Tower bridge is a London icon. Spanning the width of the Thames river between Tower Hamlets and Southwark, it has stood for over 120 years. How much do you know about this crucial part of the London skyline?
A Grade I listed structure, construction started on Tower Bridge 21st June 1886 and took just over 8 years. The bridge was opened 30th June 1894.
A combined bascule and suspension bridge, 40,000 Londoners pass over it every single day.
"Spanning the width of the Thames river between Tower Hamlets and Southwark, 40,000 Londoners cross Tower Bridge every day."
But how did Tower Bridge come to be?
It all started with an advert being placed in the East End of London for workers to build a new river crossing half a mile downstream of London Bridge. Even at this early stage, however, things were not that simple.
The bridge could not be a simple ground level bridge, this would cause issues during busy shipping periods, so there were call outs for designs to best counter this problem.
Notable designs came from engineers such as Sir Joseph Bazalgette, mastermind behind London’s intricate below ground sewers.
Eventually it was decided that the bridge would take on a bascule/suspension bridge. Suspended via cables but with the opportunity for the span to be lifted should ships need to cross. Interestingly, ships always get right of way through Tower Bridge, though they must alert the bridge 24 hours in advance. This once left US President Bill Clinton waiting for 20 minutes before being able to cross on a trip during the 90s.
"Ships always get right of way through Tower Bridge, though they must alert the bridge 24 hours in advance."
The bridge itself took 432 employed construction workers to build. Not only this but 70,000 tons of concrete which were sunk in to the river bed to support this massive project. The frame work of the bridge is constructed out of 11,000 tons of steel and it took 22,000 litres of paint to cover the bridge in what was originally a rich chocolate brown colour.
In 1977, for the Queen’s silver Jubilee, the bridge was repainted red, white and blue and later to its now iconic blue and white colour in 1982.
"London bridge was originally chocolate brown, it did not take up its now iconic white and blue until 1982."
A bridge of this scale and complexity required a great deal of work. It took 5 major contractors to complete, these included: Sir John Jackson, Baron Armstrong, William Webster, Sir H H Bartlett and Sir William Arrol & Co.
The original architect Sir Horace Jones was replaced by George D Stevens, who, when he took over, changed the facade from what would have been an intricate brick design to a more on trend Victorian Gothic style.
With that in mind, it still took 31M bricks and 2M rivets to be completed.
With a total length of 801ft, a height of 213ft and a clearance of 28ft (when closed - 139ft when open), this bridge is a towering - excuse the pun - icon of the London skyline and of British engineering history. At its completion it was considered a marvel, and quite rightly. Powered by steam hydraulics, people would travel from all over to see the bridge lift. Even today the original hydraulic system is on display at the bridge.
It’s a wonderful piece of engineering, and whilst we adore the sense of excitement that comes from looking to the future, there is so much we can gain from looking at the past. We cannot ignore the 124 year legacy of structures like Tower Bridge and their influence as we go forward.