Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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"Old Moll"—Legend of John Overy—The Old Wooden Bridge—The First Stone Bridge—Insults to Queen Eleanor—The Head of Wallace—Tournament on London Bridge—Welcome to Richard II.—Murderers' Heads—Return of Henry V.—The Poet Lydgate—Funeral of Henry V.—Brawls on London Bridge—Accident to a Ducal Barge—Lollards' Heads on the Bridge—Entry of Henry VI.—Fall of the End Tower—Margaret of Anjou—Jack Cade and his Ruffianly Crew—Falconbridge—Other Heads on the Bridge—Bishop Fisher—Sir Thomas More—Wyatt's Rebellion—Restoration in Elizabeth's Reign—Fire on the Bridge—Removal of the Houses—Temporary Wooden Bridge—Smeaton's Repairs—Rennie's New Bridge—Laying the First Stone—Celebrated Dwellers on the Old Bridge—The Force of Habit—Jewish Tradition about London Bridge—Average Number of Passengers over the Bridge.
There are few spots in London where, within a very limited and strictly-defined space, so many historical events have happened, as on Old London Bridge. It was a battle-field and a place of religious worship, a resort of traders and a show-place for traitors' heads. Its Nonsuch House was one of the sights of London in the reign of Elizabeth; and the passage between its arches was one of the exploits of venturous youth, down to the very time of its removal. Though never beautiful or stately, London Bridge was one of those sights that visitors to the metropolis never forgot.
There is no certain record of when the first London Bridge was built. It is true that Dion Cassius, writing nearly two hundred years after the invasion of Britain by Claudius, speaks vaguely of a bridge across the Thames in the reign of that emperor; but it is more probable that no bridge really existed till the year 994, the year after the invasion of Olaf the Dane, in the reign of King Ethelred. It is at least certain that in the year 1008, in the reign of Ethelred II., the Unready, there was a bridge, for, according to Snorro Sturlesonius, an Icelandic historian, Olaf the Norwegian, an ally of Etherlred, attacking the Danes who had fortified themselves in Southwark, fastened his vessels to the piles of London Bridge, which the Danes held, and dragged down the whole structure. This Olaf, afterwards a martyr, is the patron saint from whom the church now standing at the south-east corner of London Bridge, derived its Christian name. Tooley Street below, a word corrupted from Saint Olave, also preserves the memory of the Norwegian king, eventually slain near Drontheim by Knut, King of Denmark.
Still, whenever the churchwardens and vestry of St. Mary Overie's, Bankside, meet over their cups, the first toast, says an antiquary who has written an exhaustive history of London Bridge, is to their church's patron saint, "Old Moll." This Old Moll was, according to Stow, Mary, the daughter of a ferryman at this part of the river, who left all her money to build a house of sisters, where the east part of St. Mary Overie's now stands. In time the nunnery became a house of priests, who erected the first wooden bridge over the Thames. There is still existing at the Church of St. Mary Overie's a skeleton effigy, which some declare to be that of Audery, the ferryman, father of the immortal Moll. The legend was that this John Overy, or Audery, was a rich and covetous man, penurious, and insanely fond of hoarding his hard-earned fees. He had a pious and beautiful daughter, who, though kept in seclusion by her father, was loved by a young gallant, who secretly wooed and won her. One day the old hunks, to save a day's food, resolved to feign himself dead for twenty-four hours, vainly expecting that his servants, from common decency, would fast till his funeral. With his daughter's help he therefore laid himself out, wrapped in a sheet, with one taper burning at his feet, and another at his head. The lean, halfstarved servants, however, instead of lamenting their master's decease, leaped up overjoyed, danced round the body, broke open the larder, and fell to feasting. The old ferryman bore all this as long as flesh and blood could bear it, but at last he scrambled up in his sheet, a candle in each hand, to scold and chase the rascals from the house; when one of the boldest of them, thinking it was the devil himself, snatched up the butt-end of a broken oar, and struck out his master's brains. On hearing of this unintentional homicide, the lover came posting up to London so fast that his horse stumbled, and the eager lover, alas! broke his neck. On this second misfortune, Mary Overy, shrouding her beauty in a cowl, retired into a cloister for life. The corpse of the old miser was refused Christian burial, he being deemed by the clergy a wicked and excommunicated man; the friars of Bermondsey Abbey, however, in the absence of their father abbot, were bribed to give the body "a little earth, for charity.'' The abbot on his return, enraged at the friars' cupidity, had the corpse dug up and thrown on the back of an ass, that was then turned out of the abbey gates. The patient beast carried the corpse up Kent Street, and shook it off under the gibbet near the small pond once called St. Thomas a Waterings, where it was roughly interred. The ferryman's effigy referred to before is really, as Gough, in his "Sepulchral Monuments," says most of such figures are, the work of the fifteenth century. Now the real Audery, if he lived at all, lived long before the Conquest, for the first wooden bridge was, it is thought, probably built to stop the Danish piratevessels.
