Old London Bridge in Hollar's Long View of London

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Old London Bridge in Wenceslaus Hollar’s Long View of London, 1647

Physical Description

Hollar’s map was etched on six different plates, one of which contains the two end pieces which are separated to assemble the complete panorama in seven sections. Each plate measures approximately 18 inches wide and 15 inches tall. The complete view is nearly nine feet long. London Bridge and eastern London appear in the fifth section. The Long View was printed in Amsterdam by Cornelius Danckers in 1647.

For more information, see this item’s record in Hamnet and the digital reproduction in Luna.

Creator

Wenceslaus Hollar was born in Prague in 1607. He received some training in the art of etching in Prague, likely from Aegidius Sadeler, printmaker to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II.(Pennington, xx) Hollar left his home country for London in 1636 with the Earl of Arundel who wished someone to illustrate his travels and document his wide-ranging art collection. (Hind, 2)

London Bridge in the Long View

A full-size facsimile of Hollar’s Long View of London from Bankside (1647) hangs on permanent display in the administrative wing of the Folger Shakespeare Library. This extraordinarily detailed engraving, depicting the city of London from the perspective of what is now Southwark Cathedral (formerly the Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie) on the south side of the Thames, is one of over 2000 engravings created by the prolific artist in the library's collection. This particular map is a wonderful resource for imagining the London that Shakespeare would have known as it was sketched and engraved before the Great Fire of 1666, which so radically altered London’s cityscape.

Just off-center in the view appears Old London Bridge, renowned as an architectural wonder by visitors to the city. The longest inhabited bridge in the world, it was also the only bridge across the Thames until 1750, and therefore a crowded and noisy thoroughfare. Over 200 separate buildings filled both sides, leaving a mere 12 feet for traffic to cross (Matthews, 147). Most of the structures were businesses (including goldsmiths, cutlers, jewelers, tailors, and booksellers), with the owner’s residences built above. Determined to make the most of every inch of space, tenants built up as many as five stories, attaching the uppermost floors to the buildings opposite them, both adding stability to the structures and creating a tunnel-like space for most of the bridge’s length. As Hollar clearly shows, nearly all of the bridge’s structures also overhang the river, by 7 feet or more. The small gabled additions that Hollar depicts jutting out from the backs of the businesses are mostly privies, taking advantage of the easy waste-disposal opportunity the river provided.

The experience of crossing London Bridge would have been treacherous, noisy and quite slow. Vendors hawking their wares from open windows, shoppers browsing, farmers hauling their goods and animals to market, coaches transporting visitors into or out of the city, riders on horseback plodding through, and pedestrians heading toward Southwark’s many entertainments or the city’s workplaces all shared the same narrow passageway (Pierce, 197). Hollar’s detailed depiction of the bridge shows some of these Londoners in the gaps between the buildings. In front of the Southwark gate are two people on horseback and five others walking over the first of the 19 stone arches that supported the bridge’s 906 foot span (Matthews, 146). Further along, in front of Nonesuch House, a horse drawn carriage and scattered pedestrians can be seen in front of the building’s richly engraved exterior. This remarkably ornate timber frame building, named because there was “no other such house,” was prefabricated in Holland, and replaced the decayed drawbridge gate in 1577 (Jackson, 35). The spiked heads of condemned traitors that had once stared down from the drawbridge were subsequently moved to provide a grisly welcome to visitors crossing the Thames through Southwark’s Stone Gate.

The north end of the bridge in the Long View may seem oddly devoid of buildings. In fact, in 1633 a fire had consumed over three hundred houses and businesses at that end, and for safety’s sake, a tall wooden fence was built, clearly visible in Hollar’s engraving (Shepherd, 69). Only one building, occupying a small portion of the destroyed space, was built to fill the void in the next 30 years. Ironically, the slow pace of rebuilding would save the bridge thirty years later when the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed nearly all of London. The Great Fire consumed the rebuilt northern portion of the bridge, but a large enough gap remained that sparks could not reach to ignite the next buildings.

Hollar and the Folger

The Folger owns all but print 4 of the Long View.

For further information on Hollar engravings at the Folger, see Rachel Doggett (2010) "Etchings of Wenceslaus Hollar in the Collections of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Slavic & East European Information Resources", 11:2-3, 64-76, DOI: 10.1080/15228886.2010.483677. [1]

See also Kathleen Lynch on Hollar’s Long View, Survey of London

Notes

See Open City: London, 1500-1700 exhibition material.

Hind, Arthur Mayger. Wenceslaus Hollar and His Views of London and Windsor in the Seventeenth Century. Miami: HardPress, 2012. Print.

Matthews, Peter. "London Bridge." London's Bridges. Botley, Oxford: Shire, 2008. 147. Print.

Pennington, Richard. A Descriptive Catalog of the Etched Work of Wenceslas Hollar 1607-77. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982. Print.

Pierce, Patricia. Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe. London: Review, 2002. Print.

Shepherd, C. W. "Fire - Flood - Frost." A Thousand Years of London Bridge. London: John Baker, 1971. 69-70. Print.