special feature
What difference?
The story of London is the story of its
infrastructure and the bridges over the River Thames are a key part of that story. Find out the reasons for their construction and the difference they made to the city.
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Bridge construction
approximate dates
before 1065
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The Bridges of London
introduction |  infrastructure is destiny |  the Romans |  Anglo-Saxon period
Medieval period |  Old London Bridge |  the growth of London |  more bridges at last
the modern city |  MAPS |  reading list
The Anglo-Saxon Period  ... AD 408 - 1065
The Roman army left Britain in AD 407 — the men were needed to help defend Rome against invasion by the Goths from northern Europe. The Roman empire was crumbling and Britain was abandoned.
However, there had been local difficulties in Britain — the Picts (from Scotland), Scots (from Ireland) and Saxons (from Germany) had all caused trouble for the Romans. Rebellion by the locals had been an ever-present threat.
Saxon and Angle settlers arrived from Germany with the departure of the Romans. They had little use for towns and didn't settle at London until the 6th century. We don't really know what happened to London in the intervening two hundred years. We assume people continued to live there but archaeological evidence is minimal.
Neither do we know the fate of the Roman bridge during this time. We do know there was a bridge at London in 994, after King Alfred had driven out the Vikings, who captured the city in 872, but we know little about it.
London's fate looked bleak at the start of this period but by the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, London was once again a powerful city, with strong links to Europe.
Here is some background ....
The Saxons and London
The series of Saxon Shore forts built by the Romans along the east coast would seem to attest to the regularity of pirate raids from Germany, which we know increased after AD 260. After the Roman military withdrawal in AD 407, this marauding increased and many settlers arrived.
The invaders consisted of Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who came from the north of Germany and were peasant warriors. The Saxons conquered most of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries and set up a number of kingdoms. The Angles settled in Northumbria, East Mercia and East Anglia.
London's fortunes declined after the Romans left. Piracy in the North Sea put an end to Roman trade, which had been the city's lifeblood. The population may well have continued to live in the crumbling ruins but the incoming Saxons initially had no use for towns. We can only guess at the fate of London's Roman bridge during this period.
In the 6th century, the Saxons did settle at London, which they called Lundenwic (London Port), and the city once again began to prosper. Around AD 604, the first East Saxons converted to Christianity and a wooden cathedral was built. Christianity was officially embraced in 650. Trade returned and with commerce came urban life. However, there is no explicit mention of a bridge at London between the 7th and 9th centuries.
The Thames was about to take on a new role as a highway that the Vikings could use to press their invasion further inland.
The Vikings arrive
The Vikings started to arrive from the 9th century onwards. They sailed across the North Sea and up the Thames, raiding the coast along the way.
They captured London in AD 871-2 but were driven out and eventually defeated by Alfred, King of Wessex (AD 849-899). Fourteen years later, Alfred re-established a stronghold at London within the perimeter defined by the old Roman wall.
King Alfred was the last person to take London by storm. Under Cnut (995-1035), London eclipsed Winchester to become England's capital and has remained so ever since.
The court moves to Westminster
Even as early as the Anglo-Saxon period, decisions were made that defined the history of London. The city developed in one particular way that differed from all but a few of its rivals — the location of the royal court was moved away from the main part of the city.
Edward the Confessor (1004-1066) decided to rebuild the 8th century West Minster monastery (as it was then known) and turn it into an abbey. He moved his court to Westminster so he could oversee the monumental project. Thus, the court moved beyond the perimeter defined by the original Roman wall, and established itself as a geographically separate entity.
This allowed London to develop its commercial destiny with some autonomy. In Europe at that time, such commercial freedom was unusual. The geographical division of political and commercial life is one reason for the city's extraordinary mercantile and financial success.
introduction |  infrastructure is destiny |  the Romans |  Anglo-Saxon period
Medieval period |  Old London Bridge |  the growth of London |  more bridges at last
the modern city |  MAPS |  reading list

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