The stone London Bridge was begun around the year 1176 and completed in the early years of the 13th century. The first 'London Bridge' was Roman and probably built of timber. However the earliest written reference to a London Bridge can be found in the section in the Saxon Chronicles that deals with the latter half of the 10th century. The Roman and Saxon wooden London Bridges were vulnerable to fire and flood so Peter de Colechurch determined to build a lasting bridge of stone. During the 30 years that it took to build, the Bridge cost the lives of an estimated 150 workmen.
The Bridge's silhouette changed constantly - with buildings being demolished and replaced. Throughout its history, the Bridge was a busy thoroughfare, lined with shops. In 1666, the houses on London Bridge were saved from the Great Fire of London thanks to an earlier fire in 1633 which had destroyed the houses near to the north bank. In the mid 1700s, the houses on the Bridge were removed completely and a larger mid arch was created by removing one of the piers or starlings. In the 1820s, a new London Bridge was built north of the old London Bridge and it opened in 1831. In that same year, the destruction of the old bridge began in earnest after a lifetime of some 622 years. The 1831 London Bridge was later transported, stone by stone to Lake Havasu, Arizona in the 1960s.
The Drawbridge Gate on which the heads of traitors were suspended on long wooden poles was demolished in 1577. This was to make way for Nonesuch House which was built in sections in Holland and shipped over. The heads of the traitors were transferred to the Great Stone Gate - where the grisly practice continued until around 1678.
The Chapel of St Thomas was first built in the 12th century and then rebuilt in the closing years of the 14th century. In 1549, it was decreed that the Chapel be converted into a 'dwellyng-house' but this was only finally achieved by 1553.
The Great Stone Gate was built with defence of the city in mind - hence its massive doors and a portcullis. It stood on a pier, two arches from the south bank. In January 1437, the Gate collapsed and it was immediately rebuilt. This new Gate lasted nearly 300 hundred years before it was badly damaged by fire in 1725 and once again had to be rebuilt. It was finally demolished in 1760 when all the Bridge's buildings were cleared away.
The piers or starlings of the Bridge are constructed of a ring of elm beams driven into the riverbed which enclosed loose stone rubble, across which were laid oak beams. Then there was an outer layer of wooden beams which also enclosed more rubble. The width of the piers was extended over the years, meaning that the flow of the river became very restricted under the Bridge. So many people lost their lives, trying to negotiate these bridge rapids.
Shoals off Small Profits Draw Dock on the Surrey bank just below Barnes Railway Bridge should be avoided at low water.
The visitors moorings on Chiswick Pier, at Corney Reach in Chiswick, provide a unique facility on this part of the river. They are run by the Chiswick Pier Trust, a charity which relies on volunteer help to keep the moorings running. The pontoons are well equipped, with electricity and sewage pump out. In peak season, advance booking is recommended. Contact the Chiswick Pier Trust for more details.
Before you reach Hammersmith, you will pass Chiswick Eyot close in to the Middlesex bank. It is possible for small craft to pass inside Chiswick Eyot for around two hours before high water. It is not recommended on a falling tide