Above: The stone tablet on show in the Museum of London.
The first stone London Bridge was built between 1176 and 1209. It lasted for over 600 years and was not taken down until after a new stone bridge (on a slightly different site) was opened in 1831. The first stone bridge – remembered for having houses built onto it, along with a chapel – is now usually called ‘Old London Bridge’. Very few pieces of masonry from that bridge remain. In the 1800s few people were interested in preserving any of the fabric in the way that we do today.
Many of the pieces of masonry from Old London Bridge that do survive were added to the bridge several centuries after it was first opened. One ‘little gem’ is to be seen in the Museum of London. What makes it interesting is that it bears an inscription and also a very rare mark.
The stone tablet is inscribed ‘Anno dni 1509’ – being a shortened form of ‘Anno Domini 1509’. At the bottom right-hand corner is the ancient mark of the Wardens of London Bridge. Old London Bridge was maintained from the rents collected from the 139 houses and shops that stood on the bridge. A second form of income was from tolls paid by those who drove carts over it and also from small vessels that needed to pass through the draw-bridge. A third source of income was from rents on land and also donations – made mainly by wealthy institutions like Guilds.
By the 1400s the income to maintain the bridge was administered by the Bridge House Trust. A large source of its revenue came from more than 800 properties (houses, hostelries and large pieces of land) that were owned in the City of London but also in Peckham, Deptford, Lewisham and Sydenham. Even today stone property markers bearing the Bridge House mark can be seen beside the pavements of streets in the areas just mentioned.