The famous Medieval London Bridge, built in the late C12th, had to be replaced. In 1799 a competition for designs to replace the old bridge was held. The Scottish engineer John Rennie won the competition with a classical design of five granite arches. It was built only 30 m from the site of the first London Bridge and was supervised by the engineer’s own son. Work began in 1824. The old bridge continued to carry traffic in the meantime, and was not pulled down until the new bridge was opened.
The official opening of the new 283 m long and 15 m wide London Bridge took place in August 1831, in front of King William IV. The total costs, which were huge, were shared by the British Government and the London city council.
The book suggested that the bridge was somewhat inadequate for the traffic it needed to carry almost immediately and by the end of the C19th, it was totally inadequate. People were flooding into the City to work; trains transported commuters to London Bridge Station; carriages, bikes and later cars were everywhere.
London Bridge over the Thames
Late 19th century, overloaded, brown, built up
Photo credit: transpress nz
The stroke of genius was in not destroying the bridge, but in selling it on. One London City councillor, Ivan Luckin, was the brain in question. He marketed the bridge as a symbol of historic London, a feat of engineering that could trace its lineage back to its medieval ancestor and even earlier. Were the American buyers really conned into thinking the 1830s bridge was medieval? Did they believe they were actually buying the much more impressive and iconic Tower Bridge? Elborough says no to both questions. The American buyers of the rather boring London Bridge knew exactly what they were getting, but they were swayed along in a mist of history and symbolism.
It was actually a meeting of the minds. Motor and aircraft entrepreneur Robert Paxton McCulloch (1911–1977) was the key man in the creation of a new city on Lake Havasu in the Arizonan desert in the early 1960s. And it was McCulloch who decided that his new city needed something significant to make people take notice. The Statue of Liberty was not going to be moved from New York and San Francisco’s Golden Gate was firmly in place. But New London Bridge was actually available!
People may well laugh at Robert McCulloch, but who would have heard of Lake Havasu City, had he not made the winning bid of $2,460,000 in April 1968? Each block was carefully numbered before the bridge was disassembled. The blocks were then shipped across the ocean via the Panama Canal to California, then packed into trucks and driven from California to Arizona. Following reconstruction of New London Bridge, Lake Havasu City re-dedicated it in a lavish and well publicised ceremony in October 1971.
London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
leisurely, palm trees, blue
The real estate moguls of Arizona were thanking McCulloch, not laughing at him. The City of London might have been laughing, but they too were very grateful to the wily American.