The old wooden bridge was destroyed by a terrific flood and storm, mentioned in the "Chronicle of Florence of Worcester," which, in the year 1090, blew down six hundred London houses, and lifted the roof off Bow Church. In the second year of Stephen a fire, that swept away all the wooden houses of London from Aldgate to St. Paul's, destroyed the second wooden bridge.
The first stone London Bridge was begun in 1176, by Peter, a priest and chaplain of St. Mary Colechurch, a building which, till the Great Fire made short work of it, stood in Conyhoop Lane, on the north side of the Poultry. There long existed a senseless tradition that pious Peter of the Poultry reared the arches of his bridge upon woolpacks; the fact, perhaps, being that Henry II. generously gave towards the building a new tax levied upon his subjects' wool. Peter's bridge, which occupied thirty-three years in its construction, boasted nineteen pointed stone arches, and was 926 feet long, and 40 feet wide. It included a wooden drawbridge, and the piers were raised upon platforms (called starlings) of strong elm piles, covered by thick planks bolted together, that impeded the passage of barges. On one of the piers was erected a two-storeyed chapel, forty feet high and sixty feet long, to St. Thomas a Becket. The lower chapel could be entered either from the chapel above or from the river, by a flight of stone stairs. The founder himself was buried under the chapel staircase. Peter's bridge was partly destroyed by a great fire in 1212, four years after it was finished, and while its stones were still sharp and white. There were even then houses upon it, and gate-towers; and many people crowding to help, or to see the sight, got wedged in between two fires by a shifting of the wind, and being unable to escape, some three thousand were either burnt or drowned.
King John, after this, granted certain tolls, levied on foreign merchants, towards the bridge repairs. Henry III., according to a patent-roll dated from Portsmouth, 1252, permitted certain monks, called the Brethren of London Bridge, with his especial sanction, to travel over England and collect alms. In this same reign (1263) the bridge became the scene of great scorn and insult, shown by the turbulent citizens to Henry's queen, Eleanor of Provence, who was opposed to the people's friends, the barons, who were still contending for the final settlement of Magna Charta. As the queen and her ladies, in their gilded barge, were on their way to Windsor, and preparing to shoot the dangerous bridge, the rabble above assailed her with shouts and reproaches, and casting heavy stones and mud into her boat, at her and her bright-clothed maidens, drove them back to the Tower, where the king was garrisoned. Towards the end of the same year, when Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, marched on London, the king and his forces occupied Southwark, and, to thwart the citizens, locked up the bridge-gates, and threw the ponderous keys into the Thames. But no locks can bar out Fate. The gates were broken open by a flood of citizens, the king was driven back, and Simon entered London. After the battle of Evesham, where the great earl fell, the king, perhaps remembering old grudges, took the halfruinous bridge into his own hands and delivered it over to the queen, who sadly neglected it. There were great complaints of this neglect in the reign of Edward I., and again the Holy Brothers went forth to collect alms throughout the land. The king gave lands also for the support of the bridge—namely, near the Mansion House, Old Change, and Ivy Lane. He also appointed tolls—every man on foot, with merchandise, to pay one farthing; every horseman, one penny; every pack carried on horseback, one halfpenny. This same year (1281)' four arches of London Bridge were carried away by the same thaw-flood that destroyed Rochester Bridge.
The reign of Edward I. was disgraced by the cruel
revenge taken by the warlike monarch on William
Wallace. In August, 1305, on Edward's return
from the fourth invasion of Scotland, "this man of
Belial," as Matthew of Westminster calls Wallace,
was drawn on a sledge to Smithfield, there hanged,
embowelled, beheaded, quartered, and his head set
on a pole on London Bridge. An old ballad in
the Harleian Collection, describing the execution of
Simon Fraser, another Scotch guerilla leader, in the
following year, concludes thus—
"Many was the wives-chil' that looked on him that day,
And said, Alas! that he was born, and so vilely forlorn,
So fierce man as he was.
