Simeon and a Tale of Two Bridges

Dear Simeon, Norway has gifted our Queen a majestic pet of a polar bear. Her Majesty has given permission for the incredible creature to swim along the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge to hunt for fish and stretch his big, fluffy, white legs. The other day, the royal pet came back from his paddle with something stuck between his teeth … it’s a treasure map of the long-lost mysterious island of Bridges! It’s no surprise that the Palace has tasked YOU to find out where the gold and gems are hidden, after all, you are the world’s most famous treasure hunter. You will need to venture on this epic journey, solving clues scribbled on the back of the map and avoiding booby traps to pinpoint the exact location of the treasure. Good luck, Simeon!

Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), was intrigued to read these instructions while having his elevensies in a cafe on Tooley Street near London Bridge Station. Fortunately, Simeon was only a stone’s throw away from the start of the Treasure Trail, so after finishing his cup of tea, Simeon set off on his search for clues.

To solve his first clue, Simeon carefully climbed down the steps belonging to the 1831 London Bridge designed by John Rennie (1761-1821) and built by his son of the same name (1794-1874). Not only are these stairs very old, but they are also the location of the murder of Nancy in Charles Dicken’s (1812-70) book Oliver Twist (1837). Fortunately, there was no sign of the criminal Bill Sikes, so Simeon safely reached the bottom of the staircase.

The current London Bridge is one of many that have spanned the River Thames since the Romans built the first one around 2,000 years ago. The original may have had a drawbridge in the centre to allow ships to pass, but today’s bridge does not have this feature.

Simeon quickly hastened across the bridge, staying away from the edges so that he would not fall into the river. He was a little nervous after hearing that the British warship HMS Jupiter collided with London Bridge in 1984. The Leander-class frigate of the Royal Navy weighed 16,060, approximately the same as 3,200 elephants, so the collision caused a lot of damage. The ship’s captain, Commander Colin Hamilton, was severely reprimanded for the accident.

The first bridge, built around 50 AD, was a wooden pontoon bridge made from several barges that floated on the river. Naturally, this bridge did not last long, and another was constructed in 59 AD. This time, the Romans used long poles known as piles to lift the bridge above the water level. The surrounding area became a small trading settlement, which grew into the town of Londinium. Unfortunately, the second bridge was destroyed in 60 AD by Queen Boudicca of the Celtic Iceni tribe. Although the bridge did not survive, the Romans fought back and defeated the rebels. After this, they built a wall around the town, some of which still survives today, and another bridge.

At the end of Roman rule in Britain, Londinium was abandoned, and the wall, buildings and bridge fell into disrepair. Some claim Alfred the Great (849-899) built another bridge in 878 AD, but others suggest this was Sweyn Forkbeard, father of Cnut the Great (d. 1035). Regardless of its creator, Norse poetry records the destruction of the bridge in 1014 by Olaf II Haraldsson (995-1030), the King of Norway. In Saxon literature about the Battle of Brentford, fought in 1016 between the English led by Edmund Ironside (990-1016) and the Danes led by Cnut, there is mention of a bridge crossing the Thames, which suggests another had been built.

Records reveal that William the Conqueror (1028-87) built a new London Bridge after the Norman Conquest in 1066. His son, William II (1050-1100), repaired or replaced it during his reign, only for it to be destroyed by fire in 1136. King Stephen (1096-1154) built a new one, and Henry II (1133-89) created the “Brethren of the Bridge” to oversee repairs and maintenance.

In 1170, following the murder of Saint Thomas Becket, the repentant Henry II commissioned a new bridge from stone rather than wood, upon which a chapel stood in memory of the martyr. Building works began in 1176 and continued during the reign of King John (1166-1216). In addition to the chapel, several houses and shops spanned the distance across the Thames. Money from the rent helped maintain the bridge. By the late 14th century, the bridge had reached its capacity of 140 houses. Presumably, several of these later merged because, by 1605, there were only 91. Descriptions of the buildings from the 17th century suggest they had four or more storeys, including a shop on the ground floor.

