61: Re-discovering Rennie’s London Bridge, at London Bridge!

The north-east side of London Bridge, by Fishmongers Hall. The slightly darker stone is from the early 19thC bridge, the lighter from the 1967-71 bridge.

When John Rennie’s, senior and junior, father and son, granite London Bridge of 1831 [1], widened in 1902-4 , was sold in 1968, demolished and the re-erected at Lake Havasu in Arizona in the early 1970s, and an apparently entirely new bridge built [2], the current London Bridge, significant chunks of the 1831 bridge were left behind, walls and stairs!

London Bridge 1890-1900 before widening. Looking north east.
No copyright. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsc.08569/

The buyer of the bridge, Robert McCulloch, [3] only took the facing stones of the main bridge, which were taken to Merrivale Quarry in Dartmoor to be cut down and then shipped to Arizona, and so a large amount of the non-facing stones ended up staying in London and then distributed across London and further afield. Maybe one day Building London will visit Lake Havasu but for now watch this BBC story describes the whole sage very well https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/the_bridge_that_crossed_an_ocean

“Rennie’s bridge was sold in 1968 for $2.46million to the chainsaw magnate Robert Paxton McCullogh, who then spent another $5million transporting 130,000tonnes of the granite to Arizona … The face was sawn off the stone and used to clad a concrete core that had been prepared in Arizona, while the original granite core is said to have been left in the UK, sawn into slabs, and resold as cladding.” [4] Engineer Michael Leeming who helped organise this demolition and sale of the stones has stated “.. only a 4 or 7 inch slice of the face of the stones was sent to America.” [5]

In 1995 Contract Journal reported that Merrivale’s new owners had found what was then “.. missing stone … stacked into the side of the quarry. Albrighton’s chief executive Peter Woodman said: ‘I just could not believe that there was so much of it.’ The company is now trying to figure out what to do with the stone, but are hoping to find some deserving cause to donate it to.” [44]

Wikipedia states “…(Stones left behind were sold in an online auction when the quarry was abandoned and flooded in 2003.)” [45] but provides no evidence of this. Building London is not aware of any building which used this stone for cladding but will try to find out!

London Bridge before widening, so c1890 looking north-west

A number of Londonists have commented on this. Vic Keegan [6] [7] [8], Ian Mansfield at Ian Visits [9] and Matt Brown at The Londonist [10], amongst others, have written about where blocks of London Bridge granite have cropped up across London, and  this blog, Building London, inspired by the above, has several posts on these stones, e.g. at Waltham Abbey and Ponders End etc [11], while also looking at the sources of these stones e.g. from Dartmoor [12] [13].

London Bridge after widening with balustrades and narrower stairs c1905

However, there is much much more! When the new London Bridge was built in 1971/2, mostly from concrete, though with some Cornish granite facing, a surprisingly large amount of the Rennie’s London Bridge was actually left in situ, continuing to act as part of the bridge, or at least the approaches. And this post will look at these substantial remaining pieces of Rennie’s, widened, bridge and a few bits and pieces in the same area. And while the section on the south side of the river Tooley Street has been mentioned frequently there are also large sections on the north of the Thames which will be documented, apparently for the first time online. ( Please comment if this is incorrect! )

Steps of the new London Bridge down to the Thames with the old bridge on the right. Some of this is still visible. Note also the flanking wall and it’s capital. E.W. Cooke 1831
Credit: RIBA Collections RIBA Ref No: RIBA16197

It’s worth pointing out here that the reason large chunks remain is partially due to that the original design/build was not just a bridge but that at both ends included wide steps down to the Thames, for ferries, enclosed by bridge height flanking walls. And so when the new Holford [14] designed bridge was built it was built within these flanking walls.