Now stands the head above the town bridge,
Fast by Wallace, sooth for to say."
The heads of these two Scotch patriots were, no doubt, placed side by side on the gate at the north or London end of the bridge.
The troublous reign of the young profligate, Richard II., brought more fighting to the bridge, for Wat Tyler and his fierce Kentish and Surrey men then came chafing to the gates, which the Lord Mayor, William Walworth, had chained and barred, pulling up the drawbridge. Upon this the wild men shouted across to the wardens of the bridge to let it down, or they would destroy them all, and from sheer fear the wardens yielded. Through that savage crowd the Brethren of the Bridge, as Thomas of Walsingham says, came passing with processions and prayers for peace.
In 1390 fighting of a gayer and less bloodthirsty kind took place on the bridge. No dandy Eglinton tournament this, but a genuine grapple with spear, sword, and dagger. Sir David Lindsay, of Glenesk, who had married a daughter of Robert II., King of Scotland, challenged to the joust Lord Wells; our ambassador in Scotland, a man described by Andrew of Wyntoun, a poetical Scotch chronicler, as being
"Manful, stout, and of good pith,
And high of heart he was therewith."
Sir David arrived from Scotland with twentynine attendants and thirty horses. The king presided at the tournament. The arms Lindsay bore on his shield, banner, and trappings were gules, a fesse chequé argent and azure; those of Wells, or, a lion rampant, double queue, sable. At the first shock the spears broke, and the crowd shouted that Lindsay was tied to his saddle. The earl at that leaped off his charger, vaulted back, and dashed on to the collision. At the third crash Wells fell heavily, as if dead. In the final grapple Lindsay, fastening his dagger into the armour of the English knight, lifted him from the ground and dashed him, finally vanquished, to the earth. According to Andrew of Wyntoun, the king called out from his "summer castle," "Good cousin Lindsay, do forth that thou should do this day," but the generous Scotchman threw himself on Wells and embraced him till he revived. Nor did he stop there; during Wells's sickness of three months Lindsay visited him in the gentlest manner, even like the most courteous companion, and did not omit one day. "For he had fought," says Boethius, "without anger, and but for glory." And to commemorate that glorious St. George's day, the Scotch knight founded a chantry at Dundee, with a gift of forty-eight marks (£32) yearly, for seven priests and divers virgins to sing anthems to the patron saint of England.
In 1392, when Richard II. returned to London, reconciled to the citizens, who had resented his reckless extravagance, London Bridge was the centre of splendid pageants. At the bridge-gate the citizens presented the handsome young scapegrace with a milk-white charger, caparisoned in cloth of gold and hung with silver bells, and gave the queen a white palfrey, caparisoned in white and red; while from every window hung cloths of gold and silver. The citizens ended by redeeming their forfeited charter by the outrageous payment of £10,000.
In 1396, when Richard had lost his first queen, Anne of Bohemia, and married the child-daughter of Charles VI. of France, the crowd was so great to welcome the young queen, that at London Bridge nine persons were crushed to death in the crowd. The reign of Richard II. was indeed a memorable one for London Bridge.
The year Richard II. was deposed, Henry of Lancaster laid rough hands on four knights who had three years before smothered the old Duke of Gloucester, by the king his nephew's commands. The murderers were dragged to Cheapside, and there had their hands lopped off at a fishmonger's stall. The heads were then spiked over the gate of London Bridge, and the bodies strung together on a gibbet. Nor did these heads long remain unaccompanied, for in 1407–8 Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was beheaded, while Lord Bardolf, one of his adherents who had joined in a northern insurrection, was quartered, and the earl's head and a flitch of unfortunate Bardolf were set up on London Bridge.
