London Bridge is falling down, Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down, My fair lady.
Immortalised in the nursery rhyme, the bridge referred to in the song is actually the medieval bridge and not the one that we know today. The first crossing, built by the Romans in AD50 was a timber construction but by the late 12th Century, London required a stronger, permanent structure to help transport the increasing amount of goods, livestock and traffic across the river.
Completed in 1209, the stone bridge was 926ft long, 20-24ft wide and consisted of 19 arches with a wooden drawbridge for defence. As the gap between the arches was less than 30ft, it restricted the tidal flow, causing the water levels to vary either side of the bridge (sometimes as much as 6ft), which created dangerous rapids. Those that passed through faced a perilous journey and many were drowned or injured in the process. The attempt to Shoot the bridge as it was known, gave rise to the saying “London Bridge is for wise men to go over and fools to go under.”
As a busy commuter route, shops and houses quickly appeared along the bridge and by the 14th century, 140 dwellings were recorded as well as a chapel, stone gate, and drawbridge tower (later replaced by Nonsuch House). It became one of the city’s main shopping centres and as such, the perfect location to remind Londoners of a traitor’s fate…on a spike above the gate.
As bridge traffic increased over the years, a keep left policy was introduced in 1722 to help control the throughfare, and this could have been the origin of the British drive on the left procedure that we know today.
By the 1750s, Georgian London viewed the now dilapidated buildings on the bridge as an eye sore and an unnecessary hurdle which took up valuable crossing space. By 1762, all of the houses and shops were removed, and the carriageway was widened to 14 metres to accommodate extra traffic.
The two central arches were merged into one great arch and a balustrade was added to the bridge, along with fourteen stone alcoves for seating and shelter (four of which still survive in locations such as Victoria Park, Guy’s Hospital and East Sheen).
Despite the Georgian updates, the high maintenance costs and problems with congestion led to the proposal of a new bridge and the city asked renowned engineer John Rennie to design a modern replacement several yards upstream.
For over 600 years the medieval bridge served as a landmark and social hub for Londoners but in 1832, after the opening of Rennie’s new five arched granite bridge the year before, it was demolished.
Like it’s predecessor, the new bridge became a popular crossing for Londoners, even with the addition of new bridges across the river at Westminster (1750), Blackfriars (1769) and Tower (1894). A survey in 1896 showed that London bridge was the busiest point in London, with 8000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossing it every hour!
Possibly due to this congestion, surveys also showed that the bridge was slowly sinking and by 1924 the east side had sunk 4 inches lower than the west side.
The bridge needed to be replaced but by now London fully recognised its status as a landmark, so the council took the chance to capitalise on its popularity and auctioned the bridge out to potential buyers.
In 1968, the American Oil Baron, Robert P. McCulloch, who had purchased Lake Havasu in Arizona ten years previously, was searching for a unique attraction to help his new city grow. Realising the potential of such a landmark could increase tourism and attract new residents, McCulloch bought London Bridge for $2.5 million and had it transported and rebuilt, stone by stone, over Lake Havasu.
The hauntings begin…
There are very few accounts of paranormal activity at London Bridge before the move. We only know of two recorded in history, and one of those is near the structure rather than on it:
In the late 13th Century, animosity against the Jewish population was on the rise (again) and antisemitic stories such as the Jews “hunting children to murder before Passover so they could use their blood to make matzah”, “Having magical powers from their deal with the devil” or the classic ignorant slur “Christ Killers” (despite Christ needing to die in order to resurrect, and for Christianity to begin) were common place.
As Catholic doctrine held that lending money for interest was a sin, and forbidden to Christians, Jews (who didn’t have this scared lore) became the bankers, tax collectors, rent collectors and money lenders of Europe, dominating business but creating jealousy, hatred, and anger towards them in the process.
As Edward I was spending huge amounts of money on campaigns to expand his kingdom, he was heavily in debt. To resolve the issue, he first tried severe taxation on the Jewish population but soon followed it with an expulsion of all jews from England, seizing their wealth & property in the process.
As Jewish murder, assault and robbery increased, a large group of Jewish Londoners hired a boat to escape with their families and possessions. As the boat began its journey down the Thames, the Captain stopped close to London Bridge and had them tossed into the river, keeping their valuables for himself. Either caught in the rapids or overcome by the water, the Jewish families perished, and their cries are said to replay on certain nights as a haunting reminder.
In the early 1800s (on the Georgian revamped medieval bridge), many witnesses crossing were shocked to see the scene of two armies engaged in fierce battle play out in the sky above them. Although reported by many, the details of this are hazy and we don’t even know a time period for the battle scene. There was a clash of swords, so it was unlikely to be a recent battle. Boudica fought the Romans across a bridge in the same area and burnt it down in AD 60 - did the Georgians witness a replay of that ancient skirmish?
The move to Arizona increases activity…
It has often been suggested that hauntings are triggered by certain environmental conditions or changes. If this is the case, the move of London Bridge to Arizona is testament to that theory, as sightings and strange occurrences began almost immediately and continue to be reported.
An attendee of the bridge's 1971 dedication in Lake Havasu City, saw four people dressed in period clothing strolling a short distance away on the bridge. Just as several other attendees began to notice and point them out, the group vanished…
Some visitors have described being bumped into by unseen entities as they stand on the bridge or feel someone behind them when there is nobody else around.
Many people have reported seeing men and women dressed in odd out of date clothing walking casually across the bridge. They are often caught by motorists as they drive past in the evening, oblivious to the glare of vehicle lights and sometimes walking in the centre of the road!
One ghost that is often seen is the woman in black. She clutches a purse close to her body as she walks slowly along the bridge. Stopping midway, she lifts herself over the barrier and jumps into the water, disappearing before she makes contact.
The metal used to make the light posts was melted down from the cannons of Napoleon when they were confiscated after his defeat. Some have experienced overwhelming emotion or dread after touching the metal.
Two Lake Havasu residents claimed to hear voices while walking along the structure one night. The mother and son began to hear strange, angry voices encouraging them to jump off the bridge as they crossed the river. The mother was overcome with nausea, and both had an incredible sense of unease and fear, which stayed with them for months.
Workers and pedestrians have heard screams emanating from under the bridge.
Drivers have reported dark figures floating above them as they drive over the bridge.
The sound of a policeman’s whistle has been heard on more than one occasion.
The sound of cartwheels, carriages and horses’ hooves have been heard, sometimes accompanied by horse sighs and squeals.
An unusual mist has been seen moving across the bridge.
Footsteps have been heard walking towards or behind pedestrians. Sometimes a single set, sometimes several.
A Victorian bobby has been seen on the bridge, strolling or in a fix position watching passers-by. Could the whistle sounds belong to the same spirit?
Could the increase in activity be connected or triggered by the Arizona environment?
Have you experienced your own encounter on the bridge?
As always, please leave your comments or continue the discussion in our forum.