Many bridges crossed the River Thames by the end of the 18th century, it was apparent that London Bridge — by then over 600 years old — needed to be replaced. It was narrow and decrepit, and blocked river traffic. As a result, in 1799, a competition for designs to replace the bridge was held. Thomas Telford was the winner with a proposal for a single 600 foot iron arch bridge. However, his proposal was rejected as unfeasible and impractical and the ‘order’ was given to John Rennie who suggested a more conventional ‘five stone arches’ design. Work began in 1824, the foundation stone was laid on Wednesday 15th June 1825 and the finished granite bridge (928 feet long and 49 foot wide) had its official opening on Monday 1st August 1831 with King William IV and Queen Adelaide attending the banquet in a pavilion erected on the bridge.
By the end of the century the bridge was the busiest point in London, and one of its most congested with some 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossing it every hour. However, various surveys showed that the bridge was sinking an inch every eight years, and by 1924 the east side was some three to four inches (about 9 cm) lower than the west side. This was not overly serious but watch was kept and, by 1962, the bridge was considered not sound enough to support the increased load of modern traffic, and it was obvious that the bridge would have to be repaired and/or replaced.
The latter option was chosen and six years later, on Thursday 18th April 1968, London Bridge was sold to an American tycoon Robert P McCulloch for £1,000,000 [$2,460,000]. He had thought he was buying Tower Bridge – but what he had actually bought was a 19th century granite bridge! However, the deed was done and the bridge was taken apart, stone by stone, and rebuilt near Lake Havasu in Arizona. It still stands today – but not in the way it was in London.
Robert P McCulloch was chairman of McCulloch Oil Corporation and founder of Lake Havasu City, his retirement real estate development on the east shore of the lake. He had purchased the bridge as a tourist attraction, which was then far from the usual tourist track. The idea was successful, bringing interested tourists and retirement home buyers to the area.
The bridge had arrived in pieces at Long Beach Port, California and transported overland to Lake Havasu City. The re-assembly began in 1968 and, on Monday23rd September 1968, the foundation stone was laid by the Lord Mayor of London – Sir Gilbert Inglefield. The original stonework was used to clad a new concrete structure and the whole reconstruction took slightly over three years and was completed in late 1971. However – there was one significant change – the bridge wasn’t reconstructed over a river, but was rebuilt on land in a position between the main part of the Lake Havasu City and Pittsburgh Point, at that time a peninsula jutting into Lake Havasu.
After all was complete prospective buyers of land were attracted to visit the bridge and take a tour of properties for sale. Land sales improved, and McCulloch recouped all his expenses on the purchase and shipping of the bridge. Since he had obtained the land at no cost, the sale of the properties paid for the bridge and more. Recent years have seen much development in the area of the bridge to increase tourist interest and the original “English Village”, a quaint English-style open-air mall with hedge maze and a historical museum, has deteriorated with many sections now levelled.