Restoration & 18th-Century Studies in English at Western
UC Western Tower


London ca. 1676

London Bridge

One of the more popular seventeenth- and eighteenth-century tourist sites in London was London Bridge. Begun in 1176 and completed in 1209, it was lined on both sides by tall houses, with shops on the first floor; it replaced a wooden structure that had existed on more or less the same spot, with repairs and alterations, for a thousand years.



The houses themselves projected out over the water, and were supported by wooden beams beneath, and joined at the top by iron bars that spanned the width of the bridge and helped stabilize the buildings. Beneath these tie-bars, the roadway was only about 12 feet across, with the result that the bridge was always congested, and was a hazard for pedestrians; chain-ways that provided some protection for walkers from wheeled traffic existed at intervals along the bridge's length. Previous to the 1660s, traitors' heads (including that of Sir Thomas More) were stuck on pikes at, most usually, the Southwark end of the bridge; the last head exhibited in this manner was that of Thomas Venner, the Fifth Monarchist who was executed for his abortive revolt in 1661.

The bridge itself possessed 19 arches, and a small drawbridge (to let shipping through) at the south end. In practice, travelling by water under the bridge was terribly dangerous, as the piers channelled the river into narrow rushing gushes of white water that could easily overwhelm a small boat; drownings beneath the bridge by unlucky watermen and their passengers were frequent. The power of the onrushing river was, however, harnessed in more positive ways by a waterwheel that lay beneath one of the arches.

Despite the congestion on the bridge, all attempts to build a second bridge further upstream were frustrated for a great while by the influence of the City Corporation, which feared that a bridge into Westminster would cut into City profits, and by the thousands of watermen who made their living ferrying people across the river. Construction upon a second bridge across the Thames, Westminster Bridge, did not begin until 1739, and was not completed until 1750. London Bridge was itself repaired in 1757-59, at which time its shops were finally removed; this bridge lasted until 1832, when it was pulled down and replaced by a new one.

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Website administrator: Mark McDayter
Last updated: April 25, 2002