London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona

London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
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Image by Ken Lund
The London Bridge, currently located in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA, was originally constructed in London, in 1831. The bridge was the last project of engineer John Rennie and completed by his son, also named John Rennie. By 1962, the bridge was not structurally sound enough to support the increased load created by the level of modern traffic crossing it, and it was sold by the City of London.

The purchaser, Robert McCulloch, was the founder of Lake Havasu and the chairman of McCulloch Oil Corporation. McCulloch was purported to have purchased the bridge to serve as a tourist attraction to his retirement real estate development at Lake Havasu City, which at that time was far off the usual tourist track. The idea was successful, bringing interested tourists and retirement home buyers to the area.

The bridge facing stones were carefully disassembled and each piece was numbered. After the bridge was dismantled it was transported to Merrivale Quarry where 150mm to 200mm was sliced off many of the original stones. These were shipped to the bridge’s present location and re-assembly began in 1968. The original stone was used to clad a concrete structure, so that the bridge is no longer the original it is modeled after.[2] The reconstruction took slightly over three years and was completed in late 1971. Today, it serves as a popular tourist attraction for the city.

It is a popular rumour that the bridge was bought in the belief that it was London’s more recognizable Tower Bridge[3][4], but this was ardently denied by McCulloch himself and has been debunked by Ivan Luckin, who sold the bridge.[5]

Recent years have seen a large amount of development in the area of the bridge to increase tourist interest, though much of the development has been met with criticism by local residents. The original "English Village", a quaint English-style open air mall with hedge maze and historical museum, has deteriorated, with sections leveled. Many compare the changes to those now seen on the American side of Niagara Falls, where ill-planned growth caused the swift decline in the desirability of the area.

London Bridge is a bridge between the City of London and Southwark in London, England, over the River Thames. Situated between Cannon Street Railway Bridge and Tower Bridge, it forms the western end of the Pool of London. On the south side of the bridge are Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge station; on the north side are the Monument to the Great Fire of London and Monument tube station.

It was the only bridge over the Thames downstream from Kingston until Westminster Bridge opened in 1750.

The bridge carries part of the A3 road, which is maintained by the Greater London Authority;[1] the bridge itself is owned and maintained by the Bridge House Estates (see City Bridge Trust), an independent charity overseen by the City of London Corporation.

Tower Bridge is often mistakenly referred to as London Bridge.[2] The area between London Bridge and Tower Bridge on the south side of the Thames is a Business Improvement District (BID) and is managed by Team London Bridge.[3]

A bridge has existed at or near the present site over the period from the Roman occupation of the area, nearly 2,000 years ago. The first bridge across the Thames in the London area, probably a military pontoon bridge, was built of wood by the Romans on the present site around 50 AD.

Around 55 AD, a piled bridge was constructed, and the local Britons built a small trading settlement next to it—the town of Londinium. The settlement and the bridge were destroyed in a revolt led by Queen Boudicca in 60 AD. The victory was short-lived, and soon afterwards the Romans defeated the rebels and set about building a new walled town. Some of the 2nd century Roman wall has survived to this day. The new town and bridge were built around the position of the present bridge, providing access to the south-coast ports via Stane Street (the A3 route) and Watling Street (the A2).

The bridge fell into disrepair after the Romans left. As Londinium was also abandoned, there was little need for a bridge at this point and in the Saxon period the river was a political boundary between the hostile kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. With the impact of the Viking invasions, the reconquest of the Roman city by the kings of Wessex and its re-occupation by Alfred the Great, the political conditions arose for a Saxon bridge crossing to be placed here. However, there is no archaeological evidence for a bridge before Aethelred’s reign and his attempts to stem the Sweinian invasions of the 990s. In 1014, according to a much later skaldic tradition, the bridge was pulled down by the Norwegian prince Olaf, as he was aiding King Aethelred in what, if true, was a successful bid to divide the defending forces of the Danes who held the walled City of London plus Southwark, thereby regaining London for the Anglo-Saxon king. This episode might have inspired the well-known nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down", although the version of the song known today refers to the many bridges that were destroyed and rebuilt, and the trading done on the shops over it ("Silver and Gold") in the 14th century,[4] so the song’s origin is presumably of a much later date.

The earliest contemporary written reference to a Saxon bridge is in 1016, when it was by-passed by King Cnut’s ships in his war to regain the throne from Edmund II "Ironside". The rebuilt Norman London Bridge was destroyed in 1091 by a storm that spawned a T8/F4 tornado, which also struck St Mary-le-Bow, and is known as the London Tornado of 1091.[5] The repair or replacement of this was carried out by William II "Rufus" through forced labour, along with the works at the new St Paul’s Cathedral and the development of the Tower of London. It was destroyed yet again, this time by fire, in 1136.