There was a great rejoicing on London Bridge when Henry V. returned with his long train of French captives from the red field of Agincourt, in November, 1415. The Mayor of London, with all the aldermen and crafts, in scarlet gowns and red and white hoods, welcomed him back to his capital; and on the gate-tower stood a male and a female giant, the former having the keys of the City hanging from a staff, while trumpeters with horns and clarions sounded welcome to the conqueror of the French. In front of the gate was written, "The King's City of Justice." On a column on one side was an antelope, with a shield of the royal arms hanging round his neck, and holding a sceptre, which he offered to the king, in his right foot. On the opposite column stood a lion rampant, with the king's banner in his dexter claw. At the foot of the bridge rose a painted tower, with an effigy of St. George in complete armour in the midst, under a tabernacle. The saint's head was crowned with laurel interwoven with gems, and behind him spread a tapestry emblazoned with escutcheons. The turrets, embossed with the royal arms, were plumed with banners. Across the tower ran two scrolls, with the mottoes, "To God only be honour and glory," and "The streams of the river make glad the city of God," In the house adjoining stood bright-faced children singing welcome to the king, accompanied by the melody of organs. The hero of Agincourt rode conspicuous above all on a courser trapped with parti-colours, one-half blue velvet embroidered with antelopes (the arms of the De Bohun family) having large flowers springing between their horns. These trappings were afterwards utilised as copes for Westminster Abbey.
Lydgate, that Suffolk monk who succeeded Chaucer, in the bead-roll of English poets, wrote a poem on this day's celebrations. "Hail, London!" he makes the king exclaim at the first sight of the red roofs; "Christ you keep from every care." The last verse of the quaint poem runs thus:—
"And at the drawbridge that is fast by
Two towers there were up pight;
An antelope and a lion standing hym by,
Above them Saint George our lady's knight.
Beside him many an angel bright;
'Benedictus,' they gan sing,
'Qui venit in nomine Domini, Godde's knight.
Gracia Dei with you doth spring.'
Wot we right well that thus it was—
Gloria tibi Trinitas."
Seven years after this rejoicing day, the corpse of the young hero (only thirty-four) was borne over the bridge on its way from Vincennes to Westminster Abbey. On a bier covered with red silk and beaten gold lay a painted effigy of the king, robed and crowned, and holding sceptre, ball, and cross. Six richly-harnessed horses drew the chariot, the hangings blazoned with the arms of St. George, Normandy, King Arthur, St. Edward the Confessor, France, and France and England quarterly. A costly canopy was held over the royal bier; and ten bishops, in their pontificals, with mitred abbots, priests, and innumerable citizens, met the corpse and received it with due honour, the priests singing a dirge. Three hundred torch-bearers, habited in white, surrounded the bier. After them came 5,000 mounted men-at-arms, in black armour, holding their spears reversed; and nobles followed, bearing pennons, banners, and bannerolls; while twelve captains preceded, carrying the king's heraldic achievement. After the body came all the servants of the household, in black, James I. of Scotland as chief mourner, with the princes and lords of the royal blood clad in sable; while at the distance of two miles followed Queen Katherine and her long train of ladies.
Readers of Shakespeare will remember, in the first part of Henry VI., how he makes the servingmen of the Protector Gloucester wrangle with the retainers of Cardinal Beaufort, till tawny coat beats blue, and blue pommels tawny. Brawls like this took place twice on London Bridge, and the proud and ambitious cardinal on one occasion assembled his archers at his Bankside palace, and attempted to storm the bridge.
The dangers of "shooting" London Bridge were exemplified as early as 1428 (in the same reign—Henry VI.). "The barge of the Duke of Norfolk, starting from St. Mary Overie's, with many a gentleman, squire, and yeoman, about half-past four of the clock on a November afternoon, struck (through bad steering) on a starling of London Bridge, and sank." The duke and two or three other gentlemen fortunately leaped on the piles, and so were saved by ropes cast down from the parapet above; the rest perished.
Several Lollards' heads had already adorned the bridge; and in 1431 the skull of a rough reformer, a weaver of Abingdon, who had threatened to make priests' heads "as plentiful as sheep's heads," was spiked upon the battlements. The very next year the child-king, Henry VI., who had been crowned at Notre Dame in 1431, entered London over this bridge. Lydgate, like a true laureate, careless who or what the new king might be, nibbed his ready pen, and was at it again with ready verse. At the drawbridge there was a tower, he says, hung with silk and arras, from which issued three empresses—Nature, Grace, and Fortune.
"And at his coming, of excellent beauty,
Benign of part, most womanly of cheer,
There issued out empresses three,
Their hair displayed, as Phcebus in his sphere,
With crownets of gold and stones clear,
At whose outcoming they gave such a light
That the beholders were stonied in their sight."
With these empresses came fourteen maidens, all clad in white, who presented the king with gifts, and sang a roundel of welcome.
