|Subject:||London bridges falling down|
|Original source:||1. Corporation of London Records Office, Misc. Roll AA; 2. Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book F, f.145; 3. Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book D, f. 85; 4. Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book C, f.47; 5. Public Records Office, Eyre roll, JI/1/547A, m.4d|
|Transcription in:||1. Helena Chew and Martin Weinbaum, eds. The London Eyre of 1244, London Record Society, vol.6 (1970), 134; 2. and 4. Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Memorials of London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries, London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1868, 43, 261-62; 3. Reginald Sharpe, ed. Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London: Letter-Book D, London, 1902. 5. Helen Cam, ed. The Eyre of London, 14 Edward II, A.D. 1321, vol.1, Selden Society, Year Books of Edward II, vol.26, (1968), 66.|
|Original language:||1. and 5. Latin; 2. French (translated by Riley); 3. Middle English; 4. Latin (translated by Riley)|
|Date:||13th to 15th centuries|
[1. Challenge to the development of London Bridge, 1244]
The justices enquire by what right the citizens of London have put up houses on London Bridge. The city responds that for the most part the fabric of the Bridge has been maintained through the alms of citizens of London, and that primarily thanks to those alms the wardens and brethren of the Bridge have constructed shops on the Bridge for the maintenance and repair of the Bridge's fabric. However, this has not been to the detriment of the road, for the road across the Bridge is wide enough throughout; and those crossing by the Bridge are enabled to make their way across more safely and confidently thanks to the dwellings built there.
[2. Handover of bridge materiel from outgoing to incoming wardens, 1350]
This is an indenture, made on the Thursday next after the Feast of All Hallows [1 November], in the 24th year of the reign of King Edward, after the Conquest the Third, between Aleyn Gille and John de Hardingham, late Wardens of London Bridge, upon their surrender of such wardenship, of the one part, and John Litle and James Andreu, now Wardens of the same bridge, upon their entry on the same wardenship, of the other part; that is to say, as to the goods and chattels found in the court of the house belonging to the said bridge in Suthwerk, and elsewhere, which has been appraised and delivered by this indenture unto the aforesaid John and James, to answer for the same to the Mayor and to the Commonalty of the said City at the fitting time, that is to say:
400 great pieces of oak timber, value 40d. by the piece, making 100 marks. Also, a pile of timber, lying in the garden close adjoining to the water of Thames, valued at 20 marks. Also, timber for 14 shops, fully wrought and framed for immediate building, £36. Also, divers pieces of timber lying in various places in the said court, valued at £19.6s.8d. Also, 120 pieces of elm for piles, at 2s. the piece, £12. Also, in the grange 125 rakes, at 5d. each, 52s.1d. Also, divers boards of oak and of estrichesborde, value £6.12s.4d. Also, 57000 hertlathes, value 4s. per thousand, £11.8s. Also, 30000 saplathes, value 2s. per thousand, £3. The total of the items before mentioned being £169.19s.1d.
Also, 690 feet of stone of Portelond, hand-worked and squared, as also, 1044 feet of stone of Portelond, not wrought, the total being 1734 pieces, value 5d. per piece, £36.3s.11d.[sic] Also, 600 of coynston, value 5s. per hundred, 40s. [sic]. Also, 18 great stones of Bere, weighing 18 tons, value 6s.8d per ton, £6. Also, a heap of mixed mortar, value £4.8s. Also, 12000 tiles, value 8s. per thousand, £4.16s. Also, cement for the bridge, £3. Also, 7 barrels of pitch, value 4s. per barrel, 28s. Also, two boatloads of ragston, value 23s. Also, one boatload of chalk, value 7s.6d. The total of the stone and other items being £59.6s.5d.
Also, in the werkhous, 7½ weys of old lead, value 6s.8d per wey, 50s. Also, 12000 of plaunchenail in the same house, value 4s. per thousand, 48s. Also, 3000 of dornail, at 2s.6d per thousand, 7s.6d. Also, 400 large nails for the draw-bridge, at 12d. per hundred, 4s. The total thereof being £5.9s.
