The Real London Bridge

One of the most well known bridges in the world, London Bridge rests on a site that has held a crossing over the River Thames for nearly 2,000 years! Although most London visitors often confuse London bridge with Tower Bridge, the current London Bridge is worth a visit on its’ own merits – even if just because it offers a great view down the river to Tower Bridge!  Best of all, it’s a free attraction.

Be sure to check out more ways to see London for less with our guide to London on budget.

Then

Old London BridgeAlthough the Romans erected a bridge on this site, it is the medieval London Bridge that sticks in popular memory. Now known as “Old London Bridge” the medieval structure dated back to 1176 and stood on this same site until it was finally demolished in the 18th century.

Old London Bridge was not just a bridge, but much more as it held numerous buildings on top – shops, pubs, houses and even a church! Also on top were 30 spikes, legendarily displaying the severed heads of traitors against the crown. A German visitor to London in 1592 reported seeing up to 34 heads on display at a single time. Notable figures who received the ultimate punishment here include William Wallace and Thomas More. Although officially the practice of heads on spikes on the Bridge was abolished in 1678, reports of heads on spikes continued until the early 18th century.

In 1722, a major change happened on the bridge: the Lord Mayor of London applied a new rule to help ease congestion on the bridge. He stated that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of the Southwark into the City do keep all…

Some say this is the very reason that traffic in Britain always drives on the left!

Also around this time, a bridge in Putney was opened, ending London Bridge’s reign as the ONLY crossing over the river in the capital – a title it held for over 1,700 years!

Now

London Bridge ‘New’ London Bridge that stands today was opened be Queen Elizabeth II on the 17th of March 1973. At night the bridge is illuminated with red lights, a nod to the red poppies used to commemorate Remembrance Day – not a reference to the blood of traitors heads staked here centuries ago, as is often believed.

However, some claim there is a reference of this gruesome tradition on the bridge. According to The Telegraph and The Guardian, as a reminder of the barbaric practice that used to take place here, a modern day ‘spike’ has been erected on the southern side of London Bridge. Mostly unnoticed by locals and visitors alike, the spike is a visual reminder and a commemoration of the brutal end to some notorious lives.

Today the bridge is maintained by the Bridge House Estates. This is a charitable trust that was established in 1282. Originally founded to maintain London Bridge, it now oversees 5 bridges in the City of London. The organisation is now entirely funded by bridge tolls and charitable donations.

And for those who prefer numbers, here are the London Bridge Stats:

  • London Bridge today:
  • Length: 269m long (882.5ft)
  • Width: 32m across (105ft)
  • Largest Span: 104m (341ft)

++Learn more about the London Bridge on our  City of London Tour and our London Night Tour.++

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