A masterpiece of engineering, and the only opening bridge on the Thames.
Tower Bridge, which is next to The Tower of London, is the only bridge on the Thames that opens. It is often mistaken for London Bridge, most famously in a music video by American artist Fergie. Construction started in 1886, and it was officially opened on 30 June 1894 by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), and his wife, the Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark). It was designed by Horace Jones after winning the competition to design a bridge that solved the traffic problems on the river, and built by the architect Sir John Woolfe Barry, son of Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament. It was Barry (junior) who designed the idea of a bascule bridge with two towers built on piers.
It is certainly a masterpiece of engineering: the bridge is 244 meters long, with a span of 61 meters and each lifting bascules weighing 1,000 tons. Each tower is 65 meters high and is linked by twin walkways that are 43 meters long. These walkways were closed in 1910 as they attracted prostitutes and pickpockets, but they have recently reopened. The Bridge's present colour scheme dates from 1977, when it was painted red, white and blue for Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. Originally it was painted a chocolate brown colour.
The Bridge has seen its fair share of incidents. In 1952 a watchman failed to signal to the traffic that the bridge was going to open, and a bus was near the edge of the south bascule when it started to rise; driver Albert Gunter made a split-second decision to accelerate the bus, clearing a six-foot drop onto the north bascule, which had not started to rise. The conductor broke his leg, and twelve of the twenty passengers aboard received minor injuries. The driver was later rewarded with a £10 bonus.
It has also been the site of protest: in 1999 Jef Smith, a Freeman of the City of London, drove a herd of two sheep across the bridge in protest about the erosion of the rights of older citizens in London. In 2003 David Crick, a Fathers for Justice campaigner, climbed a 30 meter tower crane near Tower Bridge at the start of a six-day protest dressed as Spider-Man.
If you have time, the guided tour is well worth it. You can see how the bridge is built from the inside and visit the spectacular engine room. You also get a fabulous view up and down the Thames.
Tower Bridge Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 2UP
Tower Bridge Rd, London SE1 2UP, UK
Summer Opening Hours: April – September 10:00 – 17:30 (last admission)
Winter Opening Hours: October – March 09:30 – 17:00 (last admission)
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