The first London bridge
The first bridge in London to span the Thames was built by the Romans in AD55 using piled structures for the foundations. It was located where the current London Bridge stands. It has been rebuilt many times since. A small trading settlement grew up around the wharves and bridge which later became known as Londinium.
The Thames depicted in Art
French Impressionist Claude Monet painted the Thames three times. ‘The Thames below Westminster’ painting depicts the river, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament on a spring day and can be seen in room 41 at the National Gallery.
The Thames, a vehicle for music
Handel’s Water Music premiered on 17 July 1717, when King George I requested a concert on the River Thames. The concert was performed for the King on his barge and he is said to have enjoyed it so much that he ordered the 50 exhausted musicians to play the suites three times on the trip.
Frost fairs in London
Between C17th and early C19th London, cold winters would sometimes freeze the surface of the Thames. The first recorded Frost Fair was held 1608 with tents, side-shows food stalls and ice bowling. The last fair was in 1814 where an elephant was lead onto the river at Blackfriars bridge.
The is a wonderful large slate engraving by Southwark sculptor Richard Kinderley depicting a frost fair underneath the southern arches of Southwark bridge and reads:
‘Behold the Liquid Thames frozen o’re,
That lately Ships of mighty Burthen bore
The Watermen for want of Rowing Boats
Make use of Booths to get their Pence & Groats
Here you may see beef roasted on the spit
And for your money you may taste a bit
There you may print your name, tho cannot write
Cause num’d with cold: tis done with great delight
And lay it by that ages yet to come
May see what things upon the ice were done.’
The inscription is based on handbills, printed on the Thames during the frost fairs.
Find out more
If you would like to learn more about London and it’s crossings Saturday 13th May 2017, The Dockland History Group will be holding their 6th annual conference at the Museum of Docklands. The programme is filled with interesting subjects and speakers such as Hazel Forsyth, Curator of Museum of London who will be talking about Frost Fairs, Guy Taylor will share with us The incredible disappearing bridge mystery and Chris Everett will be sharing his thoughts on Waterloo Bridge: 200 years in the London Psyche.
Tickets can be bought here and are £20 for students and £35 for non Dockland History Group members.
Hazel Baker is a qualified CIGA Tour Guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Hazel’s walking tours.