Simeon wishes he could have seen the bridge with all the shops and houses, but sadly several fires made the upkeep of the bridge impossible. These fires destroyed sections of the bridge over the years, and the houses were gradually demolished for safety purposes. The last house was pulled down in 1761.

In 1799, architects and engineers entered a competition to design a new London Bridge to replace the medieval one. Whilst Thomas Telford’s (1757-1834) proposal was deemed the safest, it would result in the demolition of many neighbouring buildings. Instead, John Rennie the Elder (1761-1821) won the competition with his conventional five-stone-arches design. Rennie had previously designed Waterloo Bridge further along the river, which featured nine equal arches. Unfortunately, Rennie died before work on the new London Bridge began, so the construction was overseen by his son, John Rennie the Younger (1794-1874).

The new London Bridge opened in 1831 and soon became the busiest point in London, with over 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossing every hour. Unfortunately, by the 1920s, the bridge was sinking into the riverbed, and talks began about replacing it. Due to costs, nothing much happened for a few decades until Ivan Luckin of the Common Council of the City of London suggested selling the bridge in 1968. Robert P. McCulloch (1911-1977) of McCulloch Oil purchased it for $2,460,000, and the bridge was carefully disassembled and sent to Arizona, where it was reconstructed over Lake Havasu.

The current bridge, or the “New New London Bridge”, as Simeon jokingly calls it, was designed by Baron William Holford (1907-1975) and opened in 1973. It cost £4 million to build, which equates to roughly £60.1 million today. “No wonder they were not happy when HMS Jupiter collided with it in 1984!” exclaimed Simeon.

Shortly after crossing over London Bridge, the clues led Simeon to a church, where he thought he would stop for a rest before carrying on his journey. Peeking through the door into the sanctuary, Simeon almost jumped out of his fur when he came face-to-face with a Viking! Fortunately, it was only a statue, so Simeon bravely entered the building for a closer look.

On closer inspection, Simeon discovered the Viking was Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney (1080-1115), also known as Saint Magnus the Martyr, to whom the church is dedicated. Magnus’ father, Erland, and his uncle Paul were the joint rulers of the Orkney islands off the northeast of Scotland. When he was young, Magnus and his cousin Hakon were kidnapped by King Magnus Barefoot of Norway (1073-1103) and forced to serve aboard a pirate ship. Magnus resisted because piracy went against his Christian values, so he spent his time on board singing psalms and praying. Eventually, Magnus escaped and sought asylum at the court of Malcolm III of Scotland (d. 1093).

When Magnus Barefoot died in 1103, Magnus and Hakon returned to the Orkneys, where they began jointly ruling in 1106. Unfortunately, the power-hungry Hakon wanted full control of the islands and, by 1114, was prepared to battle for the title. Not wanting to fight, Magnus agreed to hold peace negotiations on the Island of Egilsay in c.1115, but instead of reconciliation, Hakon ordered his cousin’s murder. Magnus tried to take refuge in a church, but Hakon’s soldiers captured him. The soldiers refused to kill Magnus despite Hakon’s demands. Instead, Hakon forced his cook to strike Magnus over the head with an axe.

The Church of St Magnus the Martyr was built in the Baroque style of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) following the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed the original church on the site. Due to its proximity to Old Billingsgate Market, a famous fish market, the church became the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. It is also the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers and the ward church of the Ward of Bridge and Bridge Without.

Although a church has existed on the site for around 900 years, it was not dedicated to St Magnus until the 20th century. Initially, the church considered dedicating the building to the Roman saint of Cæsarea until the famous Danish archaeologist Professor Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae (1821-85) proposed St Magnus while conducting research about the Vikings in Britain. Support for the latter proposal increased after the discovery of St Magnus of Orkney’s relics in 1919. After much discussion, the dedication to St Magnus took place in April 1926.

