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an historical book by Bruce Watson
(Last year, when I was doing my London Castles research, I discovered this delightful book about London Bridge. I was so intrigued by the synopsis of the book that I decided to check it out from a University Library. It turned out to be a real treasure trove of information and is delivered with such an engaging style that I believe anyone would want to read this book- young and old alike. I highly recommend it to anyone.)
– The Castle Lady
London Bridge, often confused with Tower Bridge by foreign tourists, will go down in history as the capital’s oldest bridge and the most famous landmark in the entirety of Britain, aside from the Tower Bridge itself.
The first timber bridge was erected by the Romans circa AD 50 and the site most likely chosen because it was the narrowest crossing of the Thames River at that juncture- the beginning of a fascinating history of building, deconstruction, demolition and rebuilding over the centuries. The Saxon and Viking invaders eras are well researched in this book in relation to the bridge and many details of what the bridge would have looked like and how it was constructed are well laid out.
With Old London Bridge: Lost and Found we get an array of recreations of the bridge with diagrams, actual historical photos along with detailed histories of its constant transformations clear up to the present modern bridge it is today. An entire chapter is devoted to the erection of the 19th century Rennie Bridge which was built in Portland ashlar stone. That and the disassembling of the 13th century Old London Bridge along with the associated artifacts is the heart of this book showing all aspects in minute detail and many historical anecdotes.
When most Londoners refer to Old London Bridge they are talking about the medieval bridge ( the longest standing London Bridge on record) which was constructed in the late 13th century. This bridge had no drastic reconstruction up until the 15th century and had also survived two fires- one being the Great Fire of London in 1666- and modifications made during the 18th century by George Dance and Roger Taylor with its final denouement in 1813-14 after severe freezing weather in which the Thames froze over and damage appeared which was devastating to the bridge.
The Rennie Bridge, which was commissioned by William IV in 1824, refers to John Rennie and his two sons, George and John, who were the engineers and architects responsible for the new bridge which was completed on August 1, 1831. Its construction coincided with the building of additional bridges at Blackfriars, Waterloo, and at Southwark Cathedral. The additional bridges were necessary for the voluminous amount of traffic which went in and out of London every day. Tower Bridge, a remarkable Victorian machine which is well described in the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel book on Great Britain, was designed by Sir Horace Jones in 1894- much later- and was modified to electric by 1976 ! ( I highly recommend a tour of this remarkable bridge which contains a great presentation on its features past and present called The Tower Bridge Experience.)
Although this book focuses on the London Bridge almost exclusively, it also mentions the other bridges of London and imparts real tangible insight into the many phases of bridge building technology through the ages up to the present. In addition, it doesn’t read at all like a technical journal but expounds on the aspects of construction in a highly engaging style and with absolute clarity. All of this is illuminated with wonderful images- many of which were contributed by the artist Peter Jackson ( to whom the book is dedicated ) and a wonderful foreword by the Mayor of Lake Havasu, Robert Whelan, concerning the ongoing history of this London Bridge in its new home in Arizona. The conclusion in the last chapter gives an account of the survival of the remnants of the medieval bridge which were restored in various locations throughout London and its environs.
A book review by
Evelyn M. Wallace
All rights reserved by author
July 15, 2010
The Castle Lady