By the end of the 18th century, it was apparent that the old London Bridge—by then over 600 years old—needed to be replaced. It was narrow, decrepit, and blocked river traffic. In 1799, a competition for designs to replace the old bridge was held, prompting the engineer Thomas Telford to propose a bridge with a single iron arch spanning 600 feet (180 m). However, this design was never used, owing to uncertainty about its feasibility and the amount of land needed for its construction. The bridge was eventually replaced by a structure of five stone arches, designed by engineer John Rennie. The new bridge was built 100 feet (30 m) west (upstream) of the original site by Rennie’s son (of the same name). Work began in 1824 and the foundation stone was laid, in the southern cofferdam, on 15th June 1825. The old bridge continued in use as the new bridge was being built, and was demolished after the latter opened in 1831. The scheme necessitated the building of major new approach roads, which cost three times that of the bridge itself. The total construction cost of around £2.5 million was met by the Corporation of London and government. The contractors were Jolliffe and Banks of Merstham, Surrey. A fragment from the old bridge is set into the tower arch inside St Katherine’s Church, Merstham.

Rennie’s bridge had a length of 928 feet (283 m) and a width of 49 feet (15 m). Haytor granite was used in the construction, transported via the unique Haytor Granite Tramway. The official opening took place on 1 August 1831; King William IV and Queen Adelaide attended a banquet in a pavilion erected on the bridge. The recently constructed HMS Beagle was the first ship to pass under it.

London Bridge was widened in 1902–04 from 52 to 65 feet (16 to 20 m), in an attempt to combat London’s chronic traffic congestion. A dozen of the granite "pillars" quarried and dressed for this widening, but unused, still lie near Swelltor Quarry on the disused railway track a couple of miles south of Princetown on Dartmoor. In the end, the widening work proved too much for the bridge’s foundations; it was subsequently discovered that the bridge was sinking an inch (3 cm) every eight years. By 1924, the east side of the bridge was some three to four inches (102 mm) lower than the west side; it soon became apparent that this bridge would have to be removed and replaced with a more modern one.

In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London placed the bridge on the market and began to look for potential buyers. Council member Ivan Luckin had put forward the idea of selling the bridge, and recalled: "They all thought I was completely crazy when I suggested we should sell London Bridge when it needed replacing." On 18 April 1968, Rennie’s bridge was sold to the American entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch of McCulloch Oil for US,460,000. The claim that McCulloch believed mistakenly that he was buying the more impressive Tower Bridge was denied by Luckin in a newspaper interview. [8] As the bridge was taken apart, each piece was numbered to aid re-assembly. The bridge was reconstructed at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and re-dedicated on 10 October 1971. The reconstruction of Rennie’s London Bridge spans the Bridgewater Channel canal that leads from Lake Havasu to Thomson Bay, and forms the centrepiece of a theme park in English style, complete with a Tudor period shopping mall. Rennie’s London Bridge has become Arizona’s second-biggest tourist attraction, after the Grand Canyon. [9]

The version of London Bridge that was rebuilt at Lake Havasu consists of a concrete frame with stones from the Old London Bridge used as cladding. The cladding stones used are 150 to 200 millimetres (6 to 8 inches) thick. The remaining stone was left at Merrivale Quarry at Princetown in Devon.[10] When Merrivale Quarry was abandoned and flooded in 2003, some of the remaining stone was sold in an online auction.[11]

One part of Rennie’s Bridge which remains is that on the south-side spanning the junction of Tooley Street and Montague Close.

In 1968, McCulloch was searching for a unique attraction for his city, which eventually took him to London. By the early 1960s it was apparent that John Rennie’s 1831 London Bridge was gradually sinking into the River Thames and Greater London Council decided that a new bridge would need to be built. Rather than demolish the existing bridge, they decided to put the historic landmark on the auction block.

When casting his bid for the bridge, McCulloch doubled the estimated cost of dismantling the structure, which was US.2 million, bringing the price to US.4 million. He then added on US,000, a thousand dollars for each year of his age at the time he estimated the bridge would be raised in Arizona[2]. His gesture earned him the winning bid.

It took three years to complete the project. The structure was dismantled block by block, with each section marked and numbered, in much the same way the bridge was originally built. The granite pieces were stacked at the Surrey Commercial Docks, and then were shipped through the Panama Canal, to Long Beach, California. From Long Beach, the granite blocks were trucked inland 300 miles (500 km). The bridge was reassembled by matching the numbered stones and filling in the area under the bridge with mounds of desert sand to support each arch as it was reconstructed.

The reconstructed attraction was officially opened on October 10, 1971, with a gala celebration. Opening day included an elaborate fanfare: fireworks, a parade, entertainment, and celebrities, such as Bonanza’s Lorne Greene, and dignitaries such as the Lord Mayor of London. [2]

With the purchase of the bridge, McCulloch accelerated his development campaign, increasing the number of flights into the city. At the time, the airport was located on the island. The free flights to Lake Havasu lasted until 1978, and reportedly they totalled 2,702 flights, bringing in 37,000 prospective buyers.[2]

A popular, and implausible, urban legend is that McCulloch mistakenly believed that he was buying the more impressive Tower Bridge. The bridge had been heavily marketed by the London Council in an effort to sell it worldwide. Ivan Luckin, the council member who sold the bridge has always stated that London sold the bridge honestly.[3]…