Thursday, 27 October 2016

London Bridge

Londinium (later becoming London) translates as "the settlement on the wide river" and is where the Roman's stopped marching and killing to begin work on establishing their new Capital City (cheekily ignoring Colchester, Essex on the grounds that it didn't have any Premier League football teams)

And so to work, beginning, as any self respecting Sim City builder would do, by building a bridge. 

Today's London Bridge is, in my opinion, the most disappointing of all the bridges that span the Thames. Chauffeuring around many tourists as we sight-see our way across this great city I'm yet to meet anyone who isn't underwhelmed by London Bridge, admittedly there are a lot who believe Tower Bridge to be London Bridge but, that explained, not one person has extolled the simple concrete structure to be anything more than that, a simple concrete structure. 

The best fact I know about the current pontoon is that it is hollow and the warm air from the Tube is pushed through meaning that while all other bridges will freeze over in a snow storm, London Bridge won't. Hmm.

This hasn't always been the case though. London Bridge has a proud and magnificent history with the area carrying many great spans over the centuries. My favourite was a time when the bridge, carried not just people and traffic, but houses, shops and even a two storey church, a la Pontevecchio, in Florence. 

To get a glimpse into that time I head to the north side of the Thames, St Magnus the Martyr Church to see a 4 metre model depicting the Bridge as it would have appeared in around the 1400. It is an amazing peice of work and the detail of around 900 people crowding the bridge shows King Henry V riding in from Southwark with the Mayor of London waiting to greet him. There's even a deliberate planting of a 20th century character which I didn't find (apparently it is a policeman) 

The claustrophobic hustle and bustle show London as crowded then as now and why the congestion on the Bridge forced a decision that if crossing from North to South then you stayed to the left, as you did if coming from Southwark to the City of London. We still to this day drive on the left or 'correct' side of the road.

The small exhibition also has pictures and facts about the Bridge history, like the last transition saw an American businessman relocate, stone by stone, the outgoing bridge to give a focal point to his new housing development in Lake Havasu, Arizona. My favourite picture is the one of two, new and old, Bridges along side each other. 

London Bridge has, of all the Bridges, the greatest history. It is where the decapitated heads of 'traitors' where gruesomely mounted on a spike to deter any of the like-minded. Where Watt Tyler crossed with his revolting peasants, though he had to wait until the bridge opened as it used to closed at 9pm.

The exhibition is small, free (donations excepted) and walking distance from the Tower of London.