Also, one mazer, with a silver foot, value 10s. Also, 3000 great plaunchesnail and 7200 dornail, the total whereof is 10200, at 4s. per thousand, 40s.10d. Also, 2600 of wyndounail, at 2s.6d the thousand, 6s.6d. Also, 23000 of rofnail, at 12d. the thousand, 23s. Also, 9000 of traversnails, at 8d. the thousand, 6s. Also, in the Chapel there, in a pokete, 2500 of wyndounail, at 2s.6d the thousand, 6s.6d. Also, 500 grapes of iron, at one penny each, 41s.8d. Also, 18 pieces of new cord, weighing 1640 lb., at 8s. per hundred, £6.11s. Also, 110 irons for piles, value 4d. per iron, 36s.8d. The total of which amounts to £16.2s.2d.; the whole of the sums aforesaid being £250.18s.2d.
There were also delivered unto the aforesaid John le Litle and James Andreu, Wardens of the bridge, the articles under-written, but not valued, belonging to the said bridge, that is to say: one great boat, and one small boat, and one shoute; also, two engines with three rammes, for ramming the piles of the said bridge; two cauldrons for melting pitch for cement; one presser for fixing; five pots of brass; and four posnets, old and worn out.
[3. Bridgewarden's oath of office, probably tempore Edward IV]
You swear that you will well and lawfully serve the city of London in the office of warden of the city bridge. Whatever you have in your custody in regard to the assets of that bridge whether lands, rents, tenements, or materials belonging to the bridge you will keep safe and sound for the use and benefit of the same. You will repair and maintain the bridge and the lands and rents that belong to it. Insofar as you are able, you will diligently undertake any initiative that will bolster the revenues or otherwise prove advantageous. You will do no damage to the bridge or its lands, rents and tenements, nor (insofar as you may) allow such to be done, but to the best of your ability prevent it. Failing which, you will with all speed duly bring the matter to the attention of the mayor and alderman of the city. You will undertake no construction involving new tenements or rents without permission, consent, and agreement of the mayor, aldermen and common council of the city. All the stone, timber, iron, lead and other materials needed for the bridge, lands and tenements you will buy, or have bought, at the cheapest price you can, without any surcharge or profit-margin that in any ways comes into your hands or profits you. You will well and lawfully carry out the aforesaid matters and all other things that fall to the wardens of London bridge and the lands, rents and tenements that belong to it. You will bear responsibility for [giving] your account before the auditors assigned by the city, without concealing any of the revenues, assets, or benefits received or issuing therefrom nor requesting any unwarranted allowance. So help you God and all the saints.
[4. Enquiry into bridge maintenance in Broad Street ward, 1300]
Inquisition taken before Elias Russel, the then Mayor of London, and the Aldermen there present, on Friday the morrow of the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr [7 July] in the 28th year of the reign of King Edward, son of King Henry, as to the making of a certain bridge now broken, near London Wall, in the Ward of Bradestrate, by Henry Hauteyn of the Ward of Bassieshawe, Adam Manyman of the Ward of Colemanstrete, John Verin of the ward of Bisshoppisgate, and John de Hertford of the Ward of Bradestrate, and other persons empanelled of the said Wards.
Who say upon their oath, that so often as it may happen that the said bridge shall be broken, the Prior of the Holy Trinity is bound to make it at his own cost; and he has done so time out of mind, because by his charters he has common way there. They also say that the Prior of the New Hospital without Bisshoppesgate ought to make one half of another bridge, near to the former bridge, and the men who are nearest neighbours to that bridge, the other half. And precept was given to the Sheriffs, that they should distrain the aforesaid Priors and the neighbouring persons to rebuild the said bridges, and to keep them in good repair.
