History of London's Tower Bridge
Well over a century after it first opened, Sir Horace Jones and Sir Wolfe Barry's signature creation--the Tower Bridge--remains one of the most iconic sights on the London skyline. It takes its name from its proximity to another famous landmark, the Tower of London.
Although there were a number of bridges that crossed the Thames by the middle of the 19th century, there were none that could effectively serve the growing population at London's East End. A committee was organized in 1876 to seek a solution.
Construction began in 1886, and took eight years to finish at a cost of over one million pounds. Its hydraulic drawbridge "arms" (bascules), which raised to accommodate incoming ships and lowered to handle vehicular and pedestrian traffic were originally operated by steam.
Its towers are over 200 feet high. Its half-mile span is made up of a bascule center section and twin suspension sections at either end. To support its massive height and weight, over 70,000 tons of concrete comprise its piers and over 14,000 tons of iron make up its framework. The bascules weigh 1,000 tons each.
The gala opening of Tower Bridge was led by the Prince and Princess of Wales in the summer of 1894. Until 1977, its original color was dark brown. The bridge was painted red, white and blue for Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee and has remained so ever since.
Monstrous and Preposterous
An 1894 writer for "The Builder," a London journal, decried Tower Bridge as an architectural sham because of the liberties Barry had taken on its design following Jones' death. Although the public was confused at first by the mix of concepts, the convenience it offered eventually won them over.
Open For Traffic
When Tower Bridge was initially opened, its bascules operated over 1,000 times a year. Today's lack of ship traffic on the Thames River has decreased this number to less than one hundred.
Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.
Photo by Claire Forsythe