The English landmark that crossed the Atlantic
PUBLISHED: 08:53 06 February 2014
The story of how London Bridge went to America has become one of the city's modern legends. Rumour has it a canny British negotiator hustled the 19th century structure to a group of businessmen who believed that they were buying its far more attractive neighbour, Tower Bridge.
In London Bridge in America: The Tall Story of a Transatlantic Crossing, which is being rereleased in paperback, Travis Elborough unravels the myth in a tale of Fleet Street shysters, industrialists and Disneyland designers.
“What happened was that the 1831 London Bridge, which was designed by the great Scottish engineer John Rennie, was put up for sale in the 1960s,” the Stoke Newington resident says.
“It was one of the heaviest structures in London and was sinking by about an eighth of an inch each year into the Thames.
“The area was going through a period of tremendous change in transport with the arrival of motorways, so the City of London Corporation decided to replace it with a new bridge to deal with this modern, Mini-driving city.”
The corporation’s Ivan Luckin proposed selling the bridge and although most thought the idea preposterous, he insisted they should settle for no less than £1million.
“The buyers he eventually found were extraordinary American businessmen. Robert Paxton McCulloch was most famous for inventing the one-man operated chainsaw and as a young man had a lot of experience in motoring,” adds Elborough. “His business partner, C.V. Wood, was a former theme park designer who had a hand in the construction of Disneyland.”
The granite bridge was transported 5,000 miles to Lake Havasu, Arizona – a desert area which McCulloch subsequently developed into the Lake Havasu City leisure resort it is today.
Investigating previous incarnations of the bridge, Elborough discovers it had a role as far back as Anglo-Saxon times, when it was used to hurl suspected witches into the water in the midst of trials.
While he admits that the Tower Bridge misunderstanding is “extremely unlikely” in reality, the truth behind this incredible journey proves equally entertaining .
London Bridge in America: The Tall Story of a Transatlantic Crossing by Travis Elborough (Vintage) is out now, priced £8.99.