The long and storied history of London Bridge is one of the best-known threads in the intricate tapestry of our great capital city.
As many readers will be aware, the modern bridge is a short paddle from the original, wooden bridge built by the Romans, who picked this spot for their city of Londinium as it was the lowest crossing point on the Thames.
Most people will also have heard of, or seen pictures of, the mediaeval stone bridge, covered by shops and houses, and teeming with life.
It even has its own nursery rhyme sung by generations of children, but what people might not know is the story of the ancient charity that works behind the scenes to ensure London Bridge does not, indeed, fall down.
Founded in the 12th century and taking its name from the bridge’s administrative headquarters on the south bank, Bridge House Estates channelled tolls, rental income, and bequests into a fund for the upkeep of the bridge.
Over the years, thanks to sensible management and canny investments, it grew exponentially, encompassing four subsequent Thames crossings – Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Millennium Bridge and, most famous of all, Tower Bridge – London’s defining landmark.
Around 25 years ago, through its funding arm, City Bridge Trust, the charity started using surplus money from the bridge fund to support other charities across Greater London.
Today, it still awards grants of over £30 million a year to organisations working on the frontline across the capital, tackling disadvantage, connecting communities, and working to make London a fairer, more equitable place.
While City Bridge Trust is a well-known and highly respected name in the charity sector, Bridge House Estates has largely lived in the shadows, the only clues to its existence the Bridge Mark – one of the oldest logos in existence – which you may catch a glimpse of as you’re passing over or under one of the bridges.
Last week, to bring together its dual roles as world class bridge owner and London’s biggest independent charitable funder, the charity relaunched itself under a new name – City Bridge Foundation.
It marks a new chapter in an organisation which has been bridging London – both literally and metaphorically – for over 900 years, and of which we at the City of London Corporation are proud to be sole trustee.
Fittingly, the launch came on City Giving Day, which shines a light on the fantastic philanthropic work which the Square Mile has always done well, but has not necessarily talked enough about.
Similarly, the rebranding of City Bridge Foundation should help to lift its work out of the shadows and place this unique and historic organisation where it deserves to be – front and centre in the life of Londoners.