If Old London Bridge had a fault, it was, perhaps, its habit of occasionally partly falling down. This it did as early as 1437, when the great stone gate and tower on the Southwark end, with two arches, subsided into the Thames.
There was another gala day for the bridge in
1445, when the proud and impetuous William de
la Pole (afterwards Duke of Suffolk) brought over
Margaret, daughter of René (that weak, poetical
monarch, immortalised in "Anne of Geierstein"),
as a bride for the young King of England, and the
City welcomed her on their river threshold. The
Duke of Gloucester, who had opposed the match,
preceded her, with 500 men clad in his ducal
livery, and with gilt badges on their arms; and the
mayor and aldermen rode on in scarlet, followed
by the City companies in blue gowns and red
hoods. Again Lydgate tuned his ready harp, and
prodwced some certainly most unprophetic verses,
in which he called the savage Margaret—
"The dove that brought the branch of peace,
Resembling your simpleness, Columbyne."
In 1450, and the very month after Margaret's favourite, De la Pole, had been seized in Dover Roads, and his head brutally chopped off on the side of a boat, the great insurrection under Jack Cade broke out in Kent. After routing a detachment of the royal troops at Sevenoaks, Cade marched towards London, and the commons of Essex mustering threateningly at Mile End, the City, after some debate, admitted Cade over London Bridge. As the rebel passed over the echoing drawbridge, he slashed in two the ropes that supported it. Three days after, the citizens, irritated at his robberies, barred up the bridge at night, and penned him close in his head-quarters at Southwark. The rebels then flew to arms, and tried to force a passage, eventually winning the drawbridge, and burning many of the houses which stood in close rows near it. Now the battle raged by St. Magnus's corner, now at the bridge-foot, Southwark side, and all the while the Tower guns thundered at the swarming, maddened men of Kent. At nine the next morning both sides, faint and weary, retired to their respective quarters. Soon afterwards Cade's army melted away; Cade, himself a fugitive, was slain in a Kentish garden where he had hid himself; and his grim, defaced head was placed on the very bridge-gate on which he had himself but recently, in scorn and triumph, placed the ghastly head of Lord Say, the murdered Treasurer of England. Round Cade's head, when the king re-entered London, were placed the heads of nine of his captains.
At the entry of Edward IV. into London, in 1461, before his coronation, he passed over London Bridge, escorted by the mayor and his fellows, in scarlet, and 400 commoners, "well horsed and clad in green."
In 1471, when Henry was a prisoner in the Tower, the Bastard of Falconbridge, one of the deposed king's piratical partisans, made a dash to plunder London. While 3,000 of his men attacked Aldgate and Bishopsgate, the rest set fire to London Bridge, and burnt thirteen houses. But the citizens, led by Ralph Jocelyn, a brave Draper, made a gallant defence, drove off the filibusters, and chased them to Blackwall.
In 1481 another house on the bridge fell down, drowning five of its inhabitants.
The reign of Henry VII. brought more terrible trophies to London Bridge; for in 1496 Flamock, a lawyer, and Joseph, a farrier of Bodmin, leaders of a great Cornish insurrection, contributed their heads to this decorative object. But Henry VII. was not half such a mower off of heads as that enormous Turk his son. Henry VIII., what with the wives he grew tired of, and what with the disbelievers in his ecclesiastical supremacy, kept the headsman's axe very fairly busy. First came the prior and several unfortunate Charter House monks, and then the good old Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher. The parboiled head of the good old man who would not bow the knee to Rimmon was kept, that Queen Anne Boleyn might enjoy the grateful sight. The face for a fortnight remained so ruddy and life-like, and such crowds collected to see the so-called miracle, that the king, in a rage, at last ordered the head to be thrown down into the river. The next month came the head of a far greater and wiser man, Sir Thomas More. This sacred relic More's daughter, Margaret Roper, bribed a man to remove, and drop into a boat in which she sat; and the head was, long after, buried with her, under a chapel adjoining St. Dunstan's, Canterbury.
In Queen Mary's reign there was again fighting on London Bridge. In the year 1554, when rash Sir Thomas Wyatt led his 4,000 Kentish men to London, to stop the impending Spanish marriage, the rebel found the drawbridge cut away, the gates of London Bridge barred, and guns planted ready to receive him. Wyatt and his men dug a trench at the bridge-foot, and laid two guns. 'The night before Wyatt retreated to Kingston, to cross the Thames there, seven of his arquebusiers fired at a boat from the Tower, and killed a waterman on board. The next morning, the Lieutenant of the Tower turning seven cannon on the steeples of St. Olave's and St. Mary Overie's, the people of Southwark begged Wyatt to withdraw, which he generously did.
