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London bridge (part fourteen)
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One of the ancient privileges of receiving the Freedom of the City, or so tradition has it, is to be able to herd sheep across London Bridge, though there is no documentary evidence of the right. Freemen used to be exempt from paying tolls, and livestock was once regularly herded through the streets on the way to market, often across the bridges, so this could have included the right to drive a herd of sheep over London Bridge without paying for the privilege. In the popular consciousness, this privilege has been considered, incorrectly, to be a right bestowed on Freemen today, though it is a privilege rarely carried out, except occasionally as a publicity stunt.

Every July the bridge forms the backdrop for the start of the Doggett's Coat and Badge Race, the oldest contested race in the sporting calendar. It was initiated in 1715 by Thomas Doggett to celebrate the accession of George I, and he left money in his will to the Fishmongers' Company to pay for the coat and badge to be presented to the winning young waterman.The race is still rowed over the original course, from London Bridge to Chelsea, and usually takes about thirty minutes.


London bridge (part fourteen)

Modern London Bridge.



There are a number of things to look out for on the modern bridge. On both sides of the road on the south side are silver dragons marking the boundary between the City of London and the London Borough of Southwark. On the downstream parapet near the centre of the bridge is the plaque marking the opening of the bridge in 1973. On the centre of both balustrades are Silver Jubilee Walkway plaques identifying all the buildings of interest visible from the bridge. On the upstream side at foot level can be seen the boundary marks of the parishes of St Magnus the Martyr and St Saviour's (now Southwark Cathedral), preserved from the old bridge.
In February 2008 a new attraction opened up in the vaults under the southern abutment of Rennie's bridge.The London Bridge Experience has created scenes from the gorier side of the life of the bridge using actors to bring them to life. Though this gives only a very limited idea of the bridge's history, there is a small museum at the end of a visit, which contains items from the collection of the late Peter Jackson, a historian fascinated by the bridge.

Today London Bridge is still busy at all times of day, but in particular during the morning and evening rush hours, when hundreds of thousands of commuters cross it to and from London Bridge Station. The scene is described inT. S. Eliot's celebrated 1922 poem The Waste Land, lines that have a curious aptness, as the poet worked for eight years in a bank:

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.



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