Many of the bridges that cross the Thames today are not the first structures to have spanned their sites.
There has been a crossing at the site of London Bridge almost as long as there has been a city of London; Saxon crossings, Roman crossings, the fabled medieval crossing of 1209 brimming with buildings, pubs and shops. There have also been two Waterloo Bridges (the first was opened in 1817 and the second in 1942), two Southwark Bridges (the first was opened in 1819 and the second in 1921) and two Westminster Bridges (the first opened in 1750 and the second in 1862). But what becomes of old bridges after they are demolished?
Here are five stories of unusual endings.
1. A chair made from Old London Bridge
This chair is made from the timbers of Old London Bridge (opened in 1209 and demolished in 1831), with its seat fashioned of stone salvaged from the bridge’s medieval foundations. Look closely at the back rails and you will see they are carved representations of four Thames bridges: Old London Bridge followed by three later bridges designed by engineer John Rennie: New London bridge (opened in 1831 and demolished in 1967) and his Southwark and Waterloo Bridges.
The chair was presented to the Fishmongers’ Company in 1848 to commemorate the return to the House of Commons of Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, a Freeman of the Company and the first practising Jew to sit as a member of Parliament in the UK.
2. Old London Bridge coat of arms repurposed as a pub sign
A royal coat of arms that adorned the southern tollhouse of Old London Bridge until 1728, has found a second life as a pub sign for the King’s Head in Newcomen Street, London SE1. By 1760 all the buildings on Old London Bridge had been demolished but this impressive coat of arms was rescued. Its new home was an earlier incarnation of the Victorian public house seen here, so the coat of arms has in fact been salvaged twice.
3. Suspension chains of Old Hungerford Bridge re-used in Bristol
Chains from Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s short-lived Old Hungerford Bridge – a pedestrian bridge over the Thames that operated from 1845–60 – were re-used as a tribute to the engineer in his Clifton Suspension Bridge completed in 1864, five years after his death. The wrought-iron chains continue to support the bridge today – modern computer analysis has shown that Brunel’s design for the crucial joints between the links made an almost perfect calculation of the minimal weight required for maximum strength.
4. New London Bridge corbels abandoned before use
Granite for alterations to widen John Rennie’s 1831 New London Bridge was quarried in Dartmoor, Devon in 1903. Twelve partially finished carved corbels – structural pieces of stone- that didn’t make the grade remain picturesquely abandoned on the Merrivale Moor close to the quarry at Swell Tor. It is rumoured they were ‘seconds’, or they may have been cut to the wrong length.
5. Keystone of Old Waterloo Bridge continues to inspire
This keystone the central arch of Rennie’s previous Waterloo Bridge now presides over the headquarters of the Institution of Civil Engineers at One Great George Street, London. Reminding today’s engineers of the achievements of their predecessor John Rennie the Elder, designer of Leeds Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, London Bridge and Old Vauxhall Bridge, the c. 1811 keystone was recovered by engineers Rendel Palmer and Tritton in the mid-20th century when Rennie’s structure was demolished to make way for today’s concrete bridge.
This blog was written by the Illuminated River Foundation. Head over to their website to find out more about the scheme to light central London’s bridges along the River Thames.
Header image: a view of the old southwark bridge, as seen from the south bank of the river thames, with canon street station in the background (1901). Reproduced by permission of Historic England BL16430