In Elizabeth's reign the bridge was restored with great splendour. The City built a new gate and tower, three storeys high, at the Southwark end—a huge pile, full of square Tudor windows, with a covered way below, About the same time was also reared that wonder of London, Nonsuch House—a huge wooden pile, four storeys high, with cupolas and turrets at each corner, brought from Holland, and erected with wooden pegs instead of nails. It stood over the seventh and eighth arches, on the north side of the drawbridge. There were carved wooden galleries outside the long lines of transom-casements, and the panels between were richly carved and gilt. In the same reign, Peter Moris, a Dutchman, established water-works at the north end of London Bridge; and, long before this, corn-mills had been erected at the south end of the same overtaxed structure. The ghastly custom of displaying the heads of the victims of the scaffold continued for many years after, both here and at the Tower. In the next reign, after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, the head of Father Garnet (the account of whose execution in St. Paul's Churchyard we gave in a previous chapter) was added to the horrible collection on the bridge.
In 1632 forty-two houses on the north side of the bridge were destroyed by a fire, occasioned by a careless servant setting a tub of hot ashes under a staircase; and the Great Fire of 1666 laid low several houses on the same side of the bridge.
There are several old proverbs about London Bridge still extant. Two of these—"If London Bridge had fewer eyes it would see better," and "London Bridge was made for wise men to go over and fools to go under"—point to the danger of the old passage past the starlings.
The old bridge had by the beginning of the eighteenth century become perilously ruinous. Pennant speaks of remembering the street as dark, narrow, and dangerous; the houses overhung the road in such a terrific manner as almost to shut out the daylight, and arches of timber crossed the street to keep the shaky old tenements from falling on each other. Indeed, Providence alone kept together the long-toppling, dilapidated structure, that was perilous above and dangerous below. "Nothing but use," says that agreeable and vivacious writer, Pennant, "could preserve the repose of the inmates, who soon grew deaf to the noise of the falling waters, the clamour of watermen, and the frequent shrieks of drowning wretches." Though many booksellers and other tradesmen affected the great thoroughfare between Kent, Surrey, and Middlesex, the bridge houses were, in the reign of George II., chiefly tenanted by pin and needle makers; and economical ladies were accustomed to drive there from the west end of the town to make cheap purchases.
Although the roadway had been widened in the reigns of James II. and William, the double lines of rickety houses were not removed till 1757–60 (George II.). During their removal three pots of Elizabethan money were dug up among the ruins.
In 1758, a temporary wooden bridge, built over the Thames while repairs of the old bridge were going on, was destroyed by fire, it was supposed by some footman in passing dropping his link among the woodwork. Messrs. Taylor and Dance, the repairers, chopped the old bridge in two, and built a new centre arch; but the join became so insecure that few persons would venture over it. The celebrated Smeaton was called in, in 1761, and he advised the Corporation to buy back the stone of the old City gates, pulled down and sold the year before, to at once strengthen the shaky starlings. This was done, but proved a mere makeshift, and in 1768 the starlings again became loose, and an incessant wail of fresh complaints arose. The repairs were calculated at £2,500 yearly; and it was rather unfeelingly computed that fifty watermen, bargemen, or seamen, valued at £20,000, were annually drowned in passing the dangerous bridge. In 1823, the City, in sheer desperation, resolved on a new bridge, 100 feet westward of the old, and in 1824 Mr. Rennie began the work by removing 182 houses. The earlier bridges had been eastward, and facing St. Botolph's. During the excavations coins were discovered of Augustus, Vespasian, and later Roman emperors, besides many Nuremberg and tradesmen's tokens. There were also dredged up brass rings, buckles, iron keys, silver spoons, a gilt dagger, an iron spear-head, some carved stones, a bronze lamp, with a head of Bacchus, and a silver effigy of Harpocrates, the god of silence. This figure having attached to it a large gold ring, and a chain of pure gold, is supposed to have been a priest's amulet, to be worn at religious ceremonies. The bridge cost £506,000. The first stone was laid in June, 1825, by the Right Honourable John Garratt, Lord Mayor, the Duke of York being present.