London Bridge being built showing the actual bridge and the flanking wall. Looking south. Etching, by E W Cooke, London Bridge, August, 1830.
Not a great quality picture but it shows the steps well.
New London Bridge Opened by King William IV and Queen Adelaide1 August 1831 https://artcollection.culture.gov.uk/artwork/10370/

The BFI website has an amateur film from 1967, that documents the demolition of the old bridge and the building of the new bridge. [15]

South of the River

So, starting south of the river, the tunnel/bridge crossing underneath London Bridge, or it’s approach, that goes between Southwark Cathedral and Montague Close to Tooley Street, remains in it’s entirety from Rennie’s 1831 construction. It’s the original width and identifiable as being of Cornish granite with small megacrysts. ( To learn about different granites and their megacrysts, mineral crystals, see Ruth Siddall & Diana Clements discussion re the Embankment [16] )  

London Bridge looking north before the widening so c1890
New London Bridge seen from the steps near Tooley Street, Southwark, London
E.W. Cooke 1833 Credit: RIBA Collections RIBA Ref No: RIBA16200

On the west side the original street steps up to the bridge are there too, popularly called ‘Nancy’s Steps’, of Dickens fame. Great for studying the granite closely though beware of being knocked down by tourists!

Matt Brown at The Londonist though queries the idea that the current ‘Nancy’s steps!’ were the ones portrayed in Oliver Twist. He notes that while the steps do appear in the book, Nancy is not murdered there, but in bed, until that is, in 1960 and 1968 when Lionel Bart with his ‘Oliver!’ changed the location of the murder to the steps! [17] However the association with Nancy is that it was there that she met “… Rose and Mr Brownlow in her attempt to save Oliver” [18].

Matt Brown also suggests that the usage of the words “ancient bridge” meant Dickens was referring to the mediaeval bridge, but that is probably poetic licence, as the date of writing Oliver Twist, and that it includes attacks on the Poor Laws, which came in in 1834, post date it to after Rennie’s London Bridge was built [19]. A 1960’s plaque has gone disappeared in the last few years but a new blue one has appeared [20].

As has been mentioned above Nancy was not murdered on the steps.
Granite at Montague Place with relatively large megacrysts indicating Cornish granite.

A few tens of yards along Montague Place from the tunnel/bridge, opposite Southwark Cathedral, there are a number of blocks of London Bridge granite and where the 19thC Hibernia Wharf has been demolished to create a public square, Minerva Square, and access to the Thames, Southwark Viewpoint, there is a interesting interpretative plaque, commemorating the London Bridge in all it’s incarnations attached above a block of the bridge set into the ground. Check out the various pages on the fantastic London Remembers website, another indispensable Londonist website regarding this and other lost and found plaques! [21] The blocks used to have commemorative plaques on them but they have sadly been lost/stolen. [22] [23]

Going under the bridge into Tooley St and looking up you can again see clearly the intact remains of the flanking walls of the old bridge but here the wall disappears behind the grotesque 1980s architecture of No 1 London Bridge, [24] which, butting right up against the walls, hides it in a way that is not done on the remaining 3 sides, what seems like a major planning error when it was built. It is nice to think that almost certainly John Rennie’s granite walls will outlast the office block which will no doubt be redeveloped in not so many years to come. There remains a door into the vaults under the bridge.

On London Bridge

Coming up onto London Bridge it can again be seen that the original outside flanking walls of the bridge, from 1831, remain exactly where they were, look for example at the blocks outside what is now Glaziers Hall and by No 1 London Bridge. As noted above, originally the actual bridge was much narrower and there were wide sets of steps down to the river flanked by the outside walls still in place. Remarkably this is the case on all 4 sides of the bridge! The widening in 1902 narrowed the gap slightly and the much wider 1970’s bridge butts right up to these walls.

Hibernia Wharf, more recently the Glaziers Hall at the south-west corner, showing the top of the original flanking wall.

Also on Duke Street Hill, almost above the existing tunnel/bridge are a collection of blocks labelled as being from the Rennie Bridge.

