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London bridge (part one)
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There has been a bridge on or near the site of the present London Bridge for nearly two thousand years.The first bridge was built by the Romans soon after their invasion of AD 43, at a point about 200 feet east of the modern bridge. We do not know exactly when the first bridge was built, but Londinium was an important city at the centre of a network of roads, so some sort of river crossing would have been needed. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were three bridges, the first being a wooden bridge erected possibly as early as AD 50, the last a more permanent structure probably in place by the end of the first century. This last one probably had stone abutments and brick piers, with a wooden superstructure, and it may later have had a drawbridge added, to allow ships to sail through. There may also have been a temple or shrine on the bridge, as many coins and small figurines have been found in the Thames near the site, presumably thrown into the river as votive offerings. After the Romans withdrew their army from Britain in AD 410, Londinium became a deserted city, so it is likely that by then the bridge had been allowed to decay, as it would have been very costly to keep it in good repair and there would have been little point in maintaining it.


London bridge (part one)

The earjiest representation of the medieval London Bridge, seen here in the background of an image from a book of poems by Charles, Duke of Orleans published in about 1500.



After the departure of the Romans, various Germanic settlers arrived in Britain, and the Saxons settled in what they called Lundenwk to the west of the Roman city, though they took shelter from Viking invasions within the old walls, and King Alfred rebuilt the city as a fortress in the ninth century. As the new port was upstream of the old bridge, the bridge may not yet have been rebuilt, and the first documentary evidence of a new bridge dates from around AD 1000. As the eleventh-century port developed both above and below the bridge, it is assumed that the Saxon bridge also had a drawbridge to allow ships through. Between 1000 and the construction of the stone bridge, the timber bridge may have been rebuilt as many as five times.
As well as being a crossing point, the bridge also provided an extra line of defence for the city, stopping enemy ships from getting upstream of it, and preventing attackers from reaching the city by land. It played a dramatic part in the violent events of the early eleventh century, when London changed hands several times during the power struggle between the Saxons and the Vikings.The best-known tale relates to the attempt by the Saxon king Ethelred the Unready to recapture London from Cnut in 1014. He enlisted the help of the Norwegian King, Olaf, whose ships, fortified with canopies to protect the crew, sailed up to the bridge, attached grappling irons to it and sailed away, destroying or badly damaging it. This was the inspiration for the Norse poem from the Olaf Sagas, whose first verse is:

London Bridge is broken down,
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Shields resounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hildur shouting in the din !
Arrows singing,
Mailcoats ringing,
Odin makes our Olaf win!

The poem is better known from the familiar nursery rhyme 'London Bridge is falling down', which first appeared in the seventeenth century. Olaf became a popular saint in England, and there were once three churches dedicated to him in London, including one at the southern end of London Bridge, which was replaced in 1931 by an office block called St Olaf's House. In 1016 Cnut returned to reclaim his throne and, as he was unable to take the bridge, he dug a channel round the south end of it and had his ships dragged round to the upstream side so that he could surround the city. After the Norman invasion of 1066, William of Normandy needed to take London to secure his power, but when he arrived at the southern end of it he found it well defended, and he had to take his army upstream, where he crossed the Thames and marched on London from the west.


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