Like many bridges there has been more than one London Bridge. In the case of the span across the River Thames, several either deteriorated or began sinking. So, we find out the old nursery rhyme was based on fact.
The first London Bridge was built by the ancient Roman founders of London. It was subsequently replaced by a series of wooden bridges, then, by a more sturdy bridge during medieval times. Then, in the 1800s, a stone, arched structure was erected. The current London Bridge is a conventional box girder bridge made of steel and concrete, opened for traffic in 1973.
Just to set the record straight, many people mistake London Bridge for Tower Bridge. The original Tower Bridge is still in place and remains a popular tourist site, in London. The subject of today’s post is the 19th century structure that replaced the 600-years-old decrepit bridge.
This second-to-the-last bridge was of a conventional design, incorporating five arches. Work started in 1824 and was opened August 1, 1831 by King William IV. New streets and approach roads also needed to be constructed as well. They cost three times more than the bridge, itself. The total costs, in 2015 funds was £198,000,000 (approximately $295,000,000).
By the 20th century, the bridge had begun to sink about an inch every eight years. By the mid-1920s, the east side had sunk about four inches lower than the west side. It was apparent that removal and replacement must be planned. By the 1960s, it was decided that the beloved London Bridge was to be sold and moved. The decision touched a patriotic nerve with many Londoners. It was interpreted as yet another sign of the fall of the British Empire.
With history and patriotism carefully considered, the granite bridge was placed up for sale by the Common Council of the City of London, in 1967. Finally, Robert McCulloch, of McCulloch Oil Company, purchased the outer shell of the bridge for $2,460,000 on April 18, 1968 for use as a tourist attraction.
As the bridge was dismantled, the external granite blocks were numbered and readied for transport to Lake Havasu City in Arizona. The town is a planned community that McColloch had earlier developed on the Arizona shore of Lake Havasu in 1964.
The pieces were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal, to the Pacific Ocean, then to Long Beach, California. From there, they were trucked to the present site in Arizona.
A modern, reinforced concrete substructure was built to span the “Bridgewater Channel” canal from near downtown Lake Havasu City, to a small island. The external blocks were put in place like pieces of a puzzle to clad the modern structure. The 19th Century London Bridge was re-dedicated on October 10, 1971 in a ceremony that included the Lord Mayor of London, England.
“London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, Falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.
Take a key and lock her up,
Lock her up, Lock her up.
Take a key and lock her up,
My fair lady…(etc.)”