The etymology of London remains unclear. The earliest mention of the city's name, describes its origin as being from King Lud, he had allegedly taken over the city and named it 'Kaerlud' after himself. As one would do, of course! This was then eventually slurred into 'Kaerludein', and finally London. Although I like to idea of a King naming a city after himself, not many support this theory. The most common belief is that it is derived from British roots corresponding to Welsh Llyn-din, meaning "city (or fortress) on a lake".
Despite London not being on a lake, this theory was all well and good, until fifteen years ago, a linguistics professor challenged these theories and proposed his own, that the name derives from the pre-Celtic 'plowonida', which roughly means "a river too wide to ford", which it most certainly in. I dont fancy rolling up my jeans and wading through that! This professor believed that this part of the Thames was given this name, and later, when a settlement was established, the suffix -on or -onjon was added to the name for the settlement. In these days, the letter 'P' was regularly lost in pronunciation, leading to it changing from 'Plowonidonjon' to 'Lundonjon'. This was then shortened to 'Lundein' or 'Lundyn', then latinized to 'Londinium', borrowed by the Anglo-Saxons as 'Lundene', and now finally, London. A city spreading long both sides of the banks of a river we now can cross (without having to roll up your jeans)!
Growing up in the North East, seeing first hand what is left of the great steel industry and the mark it left on the world, it's no wonder I have an interest in bridges! Teeside steel created international icons, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Tyne Bridge, seen world wide on Newcastle Brown ale bottles (or not seen at the end of the night depending on how many bottles have been consumed prior to attempted bottle viewing). Not only do bridges make physical connections, enabling us to do and see so much, but visually, they can make a city what it is. What would New York be without the Brooklyn Bridge? What would Sydney be without it's Harbour Bridge? What would London be without Tower Bridge?
...speaking of which... Tower Bridge is arguably the most iconic and famous of the bridges in London, but it's not the bridge that stands out to me. Something has always pulled my interest towards the understated London Bridge, and the way that 'London Bridge' is not really the London Bridge people expect!
Let me explain myself. I'll use a quote; the wonderful words of Fergie, in her song 'London Bridge'.
"How come every time you come around,
My London London Bridge wanna go down?
Like London London London wanna go down,
Like London London London be going down like..."
(Thanks to SkidVid for the video)
Firstly, I must appreciate her excitement; she's so excited about the prospect of seeing London Bridge, that her ability to construct a coherent sentence has gone, vanished! I can completely relate to this level of excitement when thinking about bridges! In her music video, we see her dancing around London, doing what I can only imagine to be a thorough search for this illusive 'London Bridge' that she sings about. But, when in the last part of the video she finds it, she is in fact circling underneath Tower Bridge on a speed boat. Oh dear! But she's not the first to make this mistake, many people believe Tower Bridge is actually called London Bridge.
London Bridge is quite misunderstood. It's a very sleek, simple and modest looking bridge, perfect in it's function and design, yet still a disappointment to the hoards of tourists that get off London Underground at the 'London Bridge' stop, and surface to see a distinct lack of towers. I can only imagine how this would be for the bridge if it had feelings. Imagine being Paris Hilton, but not the Paris Hilton; someone that shares her name. You have your name on a club's guest list, but no matter how you look, how much or how well you dance, no matter how you (mis)behave, you will still be a disappointment to the club's staff when you walk through the door, as you're not the Paris Hilton.
But please don't pity this bridge; it has it's own amazing history and has shaped transportation across the globe. The location of the current London Bridge near enough marks the oldest crossing in the history of London. In 53 AD a pontoon like crossing was the first to connect the north and south bank of the Thames. Since then, a great many bridges have risen and fallen in this exact location.
This crossing also has a dark side, being the point of the oldest crossing, London Bridge has always been at the heart of the city, with many people traveling across the bridge. In the 1300s, pedestrians would have to view the heads of traitors on the bridge as a deterrent. From the 1300-1700s 15% of London's population was wiped out by the Black Death, the bridge was right in the centre of this, and being so densely populated, it was a risky place to be... but it's not all bad, the bridge has also left it's mark in the history books in another way. In 1722 it was found that with such a large amount of people using the bridge it was difficult to enforce the toll. It was decided to split the bridge into two directions, with everyone keeping to the left, this has since spread across the entire country, and then into other countries as we colonized, so this bridge has left it's mark on the world!
But less about the topside, what about underside and inside the bridge?! The current London bridge, which opened in 1971, is a box girder bridge, constructed of concrete and steel. This means the bridge is hollow, and in fact, tunnels run along the length of it, from the north bank to south bank of the river, and at one point in time, for those with the knowledge, it was possible to get in to these tunnels, if only within a short window of opportunity.
Walking out of 'London Bridge' station that night, there was a slight breeze, yet a stillness in the city. We walked along the streets until we found the bridge (not looking for towers reaching into the sky, but looking for London Bridge). I was filled with an anxious excitement when I stepped out from the urban jungle of building upon building that lead up to the river bank of the Thames. Feeling exposed we stepped out. I watched my feet tread over what I knew was a hollow structure, and the inside of which I hoped to be my destination at the end of this short journey. We located the hatch and stood aside from it, watching traffic, people, the river below, and indeed life go by. Looking out from the bridge, along the banks, at the city, gives you perspective. To be stood back, away from and out of the labyrinth of tall buildings, and to simply enjoy the lights of the city by night. This perspective, as enjoyable as it was, wasn't what we were looking for, we waited patiently until there was a gap in road, river and pavement traffic, and this was when we went for it. We opened the hatch, scuttled down into the underbelly of this beast, and into the stillness of what can only be described as what it feels like to be underground.
Once inside, it really was easy to forget that we were in a tunnel essentially hanging from the underside of one of the busiest bridges along the Thames. It felt submerged and completely secluded. As we traveled the length of the bridge the only reminder that this was indeed a bridge was the odd gantry cutting through the tunnels, crossing the structure, inside the tunnel, then out under the bridge, then back into the next tunnel.
We were in midair, yet the foundations of London's history! There truly is nothing else in London that could feel like this..
As always, thank you to everyone involved in this incredible visit, you all made this possible. An unforgettable and beautiful location with an amazing history. Thank you.