This interestingly refers to “two large granite stair chambers (including ‘Nancy’s steps)” but only one, Nancy’s steps is visible from on top of London Bridge

Note also the pointless Southwark Gateway Needle, popularly known as The Spike, apparently pointing down to the start of the mediaeval bridge. They could have done better. N.b. it does apparently not commemorate the gatehouse at the Southwark end of the old bridge where the tarred heads of rebels were left on spikes to remind the populace of the result of, failed, rebellion. [25]

South of London Bridge 1921 with the stairs and flanking walls clearly visible https://britainfromabove.org.uk/image/epw006818
Original stonework and, co-incidently, advertising a resource for the bridge’s history.
The flanking wall on the south west corner, with the old Hibernia Wharf building of 1850 butted right up to it. The granite to the left will be part of the new bridge.

The remaining stairs on the south side

To fully see the remnants of the Rennie bridge you need to go down onto the foreshore of the river. And excitingly you will find remnants of the original stairs! There are two open Thames stairs not so far away to get down to the foreshore and it is well worth doing! But do take sturdy boots though as it’s both very muddy and uneven.

By Glaziers Hall they are steps insubtantial and go nowhere and it’s very strange that they were left. They were simply hacked off at their ends.

A small remnant of the original 1831 steps below Glazier Hall. The granite above it is also from 1831 while the granite to the left is the facing of the modern London Bridge

But to the east side almost under No 1 London Bridge there is a wider set of the steps, in front of the front of the flanking wall, that is then joined by a maybe 1970s stair case up to the top of the bridge. Sadly this stairway is now blocked at the top, and it’s not clear why, though the excuse is probably anti-social behaviour.

Another small remant of Rennie’s steps. The wall at the back is also original while the granite to the right is part of the modern bridge.
The back wall is from Rennie’s build and the 1970s staircase.
The stairway goes up to the bridge top but sadly is closed at the top.

North side

Going back up from the foreshore and crossing the bridge to the north side it will be seen that there is now no equivalent remaining tunnel/bridge as there is on the south side. There is a bridge over Thames Street [43] with block like building material under the bridge, which is modern and concrete though the balustrades above seem to be original. There was an original Rennie bridge here but it was demolished when Thames Street was widened in the 1960s. See below.

Lower Thames Street bridge in 1965 CC BY-SA 2.0
And in 2013 with Fishmongers Hall looking much the same, if cleaner, on the right
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thames_Street,_London#/media/File:Lower_Thames_Street.JPG CCO
North side of London Bridge in 1893-94. Note the wider steps on the east side.
The original capital at the end of the flanking wall on the north west corner.

Back up on top, we can see again the original 1831 flanking walls are there, and outside Fishmongers Hall the balustrades seem to be original too. Fishmongers Hall was finished in 1834, and it would seem closely matched to those of the London Bridge itself [26]. Ruth Siddal at London Pavement Geology has identified a Giant Granite from the Princetown Quarries, that is Foggintor and Swelltor, and also the close by Merrivale, quarries in the old flanking pier [27] and another unnamed granite next to it [28]. The join between the 1970’s granite and the original granite is fairly easy to see. 

Fading sign by Fishmongers Hall on the flanking wall of the old bridge. Note the classic Cornish stone. Maybe it was aimed at noisy Cornish fishmongers on the riverfront!
The old flanking walls are seen more clearly on the north side as there is space between the buildings, Fishmongers Hall and Adelaide House, on both sides to see though the original piers can be best seen from the Thames side path at Fishmongers Hall on the north-west side of London Bridge and while cramped by Adelaide House on the west side, the new stairway opened in 2016 gives a good view. [29]

Rennie’s flanking wall in the centre, and the modern granite facing at the left.
London Bridge in the 1930s. Note the steps on the north east side of which some remain. https://spitalfieldslife.com/2013/01/05/the-bridges-of-old-london/

