Yesterday I went to Tower Bridge to check out the new glass floor they've installed in the west walkway that runs across the top of bridge. It means that visitors to the Tower Bridge Exhibition get a unique view from one of London's most iconic landmarks and if you time it right, can watch the bascule bridge lift up to allow a ship through. I contented myself with watching pedestrians and assorted bits of traffic passing beneath my feet as if I was floating 140ft above the river Thames. It looked very much like this.
Afterwards I went to the exhibition currently showing at the Guildhall Art Gallery celebrating the 120th anniversary of Tower Bridge. It was a Tower Bridge kind of a morning, so thought I'd write some stuff about it. To start with I'll go back in time a little bit.
London only had one bridge for 600 years and that was London Bridge completed in 1209. The next bridge in central London was Westminster Bridge in 1750. Having only had one bridge for so long, we then over the course of the next 100 years had a bridge epidemic with 9 bridges being built. However, despite this, London Bridge remained the most eastern bridge. The stretch of the river between London Bridge and the Tower is known as the 'Pool of London'; historically London's hub of trade and wealth. Because of this, by the late 19th century, east London had a population of over 1 million ... but no bridge.
Another important thing to note is that during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901) we went from being a largely agricultural country in to an industrial power house, due to the development of steam power and civil engineering. All this sets us up nicely to drop in to Victorian London and discover that London Bridge is struggling with the amount of traffic passing over it. They've tried alternatives like tunnels or expanding ferry services, but eventually and somewhat controversially, it is decided that a new river crossing is needed close to the Tower of London. The criteria are that the design must not only be suitable for pedestrians and vehicles, but allow large boats to pass in and out of the 'Pool of London'. Architects were therefore asked to submit plans.
The winning design was by Sir Horace Jones with important tweaking from engineer John Wolfe Barry (son of Charles Barry, the guy that built the Houses of Parliament). Work began in 1886, but Jones died the following year, meaning that responsibility fell on to the shoulders of his assistant George Daniel Stevenson. It took 432 construction workers (10 of which died) 8 years to build Tower Bridge at a total cost of £1,184,000 and is actually a steel framework surrounded by stone-cladding.
If you visit the Tower Bridge Experience you can walk through the engine room and find out how the hydraulic power worked (not really my forte) and discover why at the time, Tower Bridge was the most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built.
Tower Bridge opened on 30th June 1894 to great fanfare, attended by the Prince & Princess of Wales and it would seem ... most of London. In the first month of use, the bridge opened 655 times. Today it opens about 15 times a week ... and you need to give them a fair bit of notice too. The steam-driven power system was replaced in 1976 and there's also a speed restriction for traffic on the bridge itself as well as weight restrictions. You have to remember that Tower Bridge was built to accommodate horse drawn carriages.
Tower Bridge is an instantly recognisable London landmark across the world ... even if a lot of people seem to think it's London Bridge. Still, you can't have everything.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.