Skip to main content
Old London Bridge

Annual review

Stories of the year

Contact us

Getting in touch with the Trust

Staff

History

For centuries London’s citizens had made gifts of land and money to “God and the Bridge". This was because the Church encouraged the building of bridges and this activity was so important it was perceived to be an act of piety - a commitment to God which should be supported by the giving of alms.

The Trust’s origins can be traced back to 1097 when William Rufus, second son of William the Conqueror, raised a special tax to help repair the wooden London Bridge. In 1176, during the reign of Henry II , Peter de Colechurch, a priest and head of the Fraternity of the Brethren of London Bridge, began building the first stone bridge across the River Thames. That bridge, with its 19 arches, was completed 33 years later in 1209, six years before King John signed the Magna Carta further along the Thames at Runnymede. There can be no doubt that the new bridge was well built and maintained as it lasted for some 600 years.

By the end of the 13th century the shops and houses adorning Peter de Colechurch’s new stone London Bridge were beginning to generate not only increased cross-river trade, but also increased taxes, rents and bequests. A significant fund began to accumulate and it was administered from a building on the south side of the bridge called Bridge House, with the fund becoming known as the Bridge House Estates.

Over the centuries the fund prospered mightily through strong and thrifty administration of the ever increasing property assets both in the City and the surrounding countryside. The Bridgemasters maximised income from a great variety of sources including, for example: "receiving tolls on carts passing over the Bridge, tolls from ships passing under the Bridge and fines for unlawful fishing from the Bridge".

In relatively recent years the charity built Blackfriars Bridge, purchased Southwark Bridge and, just over a century ago, constructed Tower Bridge. In February 2002, the Trust took over the ownership and maintenance of the new pedestrian-only Millennium Bridge, which spans the Thames between St Paul's and Bankside.

The Trustee of the Bridge House Estates - the City of London Corporation - was permitted to utilise the income of the fund only for expenditure on its bridges.  There is no financial support from the Government or any other source, so if one of the bridges happened to collapse the charity would have to rebuild it out of its own resources.  However, in the later years of the 20th Century a cy-près scheme evolved which allowed the objects of the fund to be widened, enabling any surplus monies to be applied to other charitable purposes benefiting Greater London. This applies only after setting aside adequate provision for the Trust’s primary purpose, which remains the provision and maintenance of the now five bridges. The Trust first began awarding grants in September 1995.

The bridge mark

Bridge mark This mark has been the identifying emblem for the Bridge House Estates Trust for many centuries. It is likely that the mark as we know it today was designed by a famous seventeenth century surveyor, William Leybourn, who is thought to have adapted a similar mark drawn against plots owned by Bridge House Estates on an earlier plan of St George's Fields.

Further information

If you would like to learn more about the history of London, including our bridges, the Museum of London, which is based in the City, provides a comprehensive history of the capital, from prehistoric times to the present day. Further information can be found at: www.museumoflondon.org.uk

The Museum of London Docklands has a fascinating scale model of the medieval Old London Bridge. Visit their website at www.museumindocklands.org.uk for more information.

London Bridge Museum & Educational Trust is a separate charity unrelated to the Trust which is developing plans for a London Bridge Museum.  Further details, along with a history of the bridge, can be found on their website www.oldlondonbridge.com

Finally, there are a number of books available on the history of the Thames and its bridges. Some of these are available through the Museum of London, or in the local history section of any major book retailer.

Design by Luminous | Code by City of London | Registered Charity 1035628 | Accessibility | Legal Statement | Cookies | Site Map | © The City Bridge Trust

Investors In People
Flickr Twitter YouTube

Notifications