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A triumph of British Victorian engineering, now a London icon

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Essential Facts

Opened in 1894
Length 800 Feet (244M)
40,000 People Use Daily
Designed by Sir John Barry
Towers 213 Feet (65M) High

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In the 2nd half of the 19th century, increased commercial development in the East of London led to the requirement for a new river crossing downstream of London Bridge. A traditional fixed bridge could not be built because it would cut off access to the port facilities between London Bridge and the Tower of London.

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Did You Know?

At 9:35 pm on 30 December 1952, a crowded double-decker London bus, on route 78 to Dulwich, was on the bridge as it began to open. The driver had to choose between braking hard or accelerating and jumping the bridge. He decided to accelerate and jumped over the gap successfully as the bridge started to open.
A Special Bridge Committee was formed in 1876, to find a solution to the river crossing problem and decided to hold a public competition. Over 50 designs were submitted with the evaluation surrounded in controversy. It was not until 1884, some eight years later, that a design submitted by Horace Jones, a City Architect who also happened to be one of the judges, was approved as the winner.

Tower Bridge works in 1892
Source WikiMedia (PD)
Jones’ engineer, Sir John Wolfe Barry, devised the idea of a bascule bridge 800-feet (244-metres) in length with two towers each 213-feet (65-metres) high, built on piers. The central span of 200-feet (61-metres) between the towers was split into two equal bascules or leaves, which could be raised to an angle of 83 degrees to allow river traffic to pass. The bascules, weighing over 1,000-tons each, were counterbalanced to minimize the force required and allow raising in just five minutes. The bridge mechanism was powered by steam engines, later replaced by an electro-hydraulic system, in 1976.

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In May 1997, the motorcade of United States President Bill Clinton was divided by the opening of the bridge. The Thames sailing barge Gladys, arrived on schedule and the bridge was opened for her. Returning from lunch with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Clinton was less punctual, and arrived just as the bridge was rising. The bridge opening split the motorcade in two, much to the consternation of security staff. A spokesman for Tower Bridge is quoted as saying, We tried to contact the American Embassy, but they wouldn't answer the phone
The bridge was completed in 1894 and this flamboyant piece of Victorian engineering quickly became a global icon of London. High above the bridge is a pedestrian walkway, 143-feet (44-metres) above the river, which allowed pedestrians to climb 300 steps and cross the river when the bridge was open. This walkway was closed in 1910 as it became a haunt for prostitutes and pick-pockets.

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In 1968, a Hawker Hunter jet was flown under Tower Bridge. Its pilot decided on a personal tribute to the RAF's 50th birthday. His bosses were not impressed and he was arrested on landing and discharged from the RAF.

Tower Bridge with raised bascules to let a boat through
Source WikiMedia (PD)
Today the bridge houses the Tower Bridge Exhibition, showcasing the history of the Bridge. You can enjoy breath-taking views from the high-level Walkways, and learn about how and why the Bridge was built. You can also visit the Victorian Engine Rooms, home to the beautifully maintained original steam engines that used to power the Bridge. Hands-on mechanisms and information panels explain about the ingenuous technology used over the years to keep Tower Bridge in motion.

The interior of the high-level walkway, now part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition
Source WikiMedia (PD)

The Victorian Engine room, housing a pair of steam engines, built in 1894 and used to raise the bascules of the bridge
Source WikiMedia (PD)
Visitor Information
The Tower Bridge Exhibition is open daily 10am to 6pm. Entry costs £6 for adults, children £3. Pedestrian's can walk across the bridge for free. Tel: 020 7403 3761

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