Stones of Old London Bridge

On a recent visit to the picturesque village of Beaumont-cum-Moze on the Essex coast, Lost City came across some building stones used in the construction of a quay  and adjoining building that, according to a book on local history (“Secret Creek” by Graham Ross), came from old London Bridge …

Old London Bridge was originally built by  Peter, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, in circa 1176-1209 (*), and demolished,  to make way for a new bridge built by John Rennie, in 1831 (**).  A quantity of material from the bridge was salvaged after its demolition, some of which was supplied to Guy’s Hospital, located a short distance away.  An alcove from the bridge still stands in the grounds of the hospital (and another in  Victoria Park in the East End).

Beaumont Quay was built on an Essex estate then owned by Guy’s Hospital in 1832, purportedly using stones from old London Bridge that it had acquired the previous year.  It was built at the landward end of a canal known as the Beaumont Cut, which once connected Beaumont Village to Hamford Water and the North Sea, but which has been disused since the 1930s.

(*) There are fine scale-models of old London Bridge as it would have looked in its Medieval  to Post-Medieval heyday both in the church of St Magnus the Martyr and in the Museum of London Docklands. There were scores of buildings on it then, including a great many shops; a chapel, dedicated to St Thomas Becket (it was on the pilgrimage route to Canterbury, where Archbishop Becket was the victim of the infamous “Murder in the Cathedral” in 1170); and, from the late sixteenth-century until the mid-eighteenth, a palatial residence known as Nonsuch House.  The bridge had a total of nineteen arches or “starlings”, through which many of the more devil-may-care watermen  would attempt to “shoot”, some unfortunately losing their lives in the process (it was said that “London Bridge was made for wise men to go over, and fools to go under”).  And, at the southern end, there were   the heads of executed criminals, impaled on spikes.  Only the northern end of the bridge was affected by the Great Fire of 1666, the southward progress of which across the river was halted at a gap in the buildings that formed a natural firebreak  – ironically,  the result of another fire in 1633.

(**) Rennie’s bridge was in turn taken down – and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City in Arizona – between 1967-71, and replaced by the present bridge in 1972.

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