OLD LONDON BRIDGE – A MEDIEVAL WONDER!

REBLOGGED FROM sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri 

London from Southwark, c.1630. Old London Bridge is in the right foreground and old St Paul's Cathedral on the skyline to the left. This is one of the few remaining pictures showing the city before the Great Fire. Oil on panel, Dutch School not signed orLondon from Southwark, c.1630. Old London Bridge is in the right foreground and Old St Paul’s Cathedral on the skyline to the left. 

Old London Bridge

Antiquated, in a run down state, and at 600 years old, the old bridge had reached its self by date and was demolished in 1832. Of course it was inevitable but at the same time, a place so steeped in history, surely a tragic loss. This bridge had seen some of the most momentous occasions in London’s history and there could have been few Londoners who had not crossed over at some time in their lives. It was the site of pageants, jousts, battles and even coronation processions.  It consisted of 19 arches of varying widths with piers supported on great starlings and crossing just over 900 feet of water. The Southwark end was protected by the Great Stonegate which had a portcullis which could be closed and barred.  At the seventh arch from the southern end was a functional drawbridge before the Drawbridge Gate, where a toll keeper collected tolls from passengers on the bridge and from ships which required the drawbridge to be raised.  It was upon Drawbridge Gate that the heads of traitors were displayed.

There had been many manifestations of the bridge prior to this particular one, among them a  wooden one which had been brought down by a tornado in 1091, but it is this particular one most people think of when Old London Bridge is mentioned. Designed by Peter de Colechurch, a priest, chaplain and architect, building work begun in 1176 and was commissioned by Henry II who was suffering pangs of guilt since the murder of his old friend Thomas Becket. To this end one of the first buildings on the bridge was a chapel dedicated to Thomas  – The Chapel of St Thomas the Martyr on the Bridge – and was the starting point for pilgrimages to Thomas’ shrine at Canterbury. This chapel was completed in 1209 and was in use until 1548 when it was dissolved and begun a new life as a dwelling place,  surveyers being instructed by the Common Council that  the chapel upon the same bridge ‘be defaced and be translated into a dwellyng-house with as moche spede as they convenyentlye may’. The upper story was demolished in 1747 when it continued in use as a warehouse until final demolition in 1832.

London Bridge over the River Thames as it appeared in 1209 before houses were built with St Thomas’ Chapel in the centre. Getty Images)
c1209 South side of the crypt. Getty Images

Peter de Colechurch died 4 years before the completion of the bridge and was buried in the crypt of St Thomas’ chapel (1).  Sadly nothing is known of what became of his bones after the demolition and it may be they were simply tossed aside or even  into the Thames itself.

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