The Rich History of Tower Bridge
By the late 19th century, London’s east end had expanded, necessitating another river crossing downstream of London Bridge. In 1876, the City of London Corporation opened a public design competition that received over 50 submissions. The design wasn’t chosen until 1884 when architect Sir Horace Jones and engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry offered their solution. The Gothic-style design by Jones was not without its critics, many of whom thought it too ostentatious for the location.
The bridge was built between 1886 and 1894. Unlike many bridges, the Tower Bridge is both a bascule and a suspension bridge. This means it has a section that can be raised and lowered to allow large vessels to pass through, which characterises bascule bridges, and it also has suspension cables.
Engineering Behind the Icon
The bridge is 240 metres long and has two 65 m bridge towers. The bridge is in constant use, as you can imagine, in the heart of a major city and opens 2-4 times per day. The bridge’s bascules, weighing over 1,200 tons each, are counterbalanced for smooth raising and lowering. This was powered initially by steam-driven hydraulic pumps requiring over 20 tonnes of coal per week and was switched to electricity in 1976. Tower Bridge was constructed using Portland stone and Cornish granite. These materials were chosen both for their durability and for their aesthetic appeal. Its innovative design and sheer scale made it one of the most impressive feats of engineering in the Victorian era.
Tower Bridge Walkways
Those touring the Tower Bridge can walk the high-level walkways 42 metres above the Thames. The walkways have glass floors that provide a unique view of the bridge and the river below, with boats passing underneath. The walkways also offer a stunning view of the city to other iconic landmarks, such as the Shard, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London.
Films, Books, and Pop Culture
Tower Bridge is significant in popular culture and has been featured in many films, such as Spiderman: Far From Home, Sherlock Holmes, Spice World, and Now You See Me 2. It was also a part of the iconic London Olympics clip where James Bond and the Queen flew under the walkways in a helicopter on their way to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
Tips for Visiting Tower Bridge
The best times to visit the bridge are early morning or late afternoon, as there might be fewer crowds. It’s also worth checking when the bascules will be raised, an event in itself. The website has a list of times when the bridge is raised.
Sunrise and the golden hour right after sunset are great times to take pictures from nearby. There’s an iconic view from London Bridge over HMS Belfast towards the Tower Bridge.
Booking tickets in advance is advisable, especially during the tourist season.
Comparing Tower Bridge with London Bridge
The most common misconception about the bridge is its name, as many confuse London Bridge with Tower Bridge due to its iconic status. London Bridge has a rich history going back centuries, too, but the current bridge looks plain compared to the ornate Tower Bridge.