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It’s not falling down and it’s NOT Tower Bridge | The history of London Bridge

The story of the capital’s many London Bridges, dating back to Roman occupation.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The current London Bridge has been standing since the 1970s, connecting the City with Southwark


© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The bridge contains its name engraved into the side for passing boat passengers

Poor London Bridge. It regularly finds its name being misused by tourists thinking it’s actually the grander, more elaborate neighbour downstream Tower Bridge. In fact, when I type ‘London Bridge’ into Google, the Tower Bridge Experience is the first hit so I couldn’t blame London Bridge for feeling somewhat of an inferiority complex. While Tower Bridge is admittedly a lot better looking, it will never have the history and importance to London that the city’s namesake bridge will have.

The current London Bridge has only been crossing the River Thames since the 1970s and is the latest incarnation in a list of bridges which have carried its name. The first river crossing stemmed back to Roman London, with the original being built somewhere in the area of the present site by the invading Roman army of Emperor Claudius (10 BC-13AD) in the 50s AD. The initial bridge was only temporary, with a second permanent one being erected soon after made of wood. The creation of the bridge came as the Roman city of Londinium began to swiftly develop on the site of the current City, with a smaller settlement emerging on the southern end in present day Southwark. When the Romans departed in the 5th century, Londonium was abandoned and the bridge was left to rot. It wasn’t until the 9th century that the Saxons returned to the old Roman City following repeated Viking invasions. The city was ‘refounded’ by Alfred The Great (849-899AD) in 886AD and another river bridge was erected. However, by 1014, the bridge was said to have been destroyed by Olaf II of Norway (995-1030) in a bid to separate the Danish occupants of old London and Southwark. Olaf’s troops were believed to have tied their boats to the bridge supports and rowed away, pulling the bridge down in the process. This leads to one of the theories of the origins of the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’, although others have claimed it dates more recently to the 13th century. After William The Conqueror (1028-1087) claimed the English throne in 1066, another bridge was built on the site, but it didn’t last long and was destroyed by the London tornado of 1091. Believed to be a T8 tornado, it claimed two lives and left the church of St Mary-Le-Bow badly damaged. It was then replaced by King William II (1056-1100), with his incarnation of the river crossing eventually being destroyed by fire in 1136.

London Bridge (1616) Claes Van Visscher

Old Medieval London Bridge in 1616, taken from a panorama by Claes Van Visscher. Southwark Cathedral can be seen in the foreground and to the right the heads of executed prisoners above the southern gatehouse.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Two stones from the old Medieval London Bridge now stand in the courtyard of St Magnus-the-Martyr Church

Finally in the 12th century, London Bridge began to be built of stone – a much more hardy material given the amount of natural disasters, fires and war which had ravaged the previous incarnations. In 1176, under the rule of King Henry II (1133-1189), work began on the foundations of the first stone London Bridge. The project was overseen by Peter, a priest and chaplain of St Mary Colechurch (which no longer exists) with funding raised from taxes on wool. The bridge, which is now referred to in history as the Old Medieval London Bridge, took 33 years to complete. When it opened in 1209, it was 274 metres long, six metres wide and featured 20 Gothic arches. By this point, King Henry II had already died and his heir, King John (1166-1216) ended up leasing plots on the bridge to fill the deficit in a bid to recoup the huge costs of the build. The bridge featured gatehouses at each end and a drawbridge near the Southwark entrance to allow bigger ships to pass through. Owning a business on London Bridge was quite the draw and by 1358 it was seriously overcrowded, with a whopping 138 shops spanning the River, with some buildings as many as seven stories high. The encroaching plots meant the actual road was reduced to just four metres so it was quite a squeeze for carts, horses and livestock. Unsurprisingly, the resulting traffic was so bad, it could take up to an hour to cross the bridge. In addition to congestion, the cramped living and shopping quarters were also a hazard. In 1212, fires broke out at both ends of the bridge, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths. By 1381, there were more fires on the bridge during the Peasants’ Rebellion and further still in 1450 during Jack Cade’s rebellion.

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Metro Girl’s Must Do Series – Part 2 | Borough Market

Borough Market © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Feast for foodies: Head to Borough Market for a culinary adventure

Borough Market portico © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The South Portico from Covent Garden was installed in 2004

Many visitors to London these days may find they are not coming into contact with the ‘real London’. One of pitfalls of tourism – in many cities not just London – is you end up following the usual checklist of sights and sharing them with other non-Londoners.