[5. Complaint by Aldersgate ward, 1321]
The jurors present that six years ago the Abbot of Ramsey previous to the present Abbot, and the previous Prior of Holy Trinity to the present one, had a certain stone arch built at the White Cross in Cripplegate ward, over a stream running down from Smithfield, from the Barbican in this ward towards the Moor. Which arch the Abbot and the Prior and their successors have the obligation to maintain and keep in good repair. The arch is too narrow, so that the water there cannot freely flow through, to the nuisance of the neighbourhood. The sheriffs are therefore ordered to make them come etc. [to court to answer].
Subsequently the Abbot and Prior appear by their attorneys, and they say that their predecessors were accustomed to make at that spot across the stream a wooden bridge; which bridge broke down almost every year. Because of that they afterwards made there the stone arch. If it is thus considered unsatisfactory or in is in any way a nuisance etc., they are happy to allow that whatever is a nuisance should be properly rectified or it should be removed.
Therefore the sheriffs are ordered to distrain the present Abbot and convent to fix the bridge etc. The [present] Abbot and Prior are not to be amerced because the problem was not caused by them.
The initial construction of England's most famous bridge came about when the invading Roman army needed to find a spot far up the Thames estuary where its ships could unload troops and supplies, and where a bridge could be built to connect its conquests south and north of the Thames. This spot, where the river may in those times have been shallow enough to support a ford at low tide, was also a good defensive position. Although the terrain was not attractive to substantial settlement to native Britons, there had been a ford and perhaps even a bridge further west, between what is now Lambeth and Westminster, before and perhaps long before the Romans arrived. But the future capital of England owes its existence to the crossroads of Roman bridge and river. When Londinium was designated the capital of the Roman province, a more permanent bridge was built, close to the site where the more famous medieval version would later stand. However, after the Roman army was withdrawn at the beginning of the fifth century, the timber bridge must have fallen into disrepair, if indeed the Romans had not already dismantled it, and there is some indication a ferry may have been operating in the seventh century.
We next hear of a bridge at London in the late tenth century, in association with records of tolls collected at Billingsgate (979) and with the execution of a woman accused of witchcraft by being thrown off the bridge (ca.963/984). It seems likely that the bridge would have been rebuilt after the Anglo-Saxon settlers in the vicinity and particularly those of a large settlement immediately west of the old city, with the character of a wik moved back into the city to seek the protection of the Roman walls in the mid-ninth century, although this did not prevent the Danes from taking control of London until Alfred's reconquest, after which Lundenwic took on a fortress role in the great struggle and became Lundenburg, and the gradual rebuilding of a great city began. Or it may have been after Alfred assigned London to the ealdorman of Mercia that the bridge was rebuilt, probably equipped with fortifications to act as a defence against ships heading up the estuary.
By 1000 tolls were being collected on the bridge. But the structure continued to have a very chequered history, in part because the city itself continued to be one focus for the struggle between Danes and Anglo-Saxons. In 1014 the forces loyal to King Ethelred destroyed the bridge, to try to divide the army of Canute, then occupying London. It was rebuilt. In 1066 London's first defensive stand against William of Normandy's troops was at the south end of the bridge, and was successful, forcing the Conqueror to try to isolate instead of capture London. At this period the bridge was probably about 15 feet wide sufficient for two horse-drawn carts to pass each other. In 1087, after one of those destructive fires that plagued London, William Rufus supported a rebuilding initiative. However, this version of the bridge was destroyed by a storm in 1091, the next by floods in 1097, and the next by fire in 1135/36.
Yet another rebuilding initiative took place in 1163 under the direction of Peter the priest of St. Mary Colechurch. But recognizing the vulnerability of a timber bridge, Peter embarked on a more ambitious project in 1176: to build a new bridge in stone, and atop it a chapel dedicated to the sainted Londoner Thomas Becket; whether the dedication had anything to do with the fact that Becket had been christened in St. Mary Colechurch, or whether it was a shrewd move to foster donations from patriotic Londoners, we can only speculate. This structure, often referred to as the Peter de Colechurch bridge, is believed to have been completed in 1209; the tomb of Peter, who had died a few years earlier, was housed in the chapel.