Among the celebrated persons who have resided on London Bridge there may be mentioned, among the most eminent, Hans Holbein, the great painter of Henry VIII.'s court; Peter Monamy, the marine painter, apprenticed to a sign-painter on the bridge—he died in 1749; Jack Laguerre, the humorist, singer, player, and scene-painter, son of the Laguerre satirised by Pope; and Crispin Tucker, a waggish bookseller and author, who was intimate with Pope and Swift, and who lived under the southern gate, in a rickety bow-windowed shop, where Hogarth, when young, and engraving for old John Bowles, of the Black Horse, Cornhill, had once resided. This Bowles was the generous man who used to buy Hogarth's plates by weight, and who once offered an artist, who was going abroad on a sketching tour, clean sheets of copper for all the engravings he chose to send over.
The second edition of that curious anecdotic old book, "Cocker's Dictionary," the compilation of the celebrated penman and arithmetician, whose name has grown into a proverb, was "printed for T. Norris, at the Looking-Glass on London Bridge; C. Brown, at the Crown in Newgate Street; and A. Bettesworth, at the Red Lyon in Pater-noster-row, 1715."
One anecdote of the old bridge must not be forgotten. Mr. Baldwin, haberdasher, living in the house over the chapel, was ordered, when an old man of seventy-one, to go to Chislehurst for change of air. But the invalid found he could not sleep in the country for want of the accustomed sound of the roar and rush of the tide under the old ruinous arches. In 1798 the chapel was a paper warehouse. Within legal memory, says the Morning Advertiser of that date, "service has been performed there every Sabbath and saint's-day."
The English Jews still have a very curious tradition which associates London Bridge with the story of the expulsion from England of their persecuted forefathers in the reign of Edward I. Though few Jews have probably ever read Holinshed, the legend is there to be found, and runs thus:—" A sort of the richest of them," says Holinshed, "being shipped with their treasure in a mighty tall ship, which they had hired, when the same was under sail and got down the Thames, towards the mouth of the river, near Queenborough, the master-mariner bethought him of a wile, and caused his men to cast anchor, and so rode at the same, till the ship, by ebbing of the stream, remained on the dry sands. The master herewith enticed the Jews to walk out with him on land for recreation; and at length, when he understood the tide to be coming in, he got him back to the ship, whither he was drawn up by a cord.
"The Jews made not so much haste as he did, because they were not aware of the danger; but when they perceived how the matter stood, they cried to him for help; howbeit he told them that they ought to cry rather unto Moses, by whose conduct their fathers passed through the Red Sea, and therefore, if they would call to him for help, he was able enough to help them out of those raging floods, which now came in upon them. They cried, indeed, but no succour appeared, and so they were swallowed up in the water. The master returned with the ship, and told the king how he had used the matter, and had both thanks and reward, as some have written; but others affirm (and more truly, as should seem) that divers of those mariners, which dealt so wickedly against the Jews, were hanged for their wicked practice, and so received a just reward of their fraudulent and mischievous dealing."
That this story of Holinshed is true there seems little doubt, as the modern English Jews have preserved it by tradition, but with an altered locality. Mr. Margoliouth, an Anglo-Jewish writer, says:—"The spot in the river Thames, where many of the poor exiles were drowned by the perfidy of a mastermariner, is under the influence of ceaseless rage; and however calm and serene the river is elsewhere, that place is furiously boisterous. It is, moreover, affirmed that this relentless agitation is situated under London Bridge. There are, even at the present day, some old-fashioned Hebrew families who implicitly credit the outrageous fury of the Thames. A small boat is now and then observed by a Hebrew observer, filled with young and old credulous Jews, steering towards the supposed spot, in order to see and hear the noisy sympathy of the waters. There are many traditions on the subject."
An average day of four-and-twenty hours will witness (it was computed some years ago) more than 168,000 persons passing across the bridge from either side—107,000 on foot, and 61,000 in vehicles. These vehicles, during the same average day of twenty-four hours, number 20,498, including fifty-four horses that are led or ridden.
Every day since then has increased the vast and tumultuous procession of human beings that momentarily pass in and out of London. In what congestion of all traffic this will end, or how soon that congestion will come to pass, it is quite impossible to say; while by what efforts of engineering genius London will eventually be rendered traversable, we are equally ignorant.