OLD LONDON BRIDGE

Tales of Child Sacrifice’

There has been a good deal of re-creations of London Bridge since the original Roman crossing in AD50. The most famous and longstanding of these was the old medieval bridge, finished in 1209 during King John’s reign.

The stone bridge had 19 arches, plus a gatehouse and drawbridge. They built the bridge shops and homes to generate income, lining both sides of the bridge’s roadway. Three years after being finished, a massive fire destroyed all the buildings on the bridge and killed thousands of people.

The endless accumulations to the buildings ultimately created a tunnel-like passage across the Thames. Queen Elizabeth I, had water mills added onto the structure of the bridge in the 1580s. Despite the bridge always being under repair, more and more additions were added to the shops and houses.

For over 600 years the bridge was the key crossing point of the Thames in London, ferrying people, goods and livestock across the river. Old London Bridge was a massive structure. Crawling with people who lived and worked there, it was the go-to for displaying the heads of traitors.

The rebellious Scot, William Wallace’s head, is thought to be the first to be pinned there in 1305. They found the Scot guilty of leading a campaign against Edward I. After his beheading. His body was torn to pieces and his head set on London Bridge. They then sent his arms and legs to the four corners of Britain as a warning.

The shopkeepers and their families had privies, cellars, and water rooms supplied with winches and buckets to draw water from the teeming gullets under the arches. The chimneys, hearths and kitchens in the properties were high above the river. Some houses had walkways, perfect for an evening stroll and a view up or down the river.

Most people today know the nursery rhyme:

The meaning behind the rhyme is not clear, and many theories have developed. According to Alice Bertha Gomme, in ‘The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894–1898)’. The rhyme refers to the practice of immurement.

An immurement is an imprisonment in which a person (usually a child) is placed within an enclosed space with no exits, then left there to die from starvation or dehydration. They based the torture on a belief that structures, like buildings and bridges, would be more stable if a person was entombed in the foundations.

However, there were never any reports found, stating that they ever found human remains when the old or new London Bridges were torn down or, shall I say… falling down.

There are a few lasting remnants of the old London Bridge, and one of which is built into the tower of St Magnus the Martyr’s Church on Lower Thames Street. If you look carefully in the church’s courtyard, you will see a set of large stones. These stones are the Old London Bridge’s remains, more specifically parts from the northernmost arch.

There is also, within the tower’s archway, a piece of old Roman Wharf dating from AD 75. This was found on the nearby Fish Street Hill in 1931. It illustrates just how far the banks of the Thames have moved over the space of 2,000 years.

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