During Simeon’s exploration of the church, he came across many exciting things, most notably a model of Old London Bridge by David T. Aggett (1930-2021), a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. Aggett’s phenomenal attention to detail reveals the precariously balanced medieval buildings and over 900 miniature figures, showing how crowded the bridge was on a daily basis. Amongst the crowds is King Henry V (1386-1422), processing from Southwark to the City of London.

Aside from the model of the bridge and the statue of St Magnus, there are several artworks in the church, including iconic paintings of the Virgin Mary. A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham references the village where the Virgin allegedly appeared to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout noblewoman, in 1061. On the other side of the church is a monument to Myles Coverdale (1488-1569), an English preacher who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English. Other dedicated items are dotted around the church, including stained glass windows, but Simeon had no time to investigate everything. He had treasure to locate!

After leaving the church, Simeon hurried through Old Billingsgate Market, which thankfully no longer smells of fish, and past a church called All Hallows by the Tower until he reached the Tower of London. Due to the temporary Superbloom event, the area in front of the Tower was much more crowded than usual, making searching for clues harder for Simeon, but he was not deterred. Until 18th September 2022, the water-less moat of the Tower is open to the public. In honour of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, over 20 million flower seeds were sown in the moat to create beautiful gardens, including the Queen’s Garden, inspired by her 1953 coronation gown. Simeon had a quick glance down into the moat in case any clues had fallen in and spotted a few (thankfully pretend) fierce lions. He did not spot any polar bears (or gibbons), despite knowing that Henry III was given a white bear by the King of Norway in 1252.

At the side of the Tower of London, Simeon spotted a curious set of stairs leading into the River Thames. Known as the “Queen’s Stairs”, this was once the main entrance to the Tower for important visitors. Anne Boleyn (1507-36) entered the Tower here from a boat to prepare for her coronation as Queen and marriage to Henry VIII (1491-1547). Further along the river, Simeon came across “Traitor’s Gate”, where Anne Boleyn entered the Tower for the final time. All traitors were brought into the Tower through this gate as prisoners, subjected to a trial, and received their punishment. Unfortunately for Anne, she had her head chopped off. With fur standing on end, Simeon hurried away from the Tower before he could suffer the same fate!

Simeon’s next task was to cross back over the river via Tower Bridge. This was even scarier than London Bridge because Tower Bridge is a bascule bridge, meaning it can swing upwards to let large boats pass beneath. After double checking no large boats were heading his way, Simeon began the 240-metre walk across the Thames.

Commercial development in the East End of London rapidly increased in the 19th century, leading to the requirement of another river crossing downstream from London Bridge. In 1877, the Special Bridge or Subway Committee held a design competition, which more than 50 architects and engineers entered. Many bridge concepts were rejected due to insufficient headroom, so the winning design was not chosen until 1884, when civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) proposed a bascule bridge. Working alongside the designer Sir Horace Jones (1819-87), Barry developed the plans to include two Gothic-style towers, joined together by two horizontal walkways around 60 metres above the surface of the water.

Construction of Tower Bridge began in 1886, and officially opened in 1894. The construction cost £1,184,000, equivalent to over £143 million today. During the Second World War, Tower Bridge became a target for enemy action because it was a major transport link across the Thames. In 1940, the high-level walkways took a direct hit, putting the bridge out of action for some time. Another bomb caused damage to the towers and engine room, which contained the hydraulic machinery to power the bascules. Fortunately, by the end of the war, Tower Bridge remained standing but needed significant repairs.

Since 1982, the two towers and high-level walkways have been open to the public as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. Simeon did not have time to investigate on this occasion but has heard about the great views across London from the top. After reaching the opposite bank of the Thames, Simeon hurried off to search for more clues in the historic riverside street, Shad Thames. Known now for restaurants and luxurious apartments, Shad Thames once contained the largest warehouse complex in London. In Victorian times, the warehouses stored tea, coffee, and many spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, anise and coriander.