However, one of the long-running places that has always attracted Londoners in the city is the traditional market. There’s something special about the capital’s markets that make them differ from those abroad. Now of course there are many markets I can highly recommend to visitors – Brick Lane, Portobello and Camden. However, this post is on my favourite, Borough Market. Known as the city’s foodies destination, it draws chefs, amateur cooks, restaurateurs… or just people (like me) with a healthy appetite.

Now located a stone’s throw from London Bridge train and tube station, Borough Market has existed in the area since as far back as the 11th century. The original market lay closer to the actual bridge – then the only river crossing in London – and sold fish, vegetables, grain and livestock. In the 13th century, the market then moved to Borough High Street, just south of St Margaret’s Church. Despite being located on the south of the River – and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the City of London – the boy King Edward VI (1537–1553) changed all this in 1550 when he extended the City’s power to Southwark’s markets.

Borough Market vegetables © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

A vegetable stall at the market

Borough Market Market Hall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Market Hall was opened in 2013

The market thrived until 1755 when it was closed by an Act of Parliament, as politicians were unimpressed with the congestion in the area. However, some proactive locals in Southwark clubbed together to raise £6,000 to buy a patch of land, then known as The Triangle, in the hope of re-opening the market. In 1756, it reopened on the new site which still forms part of the market today (where Furness Fish & Game is located on Middle Road).

Borough Market © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The market is made of predominantly Victorian metal and glass

By the 19th century, the market was thriving – no doubt to its location close to the ‘Pool of London’, where most of the wharves were situated. The current building you see today was designed by architect Henry Rose and erected in the 1850s, with the Art Deco entrance at Southwark Street added in 1932. In 2004, the South Portico from Covent Garden’s Floral Hall was installed at the market’s Stoney Street entrance after the Royal Opera House was redeveloped. The market was further enhanced in 2013 with the opening of the Market Hall, a glass structure opening on to Borough High Street which provides a place for shoppers to relax and sample their purchases. Columns reaching up to the roof house pots with growing hops, fruits, flowers, herbs, olives and salad leaves. There also features a demonstration kitchen, with various events taking place throughout the week.

Today, there are over 100 stalls featuring most kinds of food from the UK and further afield. Weekends are particularly busy so it’s worth trying to get there early on a Saturday. As well as a wide range of stalls, the market also contains several restaurants and pubs, including Tapas Brindisa, The Globe, The Rake and Elliot’s Café. On Beadale Street in the market, there is also the old school-style Hobbs Barbers for men in need of a trim.

  • Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street, Borough, SE1 1TL. Nearest station: London Bridge. Open for lunch from Monday-Tuesday 10am-5pm, or the full market is open Wednesday-Thursday 10am-5pm, Fridays 10am-6pm and Saturdays 8am-5pm. Closed on Sundays. For more information, visit the Borough Market website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Decisions, decisions: More types of Cheesecake than you can shake a fork at

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Sweet tooth: It looked like every flavour going was at the Turkish Delight stand, while cooks were perusing some of the fruit and vegetable stands for ingredients


Welcome to part 2 of ‘Metro Girl’s Must Do’ series, a guide to my essential sights or activities to do during your visit to London. Many tourists may only spend a few days in the capital before escaping to the likes of Oxford or Bath or jumping over the English Channel to see the continent. So if time is of the essence and you’re torn between where to go, this is Metro Girl’s opinion on London’s top attractions.

For Part 1 of Metro Girl’s Must Do series on the London Eye, click here.

Or to read about Metro Girl’s trip up to the nearby View From The Shard, click here.

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Africa Live Festival @ The Elephant and The Nun 2014

Africa LiveThis weekend sees the return of the Elephant & Nun, a quirky arts festival in Southwark involving local artists and the community. A host of different areas will be taking over Burgess Park in Camberwell, south London, including the Global Local Stage, The Village Hall Experience, The Aylesbury Live, Plug In To Perform, Kinetika Bloco parade, Rumble in the Jumble, Irvin’s Funfair and Burgess BMX.

However, one such area is a festival within a festival – Africa Live have moved to the Elephant & Nun to create one big super festival following their run in East Dulwich last year.

The one day, free event celebrates the best of African culture, including music, performances, fashion, crafts, therapies and cuisine. Africa Live will be located by the world music stage, the National Theatre’s pop-up performances and the cabaret tent.

