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Indenture of grant of property, with the first seal of London Bridge, c.1200

​Indenture of grant of property, with the first seal of London Bridge. Manuscript on vellum, with seal, ca.1176-1202

Archive Treasures: London Bridge

London Bridge has a history spanning almost two thousand years but there are few written records from before the end of the twelfth century. References to the bridge in late Saxon and Norman times, which occur chiefly in chronicles and sagas, are infrequent, tantalisingly brief and relate almost without exception to the disasters, fire, flood, storm and military assault, which beset the timber structures in place between Roman times and the twelfth century. Elizabeth Scudder takes a look at a remarkable medieval deed sealed with the first seal of London Bridge which was drawn up in connection with the building of the first stone bridge.

The transformational decision to build a stone bridge is recorded by monastic chroniclers who name Peter, chaplain of Colechurch, as the architect of the enterprise, and with one exception attribute the commencement of the work to the year 1176. The new bridge of nineteen arches resting on twenty piers, a major undertaking, was built slightly upstream of its timber predecessor, took 33 years to build and was not completed until 1209, four years after Peter's death.

This document (LMA CLA/007/EM/02/F/023) is an indenture of a grant by Peter de Colechurch, proctor of London Bridge, and the brethren of the same, of a house and land in the parish of St. Dionis Backchurch to Gilbert de Waltham, carpenter, at an annual rent of ten shillings, ca. 1176-1202. The document is sealed with the first seal of London Bridge, of vesica or pointed oval shape, and made from green wax.

The priest acted as proctor, a position which gave him powers to deal with the Bridge property. He was also head of the Fraternity of St. Thomas which was associated with the Bridge Chapel where de Colechurch's remains came to be buried. The City parish of St. Dionis is centred on Lime Street and Fenchurch Street; the church itself is no longer extant as it was demolished in the nineteenth century.

Houses were built on the Bridge, trade flourished, and a growing income stream developed from rents and bequests made for the Bridge's upkeep. Tolls were levied on carts going over it and ships passing under it, so a dedicated fund was established associated with the Bridge, administered from Bridge House at its southern end.  It was this fund which allowed the City to construct Tower Bridge (opened in 1894), and also to acquire Blackfriars and Southwark Bridges. The City Bridge Trust, a charity administered by the City, is now responsible not only for the maintenance of these bridges, and the new Millennium Bridge by St Paul's, but also for distributing surplus funds for a range of charitable causes to benefit the inhabitants of Greater London.

Published:
28 April 2016
Last Modified:
25 May 2016

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