Above: One of the two alcoves from old London Bridge standing on the grass in Victoria Park.
Old London Bridge – the one with the houses on it – was a stone structure crossing the Thames for six hundred years. The bridge was opened in 1209 and the houses, built of timber, were added some years later. Between 1760 and 1763 the bridge was cleared of all its houses. Pedestrians had rather got used to the protection from the wind that the houses afforded them and the authorities, realising this, added 14 stone alcoves – seven each side – for anyone to take shelter from the elements as they crossed it. In fact, the poor and destitute often used to sleep in the alcoves by night.
In 1824 plans were made for a new London Bridge, on a new site, just up-river of the old one. After the new bridge had been opened, in 1831, the old bridge was demolished and the footings of the old bridge were removed from the river-bed. This blog is related to the alcoves, so, the question is ‘What happened to them?’
There are 14 to account for but only three remain in London. One was purchased by the Governors of Guy’s Hospital and it can still be seen in one of the quadrangles of the original hospital buildings.
Shortly after old London Bridge was demolished, the Crown Estates purchased 218 acres (88 ha) of land at Bethnal Green which were laid out as a large new park between 1842 and 1846. It was opened to the public in 1845 and called Victoria Park. Two of the alcoves were acquired from old London Bridge and installed on a large open space at the NE end of the park near the area called Hackney Wick. They were erected in 1860.
It is believed that much of the original masonry, which could include stone from the alcoves, is still lying in a stonemason’s yard near Dartford.
Note: To see all the articles on London Bridge, click on ‘1-London Bridge’ under the Categories (on the right-hand side of this Webpage).