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London Bridge (1831), site of
River Thames, City of London
London Bridge (1831), site of
associated engineer
John Rennie snr
Sir John Rennie
date  15th March 1824 - 1st August 1831
era  Georgian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  TQ327806
ICE reference number  HEW 260
photo  London Metropolitan Archives
Any bridge on this site has a lot to live up to — nearly 2,000 years of bridge building history. Starting with the Romans around 50 AD, bridges on this spot have played a crucial part in London's development. It's ironic, then, that this bridge is probably best known for having ended up in Arizona.
Scottish engineer John Rennie's five-arched granite bridge of 1831 was the immediate successor to Old London Bridge, which, after 600 years of service, had become a danger to shipping.
In 1820, a Parliamentary Select Committee was established to enquire into the state of Old London Bridge. Completed in 1209, the medieval bridge was causing difficulties. Although the crowd of buildings that had stood on it had been cleared, creating more room for traffic, the efforts made to clear the waterway by removing a pier and widening an arch, had only made matters worse. The ancient structure's foundations were now eroding away.
The Select Committee reported in May 1821, proposing a new bridge. In 1823 a competition was held for its design. Many engineers submitted, including Telford and Mylne. John Rennie's two sons, George and John, submitted a design that he had made before his death in 1821.
There were three prize winners. The Rennie design was not one of them but after a certain amount of political wrangling it was chosen. The Corporation of the City of London obtained an Act of Parliament in 1823 empowering them to demolish Old London Bridge and build a new bridge to Rennie's design.
The younger John Rennie (1794-1874) was appointed engineer to the scheme in 1824 and, on the 15th March, work began. Cofferdams, measuring 50m by 35m, were constructed in the river. The walls of the dams were made up of three rows of 355mm square timber piles, each driven some 7.6m into the riverbed. This created water-free areas for pier building.
The bridge consisted of five semi-elliptical arches. The central span was 46.5m wide, the second and fourth 42.6m, the first and fifth 39.6m. The roadway was 10.9m wide and the total width 19.5m. The whole construction, including the approach works, took six years.
The cost was met by Bridge House Estates which used its reserves, together with a government grant. Bridge House Estates derived a large income from property left to it over the centuries by grateful merchants who had used Old London Bridge to bring goods into London.
The new bridge was opened by King William IV. He came with Queen Adelaide by state barge from Somerset House. John Rennie was knighted on completion of the project — the first consulting engineer to be so honoured, though his father (John Rennie senior) had been offered a knighthood 14 years earlier and declined it.
Though now in poor condition, Old London Bridge had stood all during construction of the new bridge. It was demolished in 1832. Its demolition caused problems for bridges upstream, as it had been acting as a tidal barrier, protecting them somewhat. Once it was gone, their foundations were subjected to increased scouring by river water and a great deal of remedial work had to be carried out.
We move forward now to the late 1950s, when it was recognised that the Rennie bridge was not able to cope with modern traffic. Widening the bridge wasn't possible because of structural faults. A new bridge on the same centre line was proposed and the London Bridge Act of 1967 passed to allow its construction.
The Rennie bridge was dismantled and the stonework sold to McCulloch Properties Inc of California. The blocks were numbered and shipped to the USA and have been re-erected at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
John Rennie senior's other work on the Thames — he designed both the original Southwark and Waterloo bridges — has also been demolished. However, there is one land arch of his London Bridge remaining. It stands on the south bank close to Southwark Cathedral, crossing the alignment of Tooley Street and Montague Close.
Contractors: Joliffe & Banks
"The Annals of London" by John Richardson
Cassell Paperbacks, London 2001
"London: A Social History" by Roy Porter, Penguin Books, London 1994
"London: 2000 years of a city and its people"
by Felix Barker and Peter Jackson, Macmillan, London 1974
reference sources   CEH LondBDCE1

London Bridge (1831), site of