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Blackfriars Bridge (part five)

Geometric krater painted with a couple and a ship with oarsmen

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London bridge (part five)
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The profile of the bridge changed greatly over the years as the buildings grew taller to create more living and working space, and by the sixteenth century some were four or five storeys high, with rooms built across the central roadway to create even more space. With buildings being regularly rebuilt, the style of architecture changed too, so that by the eighteenth century the bridge looked very different. The traders paid a high rent for their properties, but there was plenty of passing trade, so they must have done good business. However, the sanitation was fairly basic. As is clearly seen in many of the early depictions of the bridge, the privies were wooden shacks attached to the outside of the buildings, emptying straight into the Thames, which was very functional for the user, but less pleasant for those passing under the bridge. There was also a public privy on the bridge, which, according to Stow, fell into the river in 1481, killing five of its occupants.

Despite the defenses on the bridge, some attackers got through. When Simon de Montfort tried to enter the city in 1264, the Lord Mayor closed the drawbridge and locked the gate, throwing the key into the river, but de Montfort was helped by-some supporters, who broke down the gates to let him in. During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 the bridge was again closed against the rebels, but it was opened when Wat Tyler threatened to burn down the houses at the southern end. In the 1450 rebellion Jack Cade and his followers threatened to set fire to the bridge, and the drawbridge was opened for them to cross. Later there was a fierce battle on the bridge that lasted all night but brought an end to the uprising. The bridge defended the city more successfully during Thomas Wyatt's rebellion in 1554, when he was forced to take his troops upstream to cross the river at Kingston.

From the early fourteenth century, heads of traitors were stuck on poles on the top of the Drawbridge Gate, as a warning to all those arriving in London from the south. To make the heads last longer, they were parboiled and then preserved in tar. Probably the first person to suffer this indignity was William Wallace, the Scottish warrior, who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield in 1305. Many famous and infamous heads were displayed here, including those of the rebels Wat Tyler and Jack Cade. During Henry VIII s reign, the heads of many of his political enemies were displayed on the bridge, most notably that of Sir Thomas More, who refused to acknowledge the king as head of the Church and was executed at Tower Hill. Before Mores head was thrown in the river to make room for a new occupant, his daughter, Margaret Roper, is said to have bought the head and had it buried in the Roper vault at St Dunstan's Church in Canterbury. An alternative, but less likely, version, related by John Aubrey, has the head falling into her lap as she passed under the bridge. The head of Bishop Fisher was also displayed here, but after two weeks, instead of rotting, it was seen to be looking better every day and was attracting sightseers, so it was thrown into theThames. After Nonesuch House replaced the Drawbridge Gate in 1577, traitors' heads were displayed on the Stonegate, and in 1592 a German visitor to London claimed to have seen over thirty heads on display there. After the return of Charles II in 1660, the heads of the regicides were added to the bridge's collection, but the grisly tradition was discontinued in 1678.

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