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The first London Bridge was built by Romans sometime after AD43 and some of its wooden remains have been uncovered on the north side of the river. During its life the wooden structure was renewed several times, and it was probably to this earliest bridge that the nursery rhyme 'London Bridge is falling down' refers. Indeed, at one time, one of these structures was washed away by a flood, and another was torn down by invading Vikings, led by Olaf the Norseman in 1014.
The wooden structure was eventually replaced with a stone bridge which commenced building in 1176 and featured twenty arches and stone piers with a drawbridge. This took thirty years to complete and houses and shops were incorporated to help pay for the upkeep of the bridge.
It would have been this bridge that was in place during Charles Dickens youth and he remembers it in Great Expectations, when Pip crossed it in great despair, having recently learned that Estella was to be married to Drummle. It also featured in David Copperfield, as his favourite place to sit.
'I was wont to sit in one of the stone recesses watching the people going by, or to look over the balustrades at the sun shining in the water and lighting up the golden flame on top of the Monument.' One of these stone recesses has been preserved in the grounds of Guy's Hospital.
In 1825 a new bridge, designed by John Rennie, was opened, as the old one could no longer cope with the increasing traffic. This bridge was widened in 1902, and was the bridge that Dickens had in mind during Oliver Twist. In fact, the steps that used to lead down to the river to the west of the bridge were known as 'Nancy's Steps'. This was due to the fateful conversation, overheard by Noah Claypole, that Nancy had with Mr Brownlow on a flight of steps on the Surrey bank, on the same side of the bridge as St Saviour's Church (now Southwark Cathedral). It was because of this bridge that Dickens knew how it was possible for Noah Claypole to conceal himself, but still hear what was being said.
'These stairs are part of the bridge; they consist of three flights. Just below the end of the second, going down, the stone wall on the left terminates in an ornamental pilaster facing towards the Thames. At this point the lower steps widen so that a person turning the angle of the wall is necessarily unseen by any others on the stairs who chance to be above him, if only a step.'
It was in this way that Claypole was able to overhear the conversation which eventually lead to the death of Nancy at the hands of Bill Sykes.
In 1970, this bridge was sold to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, as an even larger bridge was needed, and the bridge that we see today was finally opened in 1973.