Building    From 1831  To 1967

London Bridge

Categories: Transport

Countries: USA

Four stone bridges have spanned the Thames at this point. The first was built in about 1210 and lasted right through the medieval period. This was the one that had the spikes and is shown in some detail on this map. The houses and shops on it were removed in 1760 and the roadway was widened. We've counted this as a second bridge but as far as we can tell this was more a "recladding" than a total demolish and rebuild job. This second design was by Sir Robert Taylor and George Dance the Younger and included 14 stone alcoves, four of which are known to survive: two in Victoria Park, one in a courtyard of Guys Hospital and one in the gardens of a 1930s block of flats, Courtlands, East Sheen. We've collected all of these - see our "Commemorated at" section on this page. See Hackneywick.blogspot for a picture of the bridge with these alcoves in situ. Note: alcoves were not unique to London Bridge: the old Westminster Bridge had some very similar ones (all apparently lost when that bridge was replaced in 1862) and the current Southwark Bridge, from 1912, has them.

It is said that it was here that the "keep left" rule of the road was first adopted, made necessary by the sheer weight of traffic. In the early 1800's it was clear that a replacement was needed. This, the third bridge, built a few yards upstream, was designed by John Rennie and finished by his son of the same name, opening 1 August 1831. To get an idea of what it looked like go see the Rennie bridge between the Serpentine and the Long Water - it is very similar. The Rennie London Bridge was widened in 1902-4.

By the 1960s the Rennie bridge was in its turn considered inadequate for the traffic and had to be replaced. Here's some footage of the old bridge being dismantled, brought to our attention by the magnificent Londonist. The elevational stonework was sold for $2,460,000 to the American entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch and re-erected over a canal in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA, in 1971. McCulloch strongly denied that he thought he was buying Tower Bridge.

Remnants of the two previous bridges (Taylor/Dance and Rennie) are scattered across London and the world - see our "Commemorated at" section on this page. One such remnant is declared on the Duke of Wellington inscription. Substantial parts of the arch, abutments and walls of the Rennie bridge are preserved as part of the fabric of the southern end of the current bridge, including the two large granite stair chambers at Nancy's Steps. There is also some of the original balustrading on the northern bank to the west, either side of Fishmongers' Hall. London My London used to have a list of various other scattered bits and pieces but that link is now dead. Londonist says "Woodberry estate near Stoke Newington. Rumour has it that the nearby flagstones are remnants of the Old London Bridge." And Ian Visits has visited Christ Church in the Isle of Dogs (built by William Cubitt, not the titled one) which may have parts of the Rennie bridge incorporated into its structure. Recently we found a huge lump of old worked stone which we think is probably a remnant, in St Thomas Street just east of the junction with Weston Street. 2016 Londonist has a whole post tracking down the remnants. 2017 Londonist tells of a bench atop "four granite slabs ... on the banks of the big lake near where the Sackler Crossing is now" in Kew Gardens.

The new, current, bridge was opened by the Queen on 15 March 1973.

2014: the BBC report on the sale at auction of a Victorian corkscrew made with parts from Old London Bridge.

2017: Londonist found some sections of the old medieval bridge - in the form of a chair on display in Fishmongers' Hall.

2019: A painting at the Guildhall had the following caption " {referring to the demolished medieval bridge} Much of the bridge was floated down the river to Greenhithe to be used to build Ingress Abbey. Other portions of it were shipped to Minster on the Isle of Sheppey, stone balustrades used on  Herne Bay pier ...".

2022: Building London blog 30: Old London Bridge: Part 1 and Part 2 are packed with information about this bridge, with lots of images and links to other sites that have done a thorough job locating the remains of the previous bridges. Also Stones of Old London Bridge at Beaumont Quay (owned by Guy's Hospital, this was developed in the 1830s, with stones from the medieval bridge).

2022: Lionel Wright, who is researching the bridge and all the incorrect information that there is about it, informed us that the Havasu Chamber of Commerce notes: "Construction of a new bridge over the River Thames coincided with the dismantling of the old London Bridge. The new bridge was built directly over the old bridge. this new construction was managed in such a way so that London never lost one day of traffic while transferring from the old bridge to the new one." This was possible because only external stones and fittings were removed and sent to Arizona. All the rest of the Rennie bridge remained. Lionel gave us this link to an interview with an engineer explaining how the new bridge was built while traffic, wheeled and on foot, continued to use it.

2022: Building London blog 47: London Bridge balustrade in Gilwell Park? has found another, possible, large fragment of the 1750s/60s bridge, a long balustrade. But MOLA disagree.

2022: Building London blog 48 reports on a number of London Bridge stones in Waltham Forest, marking the meridian line.

2023: Building London blog 61 points out that when the 1831 bridge was sold to the American, significant chunks were left behind: walls and stairs.

2023: Londonist brought this to our attention: The Special London Bridge Special, a 1972 TV movie lasting 48 mins, plus ads. It stars Tom Jones and Jennifer O'Neill with guest appearances from a rag-bag of talent of the era: The Carpenters, Rudolf Nureyev, Elliott Gould, Hermione Gingold, Chief Dan George - you get the idea. It feels longer than 48 minutes, but possibly that was just the ache in the jaw from being dropped for so long. Enjoy.

2023: Building London's post about the Haytor quarries includes: "Haytor granite was most famously used in the Rennie London Bridge, and it seems the quarry maybe have been opened with that in mind." And lists about 12 other iconic London buildings that used Haytor granite. Lots of photos.

2023: Building London's blog 67 about Merrivale Quarry says that granite was used for the 1902-4 widening of the Bridge and for the cladding and the polished parapets of the 1973 Bridge. The quarry played a role in the disposal of the Rennie Bridge. The numbered stones, were taken to Merrivale and reduced in thickness by up to 200mm. This reduced the costs of transportation but also means that the structure in America is a concrete bridge clad in a veneer of the original granite.

This section lists the memorials where the subject on this page is commemorated:
London Bridge

Commemorated ati

Borough Market Bell (1)

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall carried out the first ringing...

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Bridges - Montague Close

The pale palque between the two dark ones carries some near-illegible etching...

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Duke of Wellington statue - EC2

Unveiled in Wellington's presence, this is one of only a handful of statues i...

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Fish Street Hill plaque

First known as Brigge Street, then New Fishe Street, Fish Street Hill has bee...

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Frost Fairs

Our close-up photo shows one of the scenes depicted, this one being a market ...

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Show all 24

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C. Harman Wigan

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