Since Roman times bridges have crossed the River Thames at London. Nowadays there are 33 different bridges spanning the river within Greater London. Many of them have interesting stories associated with them.
In Medieval times the first ‘’London Bridge’’ was built in stone. It lasted for 600 years when it was finally demolished because it was so dangerous. At one time it had over 200 buildings on the bridge some of which protruded out over the water. On the bridge itself the buildings almost joined forming a type of tunnel. There were shops, chapels and homes. The weight of the constructions became so much that the arches frequently had to be supported. The bridge is famous to young English children because they are taught at school the song ‘’London Bridge is Falling Down’’.
During Victoria’s reign the medieval bridge was replaced by a granite bridge designed by John Rennie. This bridge was also ill-fated and it began to sink, so in 1968, it was sold to an American business man, the oil tycoon Robert P McCulloch, who shipped it across the Atlantic and had it rebuilt in Arizona.
There has been a bridge called Waterloo Bridge spanning the River Thames at London since 1810 but it has always had an unhappy history. During the 1840s it was a popular place for suicide attempts and in 1841 Samuel Gilbert Scott an American showman was killed while performing a dare devil act in which he hung on a rope from the bridge.
One of the most bizarre incidents connected to this bridge is known as the ‘’Umbrella Murder’’. It could have come out of a James Bond film! Georgi Markov, who worked for the BBC World Service, was murdered on the bridge by an operative connected to the KGB. He was waiting for a bus on Waterloo Bridge when he felt a sharp pain on the back of his leg. He saw a man picking up an umbrella from the floor, who then hurried away and got into a taxi. Markov died four days later from poisoning. The man was identified as Francesco Gullino, codenamed ‘Piccadilly’.
The Tower Bridge was constructed between 1886-1894. It is a suspension draw bridge that has two parts to it; the top crossing is an undercover pedestrian walkway which is part of the Tower Bridge Museum, and the bottom crossing is a busy road which has over forty thousand people transiting it each day.
The bridge has been linked to some very unusual incidents. In 1968 an RAF pilot flew his jet aeroplane, without authorization, between the bridge’s pedestrian walkway and the road bridge to celebrate the RAF’s 50th birthday. Pollock was placed under arrest on landing and was discharged from the RAF on medical grounds.
Tower Bridge opens to let tall shipping pass beneath. In 1997 the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, was on an official visit to the UK. The President was separated from his security personnel when the bridge was opened in order to let a small sailing barge called Gladys through. The faux pas could have caused an international incident; however we’re told that Mr Clinton was highly amused, unlike his security staff.
The bridge has often been portrayed on TV and in films and recently the main event in the Sherlock Holmes film ‘Game of Shadows’ takes place during its construction. In this scene the villain is killed by hanging himself from the bridge.
What seems obvious from these stories is that if you visit London you must tread carefully when crossing any of its 33 bridges; you might meet dangerous disrepair, daredevils, disasters or death delivered by the deadly spy Piccadilly.