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Where Is London's Oldest Surviving Bridge?

Where Is London's Oldest Surviving Bridge?
Photo: Matt Brown

Getting from one side of the Thames to the other is more picturesque via one of the city’s bridges rather than rumbling along underground. Any Londoner or tourist could reel off a list of London’s bridges, but which has been in situ the longest?

The current incarnation of London Bridge opened in the 1970s, and although previous versions go back much further, we're looking for London's oldest surviving bridge. Tower Bridge dates back to 1894 — older, but not old enough. Millennium Bridge certainly doesn't make the cut. They all seem almost futuristic when you consider the more historical and perhaps ricketier platforms crossing waterways in the city.

Introducing the little-known Clattern Bridge, built way back in 1293, and so named because of the noise of horse’s hoofs as they crossed. This bridge is still functioning, although these days the structure is driven or walked, rather than ridden, over.

Photo: stevekeiretsu under a Creative Commons Licence

Technically, the bridge doesn’t cross the Thames. The Clattern Bridge crosses the River Hogsmill a tributary of the Thames, in Kingston, just before it joins the main river. The bridge itself is part of Kingston High Street. The Hogsmill River has a few more claims to fame, though: the stream in John Millais’ painting of Hamlet’s Ophelia is actually the Hogsmill.

Location of the bridge. Map: Google Maps

The artwork on the bridge itself isn’t quite as impressive as Millais’ painting, but without a doubt still historically interesting. There’s a bright blue badge on the central span of the bridge, with a simple fish symbol. This is the coat of arms of Kingston, dated 1623, recognisable from the three salmon on a blue background. This is not just a comment on the Kingston residents’ love of a fish supper, though. One of the Domesday Book entries for Kingston mentions three salmon fisheries in the Thames there, hence the inclusion of them on the county’s badge.

Photo: Julian Walker under a Creative Commons Licence

Including some impressive medieval masonry, the Clattern Bridge is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 for its ‘special architectural or historic interest’.

Some minor amendments to the bridge in the 18th and 19th centuries don’t take away from the fact that the Clattern Bridge is one of the few surviving medieval multi-span bridges.

Its three flint arches may seem slightly insignificant in comparison to Tower Bridge, but if you think about the thousands of people, horses and cars that have used this crossing over the centuries, the Clattern Bridge is almost worthy of a medal. Or another badge.

Last Updated 13 December 2016