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Kingston bridge (part one)
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Kingston bridge is today a bustling town, proud of its royal connections and a magnet for shoppers. It is an ancient market town and gets its name from the fact that several Saxon kings were crowned here, and the Coronation Stone can still be seen near the Guildhall. The town used to be on an important trading route, and goods were brought to its port from the western counties before being taken downriver. There has been a bridge at Kingston since at least the twelfth century, and the first reference is from 1193, when repairs were made to an existing bridge. For many centuries this was the first bridge upstream of London and, amazingly, the old bridge survived until it was replaced in the nineteenth century.

The medieval bridge had stone abutments and shore piers but was otherwise built of wood, and it was a rather flimsy affair. Over the centuries, owing to erosion and floods, the bridge was constantly being repaired and, on a number of occasions, had to be rebuilt. The Thames was tidal as far as Kingston until Teddington Lock was built in the nineteenth century, and the strength of the tide caused constant damage to the piers of the bridge. The roadway was only 12 feet wide, too narrow to let two carts cross at the same time, and the arches were so narrow that barges found it difficult to navigate through them. Tolls were charged to cross the bridge, and pontage on vessels passing under it, with all the income contributing to the maintenance of the bridge.

Because of the lack of bridges between Kingston and London, the bridge often proved to be of considerable importance. In 1528 Henry VIII had Kingston Bridge repaired so that his artillery could be transported across it, thus preventing any damage to the more important London Bridge. Later, while he was having his newly acquired palace at Hampton Court enlarged, there was a substantial increase of traffic on the bridge. During Thomas Wyatt's uprising against Mary I, parts of the bridge were taken down to prevent his army from crossing the river, but Wyatt's men made some repairs to it and managed to cross. During the Civil War the bridge was an important crossing point and was fought over by the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, though, except for two brief periods, it was held by the former.

Kingston bridge (part one)

Watercolour of the wooden medieval bridge at Kingston by Thomas Rowlandson.

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