Shad Thames has featured in many films and television shows, including Oliver! (1968), Doctor Who (1984), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Run Fat Boy Run (2007), and Cruella (2021). Simeon did not see any camera crews, but he made sure to be on his best behaviour just in case.

In Horselydown Square, just off Shad Thames, Simeon discovered an impressive water feature by the British painter and sculptor Antony Donaldson (b. 1938). Created in 1991, Waterfall features a copper cistern from which water flows over the edge. Six life-size, bronze female figures in various poses cling to the cistern, while a seventh reclines on the surrounding wall.

Averting his eyes from the unclothed figures, Simeon took great interest in other bronze objects around the fountain wall. Simeon found a camera, wallet, watch, sunglasses, shoes, and a pile of books, all presumably belonging to the women playing in the water.

Simeon’s next set of clues took him to Potters Field Park between Tower Bridge and City Hall. The name originates from the many potters working in the area during the 17th and 18th century, such as Pickleherring Pottery, established in 1618 by Christian Wilhelm. Between 1618 and 1710, 124 potters operated in the area, which decreased to 68 between 1710 and 1733. Since 1772, pottery making has disappeared from the area, but their memory lives on in the name of the park, which opened in 1988.

Further along the Thames is Hay’s Galleria, where Simeon looked for some of his final clues. Originally a warehouse known as Hay’s Wharf, the galleria gets its name from Alexander Hay, who owned a brewery on the site in 1651. When John Humphrey acquired the property in the 1840s, he commissioned the English engineering contractor and future Lord Mayor William Cubitt (1791-1863) to convert it into a wharf. Hay’s Wharf became one of the chief delivery points for tea in London, and at its height, received around 80% of the dry produce imported to London, earning it the nickname ‘the Larder of London’.

Hay’s Wharf remained in use until the Second World War when it suffered severe bomb damage. Attempts to rebuild the wharf were thwarted by modern shipping techniques, such as containerisation, and Hay’s Wharf officially closed in 1970. The majority of the old dockland areas were purchased by St Martin’s Property Corporation, and Hay’s Wharf was converted into Hay’s Galleria. Hay’s Galleria housed a year-round market and became a popular tourist attraction. Permanent traders sold souvenirs and jewellery from stalls until 2010 when they were removed and replaced with more traditional shop formats. Hay’s Galleria also features restaurants, flats and offices.

Finally, Simeon reached the location of his final clue and discovered the whereabouts of the mysterious Island of Bridges. After reporting back to Treasure Trails, Simeon received his well-deserved certificate. Treasure Trails provide adventure, mystery and spy trails all across Great Britain. Whilst Simeon always has fun solving the clues, he also enjoys learning about the area, as do his human companions.

To purchase A Tale of Two Bridges from Treasure Trails, click here.

Did you know, Simeon is now on Instagram? Follow his latest adventures at @theadventuresofsimeon or on his personal blog page.

If you enjoyed this blog, here are some of Simeon’s other adventures.
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission
Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard


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4 thoughts on “Simeon and a Tale of Two Bridges

  1. All history should be taught this way. Simeon is such a brave toffee coloured gibbon and you reflected his adventure superbly. Throughly entertaining and so informative. Who knew there was so much history and places of interest between the two bridges. Hazel you bring history to life thank you for sharing, I’m still chuckling !

  2. I always love to hear about Simeon,s adventures. He is such a brave and clever gibbon and where else could one find such a wealth of historical information in such an interesting format. Well done Simeon and your friend Hazel. I can’t wait for your next adventure!

  3. Reading about Simeon’s latest treasure trail was both informative and entertaining. Your style of writing brings his adventure to life and the research that has gone into this blog is so extensive, Hazel. You bring both the area and Simeon himself to life. I look forward to more of Simeon’s escapades and am so pleased that he solved the Treasure Trail.

  4. Pingback: Simeon and the Cardiff City Mystery | Hazel Stainer

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