Clattering Hooves Over London’s Oldest Bridge

In the most South-Western corner of Greater London is the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. Many people think of this area as just the suburbs, but there is a lot of historic interest here.

This shouldn’t really be too surprising. It is one of only three Royal boroughs in London – the other two being Kensington and Chelsea, and Greenwich. Just think of the name – it means King’s manor/estate. It was first mentioned in royal records in 838. In the tenth century it was the place of coronations of Saxon kings.

A Grade I listed ancient scheduled monument – a multi-span medieval bridge – in the centre of the town reminds us of its ancient roots. In fact, it is the oldest bridge still in use in Greater London. It doesn’t cross the Thames but a tributary – the Hogsmill River – just before it meets the Thames. The current bridge replaced an earlier Saxon wooden bridge in the late 12th century. It still retains some impressive medieval masonry – the stone part clearly visible in the photo. The red bricks and parapet are 18th century alterations when it was also widened from its original width of 8ft (2.5 metres). It was widened again in the 19th century. Even now it is still a busy road-bridge.

This ancient monument is known as the ‘Clattern Bridge’ referring to the clattering of horses’ hooves crossing it. The name has evolved over the centuries – in Saxon times it was known as the ‘Clatrung’ bridge, in medieval times ‘Claterynbrugge’, then ‘the Clattering Bridge’ until its current name was adopted in 1852.

The bridge was where scolds were ducked in the river on a ducking stool right up to 1745 – when a large crowd watched the landlady of a local pub being punished. It is also reported that from Saxon times until 1867 every Shrove Tuesday two ‘football’ teams competed on the public highway to get the ball to either the bridge over the Thames or the Clattern Bridge. The authorities tried to suppress it due to the violence of the game. One of its other names, mob football, gives an idea of what it must have been like. However, they did not have much success – in 1798, after the Riot Act was read, the cavalry from nearby Hampton Court was sent for but they did not turn up as they were also playing football.

Susan Baker is a qualified City of London Tour Guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Susan’s walking tours.


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