Tower Bridge is a well-known London landmark, but it’s also home to a museum that tells visitors the details of the bridge’s history, engineering and construction using a video and interactive touch screens. The main entrance of Tower Bridge Exhibition is located at the north-west bridge tower. Key events in the bridge's history are detailed and range from Royal visits to dare-devil stunts.
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Tower Bridge dates from the end of the 1800s. It was purpose built to provide river access to the Pool of London docks and ease road traffic. Originally only London Bridge crossed the Thames. New bridges were added, but it was the growth of London’s east end that triggered the building of Tower Bridge. It is a lift bridge and even in these modern times is considered to be an engineering marvel. There are 2,000,000 rivets holding everything together.
The exhibition displays over 50 designs that were submitted for the bridge with the final decision made by Horace Jones, the city architect, in collaboration with John Wolfe Barry. Eight years, five contractors, 432 construction workers later the bridge was ready. Over 11,000 tons of steel provide the framework that is clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone.
In the Victorian engine rooms, located on the south side of the Bridge at river level on Shad Thames, is the original lifting machinery. The bascules were operated by hydraulics that used steam to power the pumping engines. The energy thus created was stored in six massive accumulators ready to use when power was needed to lift the bridge. The accumulators fed the driving engines, which lowered and raised the bascules. The bascules took approximately a minute to rise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees. Since 1976 the bridge has been powered by oil and electricity.
The Bridge used hydraulic power on a scale not used before its building to raise its ‘bascules’. Information panels explain the technology used to keep the bridge in motion.
A high level walkway has panoramic viewing windows, 138 feet above the Thames River where visitors can take in the city and its landmarks. Look for St Katherine’s dock, St Paul’s cathedral and the Monument.
The East Walkway is home to a photographic exhibition, ‘Great Bridges of the World’. It features over twenty bridges noted for their engineering. The West Walkway houses the exhibition ‘This is London’. It includes 60 illustrations and excerpts from Miroslav Sasek’s children’s book of the same name.
Interesting Facts about Tower Bridge:
1910: The high-level walkways, which were designed for the public to cross the bridge when it was raised, were closed down due to lack of use.
1912: During an emergency, Frank McClean had to fly between the bascules and the high level walkways in his short biplane to avoid an accident.
1952: A London bus driven by Albert Gunton had to leap from one bascule to the other when the bridge began to rise with the number 78 bus still on it.
1977: Tower Bridge, a brown colour, was painted red, white and blue to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee.
1982: Tower Bridge opened to the public for the first time since 1910, with a permanent exhibition inside called The Tower Bridge Experience.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower Bridge, London, SE1 2UP
By Rail: London Bridge, Fenchurch Street and DLR-Tower Gateway
Tel. 020 7403 3761
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 10am-6pm; Oct-end March, daily, 9.30am-5.30pm
Shop; fully accessible
Web: Tower Bridge
Text and photos © by Barbara Ballard