Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Denmark v England at London Bridges

Remember the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’? This actually happened back in 1014.

Viking chief Olaf joined up with King Ethelred the Unready (the goodies) against the Danish invaders (the baddies) in the Battle of London Bridge.

King Olaf’s army sailed down the Thames, attached their Viking long boats to London Bridge, and pulled the bridge down. The Danish army had been standing on the bridge, so they fell into the river. Olaf’s clever idea protected London and gave power back to King Ethelred.

Olaf later became the first Christian King of Norway. His memory is kept alive at St Olave’s Church, the smallest intact medieval church in London. Samuel Pepys is buried there too.

You could have lived on London Bridge!

Around 80 AD, the first London Bridge was built in Southwark. A large town grew at its northern end. This was called “Londinium”.

The first bridge was made of wood. iny bits of the Roman bridge have been found a short way from the modern London Bridge. Maybe you stood on some as you came here this morning?

After the Romans left Britain the bridge slowly fell apart. It was replaced by a ferry and then several more timber bridges which were built (and fell down) during Saxon times.

In 1176 a stone bridge was built and was in use for over 600 years. It became one of the wonders of the medieval world as it went across a river which, at the time, had big waves. The bridge had houses (up to seven floors high), shops and a church on it, a bit like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

Until 1729 London Bridge was the only bridge over the river Thames. Then came Putney Bridge in 1726 followed by Westminster Bridge in 1738.

In 1831 the stone bridge was replaced by a granite bridge. This bridge was in turn replaced by the present bridge which was opened in 1973.

From invaders to traders

The Romans first invaded Britain in 43 AD with 50,000 men. Londinium was the first settlement on the north side of London Bridge.

The River Thames made it easier for the Romans to move things they bought and sold. They bought wine, pottery, lamps, fish sauce and olive oil from all over the Roman Empire and sold lead, tin, coal, corn and slaves which all left London by ship on the River Thames.

In AD 61 a wall was built around Londinium after an attack by Boudicca – Queen of the British Iceni tribe. This wall stayed in place for over a thousand years keeping the “City” safe: It’s now London’s famous financial district where money is made (and lost!).

London became the capital of England in 100 AD (before that it was Colchester). Two thirds of the country’s trade was brought by boat along the Thames and unloaded at wooden docks.

If you think the word Londinium sounds familiar – you’d be right. That’s where we get the word “London”.

Off with your head!

During medieval times, the body-less heads of spies were displayed on spikes on the gates at either end of London Bridge. The first head used in this way belonged to Braveheart (William Wallace).

Do you know what he was famous for? He wanted to free Scotland from English rule and refused to be loyal to England’s King.