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London bridge (part eleven)
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When the medieval bridge was demolished, many Roman and medieval coins and other antiquities were discovered, and these are now in the British Museum. Two wooden medieval statues were also found in the river at that time, which had probably decorated the chapel. One, of a monk, is now in the British Museum; the other, of God the Father, is at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire. There was also a demand for souvenirs of the historic bridge, and the market was flooded with furniture and knick-knacks made with the wood from the starlings. Unfortunately, the remains of Peter de Colechurch, who had been buried in the crypt of the chapel, were not preserved but were most likely thrown into the Thames. A small casket in the Museum of London is said to contain some of his bones, but modern analysis has proved this to be untrue.

Much of the stonework was sold off, and it is still possible to see a few relics today. However, it must be borne in mind that almost all the surviving material is from the eighteenth-century reconstruction, not the original medieval bridge, despite a few claims to the contrary. One of the eighteenth-century alcoves can be seen in a quadrangle of Guy's Hospital, and two more are in Victoria Park, Hackney. A fourth one is in the gardens of a block of flats in East Sheen. Some of the balustrade was used on the seafront at Herne Bay, but this was lost in the great storm of 1953. One arch of the old bridge unexpectedly came to light on the north bank in 1921 when Adelaide House was rebuilt, but unfortunately its preservation was considered to be too expensive and it was destroyed, although one of the stones, from the eighteenth-century cladding, is now preserved in the churchyard of St Magnus the Martyr.

In 1863 pageantry returned to the bridge when it was sumptuously decorated to welcome Princess Alexandra of Denmark when she arrived to marry the Prince of Wales. Along both sides of the bridge, which was lined with members of the Honorable Artillery Company, were flags of both countries and portraits of Danish kings, and at the north end was a huge triumphal arch covered in allegorical figures.

In the early evening of Saturday 13 December 1884 an attempt was made to blow the bridge up. Although the bridge was full of pedestrians and road traffic, no one was killed and only a few were injured, and the bridge itself escaped serious damage, possibly because the device had been underwater when it went off. The explosion was heard as far away as Woolwich and Epping, and many windows were blown in on both sides of the river. The culprits were never caught, and they may have been killed in the explosion, but the general feeling was that the atrocity had been carried out by the Fenians, a group of Irish Republican extremists, who had already attempted to blow up a number of important buildings in London.



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