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   Chapter 11 PART II. No.11

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 5041

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Houses were erected in course of time along the Bridge on either side like a street, but with intervals; and along the roadway in the middle were chain posts to protect the passengers. As the Bridge was only 40 feet wide the houses must have been small. But they were built out at the back overhanging the river, and the roadway itself was not intended for carts or wheeled vehicles. Remember that everything was brought to the City on pack horse or pack ass. The table of Tolls sanctioned by King Edward I. makes no mention of cart or waggon at all. Men on horseback and loaded horses can get along with a very narrow road. Perhaps we may allow twelve feet for the road which gives for the houses on either side a depth of 14 feet each.

OLD LONDON BRIDGE.

These houses were occupied chiefly by shops, most of which were 'haberdashers and traders in small wares.' Later on there were many booksellers. Paper merchants and stationers, after the Reformation, occupied the chapel. The great painter Hans Holbein lived on the Bridge and the two marine painters Peter Monamy and Dominic Serres also lived here.

The narrowness of the arches and the rush of the flowing or the ebbing tide made the 'shooting' of the Bridge a matter of great danger. The Duke of Norfolk in 1429 was thrown into the water by the capsizing of his boat and narrowly escaped with his life. Queen Henrietta, in 1628, was nearly wrecked in the same way by running into the piers while shooting the Bridge. Rubens the painter was thrown into the water in the same way.

One of the twenty arches formed a drawbridge which allowed vessels of larger size than barges to pass up the river and could be used to keep back an enemy. In this way Sir Thomas Wyatt in 1557 was kept out of London. Before this drawbridge stood a tower on the battlements of which were placed the heads of traitors and criminals. The heads of Sir William Wallace, Jack Cade, Sir Thomas More and many others were stuck up here. On the Southwark side was another tower.

The Bridge, which was the pride and boast of London, was endowed with lands for its maintenance: the rents of the houses were also collected for the same purpose: a toll was imposed on all merchandise carried across, and a Brotherhood was formed, called the Brothers of St. Thomas on the Bridge, whose duty it was to perform service in the chapel and to keep the Bridge in repair.

Repairs were always wanting: to keep some of the force of the water off the piers these were furnished with 'starli

ngs,' i.e. at first piles driven down in front of the piers, afterwards turned into projecting buttresses of stone. Then corn mills were built in some of the openings, and in the year 1582 great waterworks were constructed at the southern end. The tower before the drawbridge was by Queen Elizabeth rebuilt and made a very splendid house-called Nonesuch House. The Fire destroyed the houses on the Bridge, some of which were not rebuilt: and in the year 1757 all the houses were removed from the Bridge.

The New Bridge was finished and opened in 1831-it stands 180 feet west of its predecessor. Then the Old Bridge was pulled down. The work of Peter Colechurch lasted from 1209 to 1831 or 622 years. The Pontife Brothers, therefore, knew how to put in good and lasting work.

This is the history of London Bridge. First a narrow wooden gangway of beams lying on timber piles with a fortified gate; then a stone structure of twenty irregular arches, the Bridge broad but the roadway still narrow with houses on either side and a fortress and a chapel upon it-in those times there was always a fortress, and there was always a chapel. It must have been a pleasant place of residence: the air fresh and clear: the supply of water unlimited-one drew it up in a bucket: always something going on: the entrance of a foreign ambassador, a religious procession, a riding of the Lord Mayor, a pageant, a nobleman with his livery, a Bishop or a Prior with his servants, a pilgrimage, a string of pack horses out of Kent bringing fruit for the City: always something to see. Then there were the stories and traditions of the place, with the songs which the children sang about the Bridge. Especially there was the story of Edward Osborne. He was the son of one Richard Osborne, a gentleman of Kent. Like many sons of the poor country gentlemen, he was sent up to London and apprenticed to Sir William Hewitt a cloth worker who lived on London Bridge. His master had a daughter named Anne, a little girl who one day, while playing with her nurse at an open window overhanging the river, fell out into the rushing water sixty feet below. The apprentice, young Osborne, leaped into the river after her and succeeded in saving her. When the girl was grown up her father gave her to his ex-apprentice, Edward Osborne, to wife. Edward Osborne became Lord Mayor. His descendant is now Duke of Leeds. So that the Dukedom of Leeds sprang from that gallant leap out of the window overhanging the river Thames from London Bridge.

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