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London Bridge: Where is it, really?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

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Ask the average person in London and he would reply that the London Bridge is over the Thames River connecting the city of London with Southwark and carries the A3 roadway. Most tourists (and some Londoners!) mistake the London Bridge with the London Tower Bridge. Most people believe that the true location of the London Bridge is the next bridge upstream from the London Tower Bridge. In this article, we explore how the true location of the London Bridge is really halfway across the globe!

This bridge was built and rebuilt several times throughout history. The first recorded activity of construction on this bridge dates back to 55AD, when the Romans built a piled bridge in the vicinity of the modern London Bridge. A piled bridge is a bridge that is fortified with long wooden poles that extend to the bottom of the river at an angle for support. A small Roman trading settlement was built adjacent to the bridge, called Londinium. For centuries during the Dark Ages, the bridge has been destroyed and rebuilt, then fell into disrepair and rebuilt again several times. At one point, it is believed that in 1014 the Norwegian prince Olaf assisted the Anglo-Saxons against the Danish invasion by splitting the Danish forces by destroying the bridge connecting them. This is believed to be the origin of the nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down.

During the Middle Ages, and more specifically in the 12th century, work on the London Bridge resumed. It consisted of several ports for river taxi boats. Houses and shops were built on the bridge. It soon became an entire village on its own with its own defensive walls on either shore. An entire irrigation and drainage system based on the flow of the Thames River was adopted by the London Bridge village. Traffic crossing the bridge, obviously, slowed down as a result of overcrowding on the bridge. The number of shops on the bridge soon swelled to over 200 shops. The houses and shops protruded outside the bridge by as much as 2 meters.

Over congestion on the bridge was a fire hazard and did indeed result in several fires over the centuries. The earliest recorded history of the fire was in 1212, where 3000 people perished in the fire. The last recorded incident of a fire erupted was in 1633, when a third of the bridge was destroyed. In 1756, the British parliament finally ruled that all shops and houses on the London Bridge to be demolished. The number of arches on the bridge was also reduced. This improved navigation both on and underneath the bridge.

By the turn of the 19th century, it was clear to many that the bridge needed to be replaced by a modern design altogether. In order to prevent disruption of traffic, the new bridge was built 30 meters upstream. Work began in 1824 and was completed in 1831 and this is also the year when the old London Bridge was demolished. The entire project cost a total of 2.5 million British pounds (or 186 million 2011 British pounds).

In 1894, a second bridge, roughly 500 meters downstream of the London Bridge was built. This bridge is known as the London Tower Bridge and is considered to be one of the most visited monuments in London. Unfortunately, many visitors mistake it for the London Bridge. The cost of this bridge was 1.2 million British pounds (100 million 2011 British pounds). Although, it is not the London Bridge, one can get a glimpse of how the London Bridge must have looked like during Medieval times by imagining that the two towers of the bridge are duplicated and cascaded together to occupy the entire span of the bridge.

The city of London decided to place the London Bridge on the market and began looking for potential buyers. In April 1968, the bridge was sold to a Missourian entrepreneur Robert McCulloch for a sum of US $2.46 million. Unfortunately, McCulloch discovered that he bought the London Bridge when he really intended to buy the London Tower Bridge! He decided to tear the bridge down and reassembled it in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It was reopened in Arizona in 1971. Today, the London Bridge (renamed to Rennie`s London Bridge) is Arizona`s second most popular attraction after the Grand Canyon. Back in London, a new modern bridge was built in place of the London Bridge in 1972.

So there you have it, the London Bridge is actually in Arizona, United States roughly 150km south of Las Vegas! Most tourists believe that the London Bridge is London Tower Bridge (pictures of which are shown in this article). Most textbooks will tell you that the London Bridge currently carries the A3 roadway in the heart of London, but this is only a modern bridge. The original bridge, which was reconstructed in the early 19th century is still present to this day, but half way across the globe!


  • [1] Pierce, P., Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe, Headline Books: London, UK, 2002.

  • Keywords: London, London Bridge, London Tower Bridge

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