London Bridge Relic Box
Carved Wood and Presentation Plaque, c. 1830-32
London Bridge Presentation Wooden Relic Box
detail: lid top detail: open
detail: silver detail: paper
London Bridge Wooden Relic Box
London: c. 1830-1832
Turned and carved wood with silver presentation plaque
7/8 inch high; 4 inches diameter
Provenance: William Knight; Sothebys, London, December 1832; Sothebys, London 1997
$4,800

See Also: London Royal Exchange Relic Box

A William IV period small circular disc-form turned wooden box with lid -- probably stained oak -- made as a souvenir of timbers of the original London Bridge and intended for presentation to William IV by the architect William Knight. The top lid is carved in low relief with a Gothic quatrefoil centered with a shield, with inscriptions within each circle: "LONDON BRIDGE 1176," an initials cipher, and an insignia. The outer border forms a floral wreath. The top is removable from the molded conforming bottom to reveal an engraved dedication silver plaque on the inside of the top. There is also a hand-written note on a 3-inch diameter piece of circular paper, which explains that the box was intended by Knight as a gift to the King of England, but he died before he could present it, and it was purchased by the auctioneer Mr. Sotheby from Knight's estate in 1832.

The first London Bridge was built in AD80. The next reference to a bridge was in the tenth century, which was pulled down in 1014 by the Danes during a battle with the Saxons, an event memorialized in the song "London Bridge is Falling Down." It was replaced by a succession of two wooden bridges. The first stone bridge, built in 1209, was considered one of the "wonders of the world" at the time. In 1823, royal assent was given to rebuild London Bridge according to a design by Sir John Rennie, who died in 1821 and was succeeded by his son, who bore the same name. The so-called Rennie Bridge was officially opened in 1831 by King William IV and Queen Adelaide. The bridge was rebuilt once more in 1973, using the same abutments as the Rennie Bridge, and the stones of the Rennie Bridge were purchased for over two million dollars by the McCullogh Corporation, which rebuilt it at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The silver plaque reads:

"This Box formed out of a Portion of the Sleepers taken from the Foundations of the Piers of the Original London Bridge in the year 1826 at the Period when Two of the Arches on the Southwark side were thrown into One for the purpose of relieving the Water-way during the Execution of The New Bridge. The date of the Old Structure according to Stowe's authority is 1776. Presented to His Most Gracious Majesty William the Fourth. As a mark of dutiful respect by his much attached Loyal Subject & servant William Knight, Assistant Architect to the New London Bridge."

The explanatory note reads:

"This box is formed out of portion of the Sleepers taken from the foundations of the Piers of the original London Bride in the year 1826 and made under direction of Mr. Wm. Knight, F.S.A., assistant architect &c. to the New London Bridge and is the only perfect specimen.

"It was intended by Mr. Knight as a present to His Majesty, as appears by the Silver Inscription Plate within the lid of the Box. But Mr. Knight's death prevented it; -- and it was purchased at the Sale of his affects by Mr. Sotheby on the 5th December, 1832."

William Knight (d. 1832) was employed in the offices the famous architects J.B. Papworth and of Sir John Rennie. For the latter he acted as resident architect or clerk of the works for the construction of Plymouth Breakwater and of London Bridge. Knight was an enthusiastic antiquary, and made several communications to the Society of Antiquaries, of which he was a Fellow, on the subject of Old London Bridge. The sale of his library and collections at Sotheby's in December 1832 included a number of architectural drawings and "the Lower Jaw, and three other Bones, of Peter of Colechurch, the original Architect of London Bridge, found on removing the foundation of the Ancient Chapel" (Colvin, p. 590).

Condition: Generally very good, the wood nicely patinated overall, with the usual wear, shrinkage, and minor chips. Silver plaque a bit scratched. Paper note with the usual toning, soiling, wear, minor chips and tears.

References:

"Bridge History." London Bridge Museum & Educational Trust http://www.oldlondonbridge.com/romanbridge.shtml (22 July 2003).

Colvin. A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects. p. 590.

Roberts, Peter. "London Bridge." Arthur Lloyd. http://mysite.freeserve.com/arthurlloyd2/LondonBridge.htm (22 July 2003).