It was becoming a growing necessity for commercial developers to access the port facilities in the Pool of London in the latter 19th Century. A traditional fixed bridge would prevent access of tall-masted ships between London Bridge and the Tower of London on the River Thames. Therefore, a drawbridge of bascule design was constructed to provide access to and from the Upper Pool of London for registered vessels with a mast or superstructure of 30 feet or more. This was, of course, the renowned Tower Bridge.
The Architect, Design, and Construction
A Special Bridge or Subway Committee was formed in 1877 to find a solution to the river crossing problem. The bridge design was opened to a public competition and over 50 designs were submitted. After much controversy over evaluation of the designs, the committee awarded the project to Sir Horace Jones, the City Architect, in 1884.
- Architect and Engineer – Though Jones was the architect of this innovative bridge, it was the engineer, Sir John Wolfe Barry, who devised the idea of a bascule drawbridge with two bridge towers built on large piers. Jones died in 1887 and George D. Stevenson took over the project.
- Design – The central span was split into two equal bascules or leaves, which could be raised to allow river traffic to pass. The two side-spans were suspension bridges, with the suspension rods anchored both at the abutments and through rods contained within the bridge’s upper walkways.
- Construction – Construction started in 1887 with five major contractors. Two massive piers, containing over 70,000 tons of concrete, were sunk into the riverbed to support the structure. Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways. It took 8 years through the employment of 432 construction workers to complete the bridge.
A London Edifice and Compliment to “The Tower”
The total length of Tower Bridge is 801 ft. (244 meters) with an impressive height of 213 ft. (65 meters), and its twin towers rise 200 feet (61 meters) above the Thames. The double leaf drawbridge has an opening of 250 feet (76 meters) wide with a clearance below of 28 ft. (8.6 meters) while it’s closed and 139 ft. (42.5 meters) when open. The original brick facade design, of Sir Horace Jones, was replaced with the more ornate Victorian Gothic style, which makes the bridge a distinctive landmark. This redesign was intended to harmonize the bridge with the nearby Tower of London.
Why Tower Bridge is Dear to My Heart
The primary reason Tower Bridge is so near and dear to my heart is that we have something in common. Tower Bridge was opened on June 30, 1894, and I, Jen Reckard, came into the world that very same day over 75 years later. One of these days, I am going to London for my birthday and will drink a toast to our mutual birthday. Tower Bridge has many exciting amenities and I plan to experience each one as a present to myself.
The Tower Bridge Experience
This iconic structure is not just an impressive crossing of the Thames. Tower Bridge is also an experience that should not be missed by visitors to London, England.
Locations and Nearby Landmarks
- Location – Spans the River Thames East End between the Greater London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark, and is crossed by over 40,000 people daily.
- London Underground – The nearest tube stations are Tower Hill on the Circle and District lines, London Bridge and Bermondsey, and the nearest Docklands Light Railway station is Tower Gateway.
- Nearby Landmarks – Tower of London, HMS Belfast (museum ship), Shad Thames (historic riverside street), St Katharine Docks, London Bridge
Opening, Reopening, Events, Venues
- Opening – The bridge was officially opened on June 30, 1894 by The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), and his wife, The Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark)
- Reopening – The walkways, which allowed pedestrians to cross even while the bridge was raised, became hangouts for prostitutes and thieves and closed for many years. In 1982, however, Tower Bridge reopened to the public for the first time since 1910, with a permanent exhibition inside called The Tower Bridge Experience.
- Events – In 1977, for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Tower Bridge was painted red, white, and blue from its original mid greenish-blue color. For the 2012 Summer Olympics a set of Olympic rings was suspended from the bridge to mark one month to go until the start of the games.
- Lift Service – Today, the Tower Bridge lift service is provided free of charge to sailing vessels but subject to 24 hours’ notice. The service is available any time, day or night, 365 days per year. The double leaf bascules are raised between 850 to 1,000 times each year.
- Unique Venues – A 360 degree experience of the glass-covered walkways (143 feet or 44 m above the river at high tide), the North Tower Lounge, the Victorian Engine Rooms, or you can book your dream wedding!
A Video of Tower Bridge in Action
This video will make you feel like you’re actually there, standing on the high level glass walkways seeing all the amazing activity of the Bridge. What’s your favorite thing about Tower Bridge? Are you dying to take a tour?