London Bridge

OK, is it just me or is the tune “London Bridge is falling down” running through your head right now. Do you know that the song has it’s roots to the Vikings of 1014 and Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry III?

The Viking King Olaf and the Saxon King Ethelred the Unready went into battle against the Danes, who held London in 1014. The invaders pulled the bridge down in an attempt to divide the Danish forces.

The more modern version of the nursery rhyme has ties to Queen Eleanor. Apparently the Queen was given the bridge by the king in 1269. She charged a toll to cross the bridge but never spent the proceeds on maintaining the bridge. Consequently, it was constantly in a state of disrepair and she relinquished control of the bridge to of the City of London in 1281. That winter, much of the bridge collapsed. The line of the song which includes, “my Fair Lady” refers to the Queen in a not so positive light.

As you may have already guessed, the London Bridge has been replaced numerous times. The bridge spanning the Thames today is a modern structure which bears no resemblance to the bridge depicted in this English landscape drawing. The best I can tell, the version of the bridge depicted in this drawing by Antonie van den Wyngaerde (1510/1525 – 1571) was originally built by King Henry II begun in 1176 and completed in 1209 when King John was the reigning monarch. It was a stone bridge with a chapel memorializing Sir Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the center. As you can see in the drawing, there were numerous structures built along the bridge (around 200 at one point). Numerous fires claimed many of the structures but it was most likely increasing traffic demands that led to the building of a bridge without permanent structures on the span.

I think London cityscape this would make a great image for a larger project. I love the simple lines of the drawing and lack of color. It’s a shame the paper has degraded so but I think the smudges reinforce that this is a drawing on paper and not an electronic one.

London Bridge

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