Most excitingly, in the north-east corner there is a set of steps, now inaccesible, that may be original steps. They can be seen almost hidden by the new bridge and new bits of the Thames walkway. Why this small piece was left is bizarre. However if you look at the old maps you can see that the steps on either side are not mirror images and the one by Adelaide House jutted forward, into the Thames, more than the lost one on the Fishmongers Hall side. These old steps were actually clearly visible from 1973 to 2016 from the old stairway down to the riverwalk from in front of Adelaide House and it’s a loss that that view is no longer accessible. The steps can still be accessed from the locked door on Thames walkway and from the ‘well’ in front of Adelaide House. The ones at the bottom may date from when the walkway was built in 1973.

In 2010 these stairs, the London Bridge Lower Stairs, were said by Canoe London to be in “good condition and access.” That access is sadly no longer the case. [30]

Now locked exit onto the Thames walkway from the stairs down from the bridge.
Photo taken through a gap in the new door. The steps and stone above them is original. The grey granite to the right, from the modern bridge.
The bottom steps may date to the modern bridge and when the new walkway beneath it was built.
‘Below London Bridge’ byIain Grosvenor June 2014 from the old route down from the bridge to the Thames walkway. On the left, Rennie’s wall, on the right the 1970 bridge  https://www.flickr.com/photos/grover01/14418983034

What was Rennies bridge built from

So while it’s exciting to see how much of the bridge was retained, the flanking walls clearly deliberately, Building London always wants to also know where it all came from. This has been covered in previous posts in 2021, to an extent, but it’s good to recap.

The building materials of Rennie’s bridge that can be seen today are granite, and we do actually know where a lot of it came from!

‘An Interior View of the Devon Haytor Granite Quarries. / From an original painting by J. Cartwright Esqr. ; Engraved by Robt Havell Junr. London, Published July 1825’ https://coimages.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/images/21/319/large_1980_0368.jpg

We know granite came from Hay Tor or Haytor, in Devon, on the Cornubian or Cornish granite. John Ashurst states “between 1820 and about 1860, stone was sent from Hay Tor Quarry on Dartmoor, near Bovey Tracey, Devon, to London. The stone was taken from the quarry, loaded onto barges at Teigngrace, then taken to Teignmouth, where it was transhipped for London. The ‘railway’ line from the quarry is made of granite blocks up to 8 feet (2.5 m) long, with an inside flange, which is normally on the wheel, on the blocks .. In London, the stone was used in the National Gallery, in the British Museum and for London Bridge. Stone from Princetown Quarry, Dartmoor, was also used for the 1831 London Bridge and for its widening in 1902.” [31]

John Watson writing in 1911 also states Haytor stone was used. “There  are several quarries situated on the east borders of Dartmoor, the  principal one being that of Haytor Rock,  about four miles west of  Bovey Tracy…  a large quantity of this stone was used in the construction of London Bridge in 1831. The stone was conveyed by carts over the moor to the river Teign and thence by sea to London. The roads across the moor can still be traced; they were specially prepared for the conveyance of the granite by paving the cart tracks with large blocks of the stone.” [32]

Building London will be visiting Hay Tor this summer so will look at the famous quarry in more depth then. But suffice to say that it’s connection with Rennie’s bridge is pretty clear. [33]

Legendary Dartmoor has a newspaper extract from the company itself from 1825. “The quarries are situated at the village of Haytor, about five miles from the harbour of Teignmouth, and are now actually supplying granite for the erection of the New London Bridge, Christ’s hospital, and the British Museum.” Devon Haytor Granite Company. Morning Post [London, England] 12 July 1825: n.p. 19th Century British Library Newspapers [34] [35]

