London Bridge was the only crossing over the Thames. As
London grew, so more bridges were added, but these were
all to the west of London Bridge, since the area east of
London Bridge had become a busy port. In the 19th
century, the east end of London became so densely
populated that public pressure mounted for a bridge to
the east of London Bridge, as journeys for pedestrians
and vehicles were being delayed literally by hours.
in 1876, the Corporation of London, who were responsible
for that part of the Thames, decided that the problem
could be put off no longer. Tower Bridge was
completed in 1894, after 8 years of construction.
However, many people don't realise why it is so
different from London's other bridges.
BRIDGE, LONDON, ENGLAND JUNE 2004
a Design was Chosen
big problem for the Corporation of London was how to
build a bridge downstream from London Bridge without
disrupting river traffic activities. To get as many
ideas as possible, the "Special Bridge or Subway
Committee" was formed in 1876, and opened the
design of the new crossing to public competition.
50 designs were put forward for consideration, some of
which you can see if you visit The Tower Bridge
Exhibition. However, it wasn't until October 1884 that
Horace Jones, the City Architect, in collaboration with
John Wolfe Barry, offered the chosen design for Tower
Bridge as a solution.
Building of the Bridge
took 8 years, 5 major contractors and the relentless
labour of 432 construction workers to build Tower
massive piers had to be sunk into the river bed to
support the construction, over 11,000 tons of steel
provided the framework for the towers and walkways. This
was then clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone,
both to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the
bridge a more pleasing appearance.
it Works - Then & Now
it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most
sophisticated bascule bridge ever built
("bascule" comes from the French for
"see-saw"). It was a hydraulically operated
bridge, using steam to power the enormous pumping
engines. The energy created was then stored in six
massive accumulators so that, as soon as power was
required to lift the bridge, it was readily available.
The accumulators fed the driving engines, which drove
the bascules up and down. Despite the complexity of the
system, the bascules only took about a minute to raise
to their maximum 86 degrees.
the bascules are still operated by hydraulic power, but
since 1976 they have been driven by oil and electricity
rather than steam. The original pumping engines,
accumulators and boilers are on show as part of The
Tower Bridge Exhibition, and you can also see the
current machinery and control cabins when you come on a
"Behind The Scenes Tour". (Behind The Scenes
Tours must be pre-booked)
Bridge has a fascinating history, which is explored in
detail for visitors at The Tower Bridge Exhibition. Here
are a few interesting facts you may not have known:
high-level walkways, which were designed so that
the public could still cross the bridge when it
was raised, were closed down due to lack of use.
Most people preferred to wait at the bottom and
watch the bascules rise up!
an emergency, Frank McClean had to fly between
the bascules and the high-level walkways in his
Short biplane, to avoid an accident.
London bus had to leap from one bascule to the
other when the bridge began to rise with the bus
still on it.
Bridge was painted red, white and blue to
celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee. (Before
that, it was painted a chocolate brown colour).
Bridge opened to the public for the first time
since 1910, with a permanent exhibition inside
called the Tower Bridge Exhibition. The Walkways
were glazed for the first time to house the new
centenary exhibition - The Tower Bridge
Experience opened, featuring animatronic models
telling the story of Tower Bridge.
Bridge became available to hire for parties and
current Tower Bridge Exhibition opened,
refocusing on the magnificent views from the
Walkways and the history of the Bridge.
Bridge Exhibition came of age celebrating its