The new bridge was just over 900 feet in length, standing on 19 piers of varying sizes, with 19 arches and a space (around the centre) covered by a drawbridge to allow masted ships to pass through. The road across it sloped upwards slightly towards the drawbridge. It is thought to have been between 25 and 30 feet wide, although part of this width was gradually consumed by the numerous buildings, some several storeys high, that came to be constructed on either side and projected out over the river; the useable road was probably only a dozen or so feet about the width of that in mid-eleventh century, although a few stretches were not built on, creating gathering spaces. At the southern end a great stone gateway was built and equipped with a portcullis, while the drawbridge was also protected by a lesser gateway, rebuilt in stone in 1426; the first surviving mention of each was in 1258, but they were doubtless older. The great gate and other buildings were not cleared off the bridge until 1760.
The bridge must have been constructed in sections across the old wooden structure in order to keep a passage open; timbers used for the piles of the southern end have been dated to about 1188. It was a feat of engineering unparalleled in urban initiative (as opposed to the cathedral and castle building enterprises, not undertaken by townspeople) in medieval England. It became a symbol of the medieval city, and endured until replaced in the 1830s. A museum dedicated to its history is scheduled to open 800 years after its completion date.
Having a sturdier stone bridge did not end the trials or the financial burden. A fire in the city just a few years after the completion of the bridge did severe damage to the buildings atop it. The damming effect of its narrow arches resulted in a strong and dangerous current through the arches. To protect from the pressure of this, along with other environmental risks, barge-shaped starlings had been built around each pier. Nonetheless, the force exerted by heavy ice build-up (itself partly due to the damming effect) during the winter of 1282, combined with earlier neglect of bridge maintenance, resulted in five arches collapsing; they were quickly but temporarily replaced by a wooden structure while reconstruction in stone progressed. Some writers have attributed the well-known nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down" to either this event or the earlier pulling down of the bridge by Ethelred's forces; however, notwithstanding a few lines from Norse poem (ca.1089) describing the latter event, which has some superficial similarity, no mention of the children's verse is known prior to 1659, and the language/structure is not medieval.
There was further ice damage in 1309. Another major renovation programme was begun in the 1380s. After an arch cracked in 1425, iron-shod carts were banned from the bridge. By 1435 the bridge was in bad shape, and in 1437 the great gate collapsed along with its two supporting arches; extensive rebuilding followed. Further renovation, arch by arch, was underway from the 1460s to '90s; the drawbridge had become unusable by 1476 and thereafter remained closed.
Nor was the bridge free from the old threat of fire, for many of the buildings atop it were timber, wattle and daub. At the height of summer in 1212 fire broke out at the southern end of the bridge and the wind whipped it quickly to the north end; it was said with the exaggeration typical of medieval chroniclers that 3,000 people died trapped on the bridge. The bridge was also, inevitably, involved in the invasions of the city by rebels during the Peasant's Revolt, Cade's rebellion, and that of Fauconberg in 1485; during the latter two events, some of the bridge buildings were set afire. It was also on the bridge that the heads of slain rebel leaders were subsequently displayed.
If bridge building and maintenance was a dauntingly expensive undertaking for any English town, how much more so that of London Bridge. The arrangements made for funding and administering this work were therefore that much more elaborate than in other towns. Given the strategic importance of London, it is not surprising to find the king taking an interest. William Rufus levied a tax to support the reconstruction in 1087, and in 1097 another tax was imposed and local forced labour was brought into play to effect repairs. Henry II imposed a special tax on wool to help Peter de Colechurch with the stone bridge project. The organization that would shortly be created to administer and finance bridge work, and under the name Bridge House Trust still exists to look after five bridges across the Thames, claims to trace its origins to the 1097 tax (although on what grounds, I know not). There is some evidence to suggest property revenues had been assigned to bridge maintenance as early as 1122.