Building London’s visit to Haytor will include the tramway  … “in 1820 the Haytor Granite Tramway was opened, it ran the eight and a half mile distance from Haytor and Holwell quarries down to the Stover canal, a descent of some 400 metres. The impetuous for this initiative was that George Templer had won a contract to supply stone for the building of the new London Bridge”and the Stover Canal and Quay in Teignmouth as they all served getting the granite to London.  “By 1820 this trade was supplemented by granite from the quarries near Haytor on Dartmoor carried via the unique granite-tracked Haytor Granite Tramway which was linked to the Stover Canal. The granite to build the new London Bridge came via this route and was sent from the New Quay, which had been built for this traffic in 1821–25 by George Templer, James’s son.” [36]

Granite from Princetown, Foggintor or Swelltor quarries at the Sedgewick Museum

While Ashurst states that Princetown granite was used for London Bridge, and Princetown refers to not just ones close to Dartmoor Prison but Foggintor and Swell Tor, both covered previously by Building London, Variscan Coast however says it was not used for the New London Bridge “… the owners, Johnson & Brice, did not win the contract for construction of the new London Bridge in 1823…” [37] and that Swelltor [38] was only used for the 1903 widening “The famous Swelltor corbels (twelve of them left here), 650 were cut in 1903 for the widening of London Bridge. The bridge, “New” London Bridge, was designed by John Rennie, opened by King Wiliam IV and Queen Adelaide, in 1831. It was bought by American, Robert McCullough, in 1968, and re-erected in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.” [39]

Unused corbels for the 1901 widening at Swelltor in 2021

John Watson does however suggest that stone from the Princetown quarries was used also originally “The next recorded important work in which Devonshire  granite was employed is the existing London Bridge,  opened for traffic in 1831. This granite also came from Dartmoor, and  was chiefly obtained from the Princetown quarries. It is interesting to note that in the  year 1902,  the owners of these quarries undertook the  important task of widening London Bridge, and used the granite from the same quarries as the original stone had come from.” [32]

It’s not clear if stone from the Merrivale quarry was used, though we know for certain it played a key role many years later, as that was where the stone bought by McCulloch was cut down before shipping around the world to Arizona. Maybe there is stone from then still there!

Merrivale quarry, now flooded, 2021

Granite from Luxulyan, again see previous Building London post,  is also said to have been used, “…Ussher et al. (1909) report that “The granite of St Austell has been used in public buildings in Oxford, London and Rome.  London Bridge [the one now in Arizona], the British Museum, and Crystal Palace were constructed partly of granite raised from the quarries of the eastern part of the St Austell Granite mass…” “Many famous buildings (e.g. the British Museum) and engineering structures (e.g. the old London Bridge) were constructed from it.” [40] [41]

And granite from Aberdeenshire is said to have been used for the foundations of the Rennie bridge “Cairngall Quarry – Cairngall, … with extensive Granite Quarries, in Longside Parish, in the Eastern vicinity of Longside Village, and near the Peterhead Branch of the Formartine & Buchan Railway, 5-miles West of Peterhead… furnished the blocks for the Foundations of the then-new London Bridge…” and  “ … The light grey speckled muscovite-biotite Granite from the Dancing Cairns Quarry has been used in … part of London Bridge.” and “…the Stones from Tyrebagger have been … used in building the new London Bridge.” [42] And Building London is also very much looking forward to visiting Aberdeenshire this year too!


Visiting London Bridge is easy from anywhere in London and all the specific places mentioned are publicly accessible. The quarries mentioned have been, or will be, dealt with separately on Building London, though suffice to say they are all, or look, wonderful!


