A Brief History of Tower Bridge in London
The capital of England, London, is a metropolis that has not lost its old-world charm in the process of modernizing itself with architectural marvels like The Shard. One of the greatest representatives of the city’s heritage is the fabled Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is a stunning achievement of engineering and one of London's most instantly recognizable monuments, with its Gothic spires and main bascule surrounded by spectacular suspension bridges. This page delves into the history of this celebrated structure.
What is Tower Bridge?
History of Tower Bridge in London
By the 19th century, as the East End of London began to develop, there rose a need for a new river crossing. The City of London Corporation had a significant challenge: how to construct a bridge downstream from London Bridge without affecting river traffic. In 1876, the Special Bridge or Subway Committee was founded to develop ideas, and a public contest to choose a design for the new bridge was held. Over 50 ideas were offered for evaluation to the Committee, with some of them on display at Tower Bridge. However, it was not until October 1884 that Sir Horace Jones, the City Architect, suggested the chosen design for Tower Bridge as a resolution, in partnership with John Wolfe Barry, who was appointed as the engineer. As per the design, the bridge would be 61 meters wide and have a headroom of 41 meters.
The construction of Tower Bridge began in 1886. The foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales on 21 June.,Under It took eight years, five main contractors, and the tireless labor of 432 construction workers each day to build Tower Bridge. To support the building, two large piers were built on foundations deep into the riverbed, and the Towers and Walkways were built with nearly 11,000 tons of steel. The central span was split into two equal bascules that could be lifted to allow ships to pass through. To safeguard the underlying steelwork, this structure was covered in Cornish Granite and Portland Stone. When Jones died in 1887, George D Stevenson took over and he replaced the original brick facade with the iconic Victorian Gothic style that it is known for today. It cost £1,184,000 to finish building the tower.
The Prince and Princess of Wales officially opened Tower Bridge on 30 June 1894. Lord Chamberlain, Lord Carrington, and H. H. Asquith, the Home Secretary, were present for the opening ceremony. On the same day, the bridge lifted, after a two-minute delay, for the first time ever. A tug boat was required by an Act of Parliament to be on duty to help vessels in distress when crossing the bridge, an obligation that lasted until the 1960s. The Tower Subway was the quickest method to cross the Thames from Tower Hill to Tooley Street in Southwark until the bridge was built. Because there was no toll to cross Tower Bridge once it opened, the majority of foot traffic shifted to using it. As it was only accessible by stairs, pedestrians rarely used the open-air walkways and they became a popular spot for prostitutes and pickpockets. The walkway closed in 1910 reopened in 1982 as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition
During the 20th century
By the time the Second World War rolled around, Tower Bridge had become a major connecting point to the Port of London. This also meant that it became a target for enemy countries. Between 1940 to 1942, the Tower Bridge saw a few attacks that damaged parts of the bridge. In 1942, a third engine was installed in case the existing ones were damaged by enemy action. However, when the bridge was modernized this third engine became redundant and was donated to the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum.
On 6 December 1949, The southern section of the bridge was Grade I listed and the northern part of the bridge was listed on 27 September 1973. In 1982, the Tower Bridge Exhibition opened.
Steam to Oil and Electricity
Tower Bridge was the world's largest and most advanced bascule bridge at the time of its construction. Hydraulics were used to run these bascules, with steam powering the massive pumping engines. The energy generated was stored in six large accumulators, ensuring that power was always available when it was needed to lift the Bridge. The accumulators supplied power to the driving engines, which raised and lowered the bascules. The bascules are still powered by hydraulics today, but they have been powered by oil and electricity instead of steam since 1976. The original pumping engines, accumulators, and boilers can now be seen in the Engine Rooms of Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge Today
The Tower Bridge today is one of the most important ways across the river Thames. In fact, according to some estimates around 40,000 people cross the bridge on a daily basis.
Tower Bridge is now electrically powered and rises approximately 800 times each year, up to ten times per day in the summertime.
The greatest place to view the bridge being lifted is on the Tower Bridge's 11-meter-long glass walkways, which are 42 meters above the river.
The story of the bridge's construction is also narrated on these walkways, although the views of the river Thames outshine it.
Historic Tower Bridge Lifts
- The first vessel through the Tower Bridge was the Harbour Master’s vessel, Daisy. It was closely followed by a procession of honorary vessels: The Conservator Steamer, the Trinity House Yacht Irene, the gunboat HMS Landrail, The Bismark, and the Clacton Belle.
- In 1932, the Royal Eagle used to regularly make the jersey across the Tower Bridge, ferrying commuters between London and numerous seaside stops including Southend-On-Sea, Ramsgate, and Margate.
- Thousands of Britons came to the banks of the River Thames in the spring of 1954 to see the Royal Yacht Britannia sail beneath Tower Bridge, carrying Her Majesty the Queen and her entourage from a six-month Commonwealth tour.
- On 15 May 2004, the STS Lord Nelson and SV Tenacious set sail and were to pass under the Tower Bridge. However, the bridge authorities did not receive the lift booking, causing the ships to strike the south pier of the Tower Bridge.
- Monte Urquiola, a Spanish cargo ship, had made a habit of striking the Tower bridge. Between 1957 and 1967, the cargo ship hit and damaged the Tower Bridge thrice.
- Former football superstar David Beckham drove a Bladerunner BR RIB 35 called 'Max Power' with Torchbearer Jade Bailey under the Tower Bridge during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics of 2012.
- Since 2013, the Tower Bridge has welcomed over 30 cruise ships a year into the upper pool of London. You can get a spectacular view of these ships from the walkways of Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge Highlights
The Glass Floor
Look down the glass floor to find the famed red London buses and pedestrians speeding across the Bridge as river barges pass beneath it.
Visitors can go up to the walkways connecting the two towers and spot iconic attractions such as the Tower of London, City Hall, the Shard, and HMS Belfast.
All Your Questions About Tower Bridge History Answered
A. The Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the world. It was opened in London in 1894 and has since been used for tourism and commute purposes. You can buy tickets to visit Tower Bridge here.
A. The Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894.
A. The Tower Bridge was built to carry pedestrians and vehicles across the river Thames. There was a need for a bridge to be built downstream of the London Bridge, and that is where the Tower Bridge came in.
A. On 30 June 1894, the Prince of Wales and his wife, The Princess of Wales, officially inaugurated the Tower Bridge London.
A. It took eight years to finish constructing the Tower Bridge in London.
A. The Tower Bridge is located near the Tower of London on Tower Bridge Road in the borough of Southwark.
A. The Tower bridge lifts about 800 times in a year.
A. Special Bridge or Subway Committee chose the the design by Sir Horace Jones and John Wolfe Barry for the Tower Bridge.
A. On visiting the Tower Bridge, you can explore the North and South Towers and the glass walkway that connects the two. You will also find an exhibition that narrates the story of the construction of the bridge as well as the Victorian engine room that houses the original machinery used to lift the bridge.