Peter himself was likely the founder of a gild to raise funds for the work: the Brethren of London Bridge. A list of unlicensed gilds at London, in 1179/80, showed them to include five dedicated to the Bridge and presumably intended to fundraise for it. With the backing of Henry II, and donations from the archbishop of Canterbury, London's first mayor, and other dignitaries, Peter aimed to provide support not only through taxation and alms, but also a permanent endowment in the form of property rents; he paid for the chapel out of his own pocket. King John granted wasteland to the city, for the purpose of building tenements that would generate such rents and, in 1201, gave permission for shops and houses to be built on the bridge itself, for similar purpose; although the first mention of houses there is not until 1221, it is likely that wooden buildings were thrown up quickly, while Peter was alive, to start bringing in rents.
This formed the nucleus of the Bridge House Estate, which derived its name either from a Southwark house near the bridge end, where bridge materials were stored, or from a house attached to the chapel where clerical members of the Brethren lived; the house is not referred to as an administrative base until 1243, but the building was one of those damaged in the 1212 fire, and deeds of the trust evidence the revenues assigned the bridge in preceding years. The accounts of the bridge-wardens in 1358 show 138 rent-paying shops on the bridge, with craft workshops above many; the rents were producing £160.4s. and over £205 a century later. A fishmarket was located nearby. It became necessary at one point for the authorities to quash the development of a market on the bridge itself.
Nonetheless, the bridge was an important public space in its own right, equipped with a large public latrine. On occasion it was the place where kings and queens entering London were ceremoniously greeted. The bridgewardens accounts show costs for decorating the bridge on such occasions. For the entry into the city of Henry V when he brought his new queen back from France, a sculptor was commissioned to create some giant heads, apparently for giant puppets designed to bow to the king, and there were also sculpted lions capable of movement. In the fifteenth century parts of the bridge were decorated with paintings, a reflection of the city's pride in the structure.
Some of its earlier history was gloomier for the bridge, however. Henry III had taken control of the bridge revenues in 1249, to help finance own military needs. Later he assigned these to his queen, who also diverted them to other uses. It was not until 1281 that Edward I returned to the city authority jurisdiction over the bridge, now in a bad state of disrepair, which contributed to the partial collapse it experienced in 1282 (mentioned above). Mayor Henry le Waleys, who held office in that and the following two years, dealt with the crisis by expanding the Bridge House Estate with the first of the properties off the bridge: he built in a fairly central location in the city a covered market called the Stocks which could provide revenues from the stalls leased by butchers and fishmongers, and in 1283 began to try to develop an area of wasteland near St. Paul's an initiative that met with challenge and was not finalized until 1345. In 1324 the city authorities obtained from Edward II a confirmation of the arrangement regarding the Stocks market, after some butchers and fishmongers had found a way to avoid paying the stall rental, thus depriving the Bridge. By 1381 the Stocks rents were bringing in £100 a year, but in the following century the building required substantial renovations. By this time rows of shops had been erected in Newgate Market, and by the close of the Middle Ages, the Bridge trust was receiving revenues from hundreds of properties across the city.
To manage both the bridge and the properties that funded it was a large undertaking. The Bridge trust acted as a distinct department of the city government, headed by two bridgewardens who, from 1311, were elected annually by the community, and received an annual salary of £10 each. Edward II's charter to the city (as recited in his successor's confirmation) specified:
that the keeping of the bridge, along with the rents and revenues belonging to that bridge, are to be committed to two reputable and qualified men of the city who are not aldermen and this through election by the community of the city, whomever the city wishes and who will be answerable to the community for the same.We should bear in mind, however, that this charter (1319) embodied many reforms, reacting against a period of government by an aldermannic clique that had attempted to concentrate power into fewer hands.
What we find in practice is that the wardens were still drawn from those who were or would become leading citizens, such as William Chichele and William Sevenok men with experience as chamberlains, councillors or even aldermen (despite the charter). At the opening of the fifteenth century, it was prescribed that no-one hold the office for more than two years consecutively, but this limitation was rescinded in 1406 and some men held it for extended periods thereafter.