[1] https://www.thehistoryoflondon.co.uk/john-rennies-london-bridge/
[2] https://thames.me.uk/s00049d.htm
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCulloch_Motors_Corporation
[4] https://www.stonespecialist.com/news/stones-quarries/building-stone-granite-part-1
[5] https://illuminatedriver.london/discover/interview-with-michael-leeming-the-engineer-behind-london-bridge
[6] https://www.onlondon.co.uk/vic-keegans-lost-london-100-where-to-look-for-london-bridge/
[7] http://www.londonmylondon.co.uk/the-london-bridge-that-went-to-america-well-some-of-it/ 
[8] http://www.londonmylondon.co.uk/searching-for-the-granite-blocks-from-old-london-bridge/
[9] https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2011/10/10/today-marks-the-40th-anniversary-of-london-bridge 
[10] https://londonist.com/2016/08/whatever-happened-to-old-london-bridge#disqus_thread
[11] https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/08/10/london-bridge-picketts-lock/
[12] https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/07/31/a-visit-to-swell-tor-quarry-in-devon/ 
[13] https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/08/04/foggintor-quarry/
[14] https://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/william-holford-baron-holford
[15] https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-rebuilding-of-london-bridge-1967-online
[16] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucfbrxs/Homepage/walks/Embankment.pdf
[17] https://londonist.com/london/history/where-are-nancy-s-steps-and-why-do-they-lie-to-us
[18] https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/london-bridge.html
[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Twist
[20] https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/nancy-s-steps-plaque-1
[21] https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/london-bridge-information-viewing-panel-gone
[22] https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/bridges-montague-close
[23] https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/silver-jubilee-montague-close
[24] https://architecturerevived.com/number-1-london-bridge-london/
[25] https://londonist.com/2016/05/what-s-the-spike-on-london-bridge-for
[26] https://gilbertscott.org/fishmongers-hall-london-bridge-city-of-london/
[27] http://www.londonpavementgeology.co.uk/location-details/?id=653&zoom=19&lat=51.50894278564982&lon=-0.08748292922973633  
[28] http://www.londonpavementgeology.co.uk/location-details/?id=1330&zoom=18&lat=51.50893443871547&lon=-0.08746013045310974
[29] https://londonist.com/2016/05/london-bridge-is-building-up-as-new-stairway-opens
[30] https://canoelondon.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Access-to-the-River-Thames.pdf
[31] Conservation of Building and Decorative Stone, John Ashurst and Francis Dimes 1998 https://issuu.com/roxanasimona/docs/john__ashurst_-_conservation_of_bui
[32] John Watson British and Foreign Building Stones 1911 https://archive.org/details/britishforeignbu00watsrich/page/18/mode/2up?q=%22london+bridge%22
[33] https://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/72132/lab-granpost.pdf[34] https://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/2016/03/17/haytor_quarries/
[35] https://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/Images3/Devon%20Haytor%20Granite%20Company3.pdf
[36] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teignmouth
[37] https://variscancoast.co.uk/foggintor-quarry
[38] https://www.torsofdartmoor.co.uk/tor-page.php?tor=swell-tor
[39] https://www.dartmoorcam.co.uk/CAM/previouswalks/2020-7-25_DPA_Swelltor/Swelltor.htm
[40] https://archive.org/stream/cu31924004731430/cu31924004731430_djvu.txt Ussher et al 1909
[41] https://www.luxulyanvalley.co.uk/history/
[42] https://doriccolumns.wordpress.com/industry/granite/
[43] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thames_Street,_London
[44] https://web.archive.org/web/20080506144638/http://www.contractjournal.com/Articles/1995/12/21/27226/london-bridge-is-still-here.html
[45] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Bridge


2 responses to “61: Re-discovering Rennie’s London Bridge, at London Bridge!”

  1. I was very pleased to learn of this blog, and am impressed by its contents. A City of London Guide and writer based in North Southwark, I’ve also been researching the remains of the Rennie bridge, but hadn’t made as much progress as you! In particular I was unaware parts of the Rennie river steps are still visible externally. I have a few comments to make, and some illustrations to submit for your consideration. Could I possibly send both by ordinary email (i.e. not the post by email facility you mention)? Apart from anything else, this would enable you to consider them offline. I hope to send two or three short comments offline. (If this were possible the present comment could then be deleted.) I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lionel! Interesting! Yes of course msg me at glynrhys68@hotmail.com


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