The bridge that crossed an ocean


The Bridge House Estates committee of the City of London Common Council had known for some time London Bridge was sinking further into the River Thames with every passing rush hour.

Horse-drawn carriages had long since made way for cars and double-decker buses and, over the years, the structure had been hammered deeper into the riverbed.

The obvious solution to members in 1965 was to demolish it and start again; build a new bridge, for a new era of commuters.

Former newspaper and PR man Ivan Luckin had other ideas.

“He thought it was all very well knocking it down, but what about its future?” says former councillor Archie Galloway.

“That’s when Ivan made his move. He said to the committee, ‘we ought to sell it’.

“A lot of eyebrows went up at that.”

Luckin wanted to go a step further and advertise in the United States, where he felt certain someone would be interested in buying a well-known London landmark.

“Someone sensibly asked what they might get for [the bridge] and Ivan is recorded as saying, ‘one million’,” says Archie.

“And they said, ‘one million dollars?’

“Ivan said, ‘I’m talking about one million pounds.’ [Nearly three millions dollars at the time.] They sat up at that.”

News of the sale was soon the subject of newspaper and TV reports trotting out the inevitable line that London Bridge “was falling down”.

Luckin’s glossy 40-page brochure for prospective buyers promoted not only the structure itself, but the chance to own a slice of history - a bridge had crossed the Thames in this part of London since Roman times.

It was this potential that inspired McCulloch and his business partner, Cornelius Vanderbilt “CV” Wood, who was known for designing Disneyland in California. Stories about how the pair got wind of the sale vary - according to Michael, they saw an advert on TV while on business in London.

“They had been having a few drinks together and saw it and I think they probably looked at each other and thought, ‘we should take that apart, that will be our gimmick’.”

Another version has Wood at a meeting about the sale of the RMS Queen Mary, at New York’s Plaza Hotel, where he supposedly asked, “anything else for sale?”

Either way, Luckin’s perseverance paid off and when the ink dried on the contract of sale on 18 April 1968, he was a man vindicated - his outlandish idea matched only by an even more ludicrous one.

“Ivan was immensely proud of it but never went around shouting it from the rooftops,” says Archie.

“I think a lot of people thought he was a lunatic, but he was a man of single purpose.

“I can’t believe anyone else would have thought of the idea.”