Underneath the wardens was a staff of rent-collectors, toll-collectors, bailiffs, clerks, as well as chaplains serving the chapel on the bridge. The Clerk of the Works was the chief of this bureaucratic staff. Even some workmen were employed full-time, while others were taken on for specific projects. The intent was for an operation that was fiscally self-supporting; even today the trustee (the Corporation of London) may not use Fund money for anything but the bridges. At Exeter too, in the mid-fourteenth century, the Exe Bridge was likewise intended to be self-sufficient: it was in the care of a warden who accounted separately from the city financial officers for revenues allocated the bridge (house rents, the farm of a mill, bequests, and tolls on wagons crossing the bridge), expenditures on the bridge and its chapel, and the fees of himself and his clerk.
The London bridgewardens accounts were audited annually by a committee, whose members were elected some by the mayor and aldermen and others by the community at large. The accounts were scrutinized carefully, and in 1470 the wardens were criticized for claiming unwarranted costs for their horses, insisting that these only be claimed when the horses were used on bridge business; but more often a certain leaway was allowed with the claims. It has been suggested that amount of detail in the accounts reflects a strong sense of accountability [C.P. Christianson, Memorials of the Book Trade in Medieval London: The Archives of Old London Bridge, Cambridge, 1987, p.9].
The fiscal resources the wardens managed were, during the fourteenth century at least, equal to the demands of bridge maintenance. They were not drawn exclusively from the properties assigned it by national or local authorities. The tolls collected from those transporting merchandize over or under the bridge, or unloading it there, were another regular source of income. Edward I had authorized their collection in 1281. Only with the problems of the 1430s did it become necessary to resort to taxation once more, £333.13s.4d being sought by the city authorities.
The generosity of citizens, if less predictable, was also important. Many dozens of bequests to the bridge are known from wills enrolled in husting, dating between the 1260s and the 1480s, and Edward I had encouraged such gifts when he turned the bridge back to city jurisdiction. A few of these were of real estate. For instance, in 1269, mag. Richard Cocus left all his houses in Colechurch for the maintenance of the bridge, on condition the wardens provide a chantry for his soul, and in 1337 the bridge was bequeathed by Richard de Gloucestre a brewhouse. Most early bequests, in the time of Edward I and his son, were sums of money, ranging from 6d. to 100s. In 1301, widow Margery Bacheler left the Bridge her gold wedding ring. Such bequests became less common in the reign of Edward III. But in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there was a new trend: a number of testators setting up chantries nominated the mayor and wardens as backups, in case their original plans for chantry administration did not come to fruition; in those cases, the endowment was to default to the use of the Bridge in return for chantry maintenance. In fact, as early as 1305 the city authorities were upholding the testament of a citizen bequeathing some of his property be sold to fund a chantry, and assigning any proceeds (beyond what was necessary for the chantry) to the Bridge.
We should not let the splendour of "the Bridge" blind us to the existence of lesser bridges in and around London. Bridges across the Fleet and the Holborn carried roads into the walled city. There were other small bridges, occasionally mentioned. We know rather less about what arrangements were made for maintaining these, but the last two documents above show that landholders whether citizens or religious houses had some responsibility there. An enquiry by the city authorities in 1291, concerning the bridge by which the street known as Bucklersbury crossed the Walbrook, determined that four specific houses in that street (perhaps at either end of the bridge) had the responsibility for its maintenance; it was said that anciently (ca. mid-century) special stones were positioned in front of each house to designate their responsibility. This approach, shouldering responsibility on the householders whose property neighboured minor bridges, may have been typical.
"house belonging to the said bridge"
"plaunchenail" "dornail" "rofnail" "wyndounail"
"Prior of the Holy Trinity"
"across the old wooden structure"
"butchers and fishmongers"
|Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: April 18, 2015||© Stephen Alsford, 2004-2015|