge piles. Then by rowing back down stream they managed to pull the piles from the riverbed and sections of the bridge fell down.[1]

Episode: Viking Invasions  
1091   Violent storm hits London
 London was hit by a terrible storm, possibly a tornado. Damage was done to the Tower of London, the old wooden London Bridge and many churches and buildings. 
1098 Feb 13  London Bridge washed away
 London Bridge was washed away by a flood in this year.[2] 
1114 Oct 10  Tide fails on theThames
 A strange event took place in London where the tide went out and did not return for twenty-four hours. People were able to cross the river by wading across rather than using the bridge.[1] 
1136   London Bridge damaged by fire
 The old wooden London Bridge across the Thames was destroyed by fire this year or in 1135. Note that St. Paul's was also damaged so the fire must have affected a large area of the city. The work was undertaken by Peter of Colechurch who would later undertake its reconstruction in stone.[3] 
1176   Work begins on new London Bridge
 Peter de Colechurch began the construction of a new London Bridge across the Thames, replacing the old wooden structure that had been destroyed by fire in 1136. The new bridge was built of stone and took until 1209 to complete.[3] 
1212   A Great fire of London
 Fire broke out on the southern shore of the River Thames and crossed the river starting more fires on the northern shore. Many people were killed. Boats tried to rescue people trapped on London Bridge but the boats became overloaded and many drowned. This appears to be a big a disaster as the fire of 1666.[4] 
1264 May 14  Battle of Lewes
 Simon de Montfort surprises Henry III and Edward (I), with early movements of his troops on the hills above the castle. Henry and Richard of Cornwall defend the centre and left of the castle, but Edward attacks the lighter armed Londoners to the right and forcing them to flee, follows them off the battle site. When he returns, he finds that Henry is trapped in the priory and gives himself up in exchange for his father's release. After the battle Simon de Montfort marched on London but the drawbridge on London Bridge had been raised by the Lord Mayor. But Simon had the support of the Londoners who managed to lower the drawbridge allowing Simon into the city,[1]

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
1269   Eleanor of Provance and London Bridge
 Henry III granted to his wife Eleanor the revenues from the taxes and rent taken from London Bridge. Originally the money raised on the bridge were supposed to pay for repairs to the structure. With no money to spend on the upkeep of the bridge it began to fall into disrepair. This event may have been the source of the nursery rhyme 'London Bridge is falling down'. 
1282   Five arches of London Bridge collapse
 A very cold winter caused ice and snow to form around the piers of London Bridge. The pressure of the ice caused five arches to collapse. King Edward I made sure that extra taxes were raised from people crossing the bridge to provide for its repairs.[1] 
1384   Chapel on London Bridge
 A chapel dedicated to St. Thomas was constructed on London Bridge. The architect was Henry Yevele.[5] 
1390 Apr 23  A joust on London Bridge
 A matter of honour between the English Ambassador to Scotland, Lord Wells, and Sir David de Lindsay, a Scottish knight was settled by the two men taking part in a joust on London Bridge. As relations with Scotland were not good, a safe-conduct order was given so that the knight could travel down to London. The joust took part in front of Richard II himself. After the first two runs neither man had the advantage, but in the third Lord Wells fell from his horse and was injured. The Scottish knight jumped from his horse and tended to Wells much to the delight of the crowd.[1] 
1426   London Bridge rebuilding work
 Construction work was carried out on London Bridge. The tower at the north end of the bridge with the drawbridge was rebuilt with a better drawbridge that could be raised to allow ships with their cargo to unload at Queenhithe Dock further up the river.[1] 
1428   Danger of passing beneath London Bridge
 The Duke of Norfolk was involved in a boating disaster as he passed beneath London Bridge. His barge hit one of the starlings and wrecked. He and several others managed to jump onto the base of the pier but many others were not so fortunate and were swept away.[1] 
1437 Jan 14  London Bridge section collapse
 The base of the Great Stone Gate as the southern end of London Bridge gave way and the whole tower collapsed taking several arches with it. This cut off the Southwark from the rest of the City.[1] 
1450 Summer  Matthew Gough made Captain of the Tower
 On his return from Normandy Matthew Gough was made Captain of the Tower of London. Gough was killed in the fighting with Jack Cade and the rebels on London Bridge soon afterwards.[6] 
Early Modern Period (1500-1800)
1559   Water mills built under London Bridge
 The River Thames was so constricted as it flowed each way between the piers of London Bridge that is was decided to place water mills under the arches to provide power for machinary. A pump was installed by a German or Dutch engineer called Peter Maurice (Morice) that pumped clean water to the higher points of the city.[1] 
1633 Feb  London Bridge Fire
 A fire broke out one night in February at the north end of London Bridge. Many of the houses on that end of the bridge were destroyed. The southern end of the bridge was saved because of a gap in the buildings near the chapel. As the tide was out at the time it was hours before the flames were brought under control and days before the last embers went out.[1] 

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