  • The Africa Live Festival takes place on Saturday 16th August from 12-8pm. The Elephant & The Nun, Burgess Park, Southwark, SE5. Nearest tube/train: Elephant & Castle or Peckham Rye. For more information, visit the Africa Live website

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Hay’s Galleria | Tea, war and fire – the history behind the Larder of London

Long before it became a food and shopping destination, the Galleria was known as Hay’s Wharf.

Hays Galleria © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Hay’s Galleria is the converted Hay’s Wharf on the banks of the River Thames

 

The Navigators David Kemp © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The Navigators, a moving bronze sculpture of a ship by David Kemp

Hay’s Galleria is known today as an area for eating, drinking, working and shopping. Many pass through the covered shopping centre on their way to Tower Bridge or HMS Belfast. However, by looking at the building, it’s obvious to see it wasn’t built for these purposes, and like many buildings along the banks of the River Thames, started life as a wharf.

Despite rumours of the contrary, wharf does not stand for ‘ware-house at river front’. The word wharf originates from the Old English ‘hwearf’, which meant bank or shore. Before the advent of cars, boats were the main form of transport in London, so there were once as many as 1,700 wharves on the bank of the River Thames.

The site was originally a brewhouse, which was bought by Alexander Hay in 1651. However, the building was severely damaged in the Great Fire Of Southwark in 1676. It remained with the Hay family until Francis Theodore Hay, Master of the Waterman’s Company and King’s Waterman to George III and George IV, died in 1838. The next owner John Humphrey Jnr acquired a lease on the property and commissioned engineer Sir William Cubitt (1785-1861) to convert it into a wharf with an enclosed dock, becoming Hay’s Wharf in 1856 (see a photo of the Wharf in 1857). However, just five years later, the wharf was damaged by another fire, the Great Fire Of Tooley Street, which overall caused £2million of damage due to the contents of the warehouses destroyed.

Hays Wharf HQ Olaf House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Slightly west is the Art Deco former HQ of Hay’s Wharf

 

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The wharf has been covered by a glass and steel barrelled roof

During the 19th century, Hay’s Wharf was one of the main delivery points in the capital, with an estimated of 80% of dry goods passing through the building, including the very popular tea. The sheer importance of Hay’s to London’s trade and import industry led to it being nicknamed ‘the Larder of London’. (For a photo of Hay’s Wharf in 1910, click here.)

Hay’s Wharf was such a lucrative business, the company was able to build an Art Deco headquarters a few doors to the west. The river-facing structure was erected in 1928-1932 to a design by architect Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel (1887-1959). The Thameside façade features panels depicting ‘Capital, Labour & Commerce’ by sculptor Frank Dobson (1886-1963).

However,  the wharf was seriously damaged again by bombing during World War II. London’s trade was severely dented following the war and over the subsequent years, more and more wharves shut down and fell into neglect. With ships getting bigger, Hay’s enclosed dock wasn’t big enough to fit most of the vessels, so fell into disuse. Fortunately in the 1980s, the wharf was brought back to life by property developers. The dock was covered over, while the tea and produce warehouses were restored and converted into offices. A glass and steel barrel-vaulted roof was erected over the former dock area in a Victorian style. In 1987, ‘The Navigators’, a moving bronze sculpture of a ship by David Kemp, within a fountain, was unveiled in a nod to the wharf’s shipping history. Meanwhile, the Art Deco HQ is now known as a St Olaf House and is used by the neighbouring London Bridge Hospital.

Now known as Hay’s Galleria, the building is a mix of shops, offices and restaurants today. There are several market stalls under the covered walkway, as well as branches of Boots, Café Rouge, The Christmas Shop, Bagel Factory, Côte and Starbucks. On a nice day, I would suggest buying some takeaway food here and bringing it for a picnic in nearby Potters Field Park overlooking Tower Bridge and the Tower Of London. Alternatively on a warm summer night, sink a pint riverside at the Horniman At Hays pub – named after the tea merchant Frederick Horniman. Also nearby is the museum on board the HMS Belfast.

  • Hay’s Galleria is located on the riverfront, but is also accessed from Tooley Street, SE1 2HD. Nearest station: London Bridge.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

What a backdrop: Performers at the gates to Hay’s Galleria during the Thames Festival 2012

To read more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

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Dulwich Festival 2013: Gallery of Dulwich Park Fair