Despite numerous calamities, the old London Bridge made famous by the mid-seventeenth century nursery rhyme lasted for over six hundred years. One of the most picturesque sights of the City, its silhouette was radically altered in 1758-62 when not only were the two central arches replaced by a single navigation span but, more dramatically, the quaint houses which had stood upon it for centuries were finally demolished as unsafe. Thereafter balustraded and otherwise gentrified, with the weaker arches strengthened using stones from the demolished City gates, these alterations by Sir Robert Taylor and George Dance Senior prolonged the bridge's life until its successor was opened in 1831 just upstream from the original. Situated at the northern foot of the old bridge, and shown here in some detail, was the ancient church of St. Magnus the Martyr founded sometime before 1067 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren (in 1671-6) after its destruction in the Great Fire. Once its 185 foot steeple was added in 1705, it became a prominent London landmark even though its dramatic impact was somewhat reduced when the new London Bridge was resited away from it.
Not only has the artist captured the usual commercial bustle of the Thames below London Bridge in this painting, he has also managed to convey something of the menace of the river and its perilously fast currents. In the days before steam and motor power tamed the river, and when its course was still unregulated by either dredging or embankments, it was impossible to 'shoot the bridge' on a flood tide and dangerous to do so on an ebb tide; indeed, an old proverb of the time warned all river travellers that "London Bridge was made for wise men to go over and fools to go under."