Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge was opened in 1894, the first stone having been laid some 8 years earlier by the Prince of Wales. The piers are built of Staffordshire bricks with granite facings. The two steel towers clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone support the bascules and two 60 metre high walkways which are cantilevered out from the towers. Suspension chains support the road spans from the riverbanks to the two towers. The central drawbridge with two bascules weighing 1,200 tons each, were originally raised by steam driven hydraulic power but replaced with electricity in 1976 although much of the original machinery was preserved.

In the early days, a workforce of 80 men were employed to operate the bridge. The Bridgemaster and Resident Engineer lived in rooms in the abutment towers. There is still a sign on the southern abutment that reads 'Bridgemaster's Dining Room'. Today the bridge needs 13 people to maintain it and many others work in various capacities on the bridge. In the days of horse-drawn vehicles every time the bridge was opened horse droppings would roll down the roads and two men would shovel the droppings through the small doors which can still be seen on the outer walls of the towers.

The high walkways were closed in 1910 through lack of use, people preferring to wait for the road to be lowered and to walk across with the traffic. In its first year, the bridge was opened more than 6,000 times but now with the Upper Pool of the river no longer being a working dock, it is opened about 1,000 times a year. The maximum lift of the bridge is 87 degrees although it only goes above 35 degrees when necessary. Shipping takes precedence over road traffic and anyone can ask for the bridge to be raised so that they can pass through with their vessel, as long as they give 24 hours' notice. The bridge has failed on at least two occasions, once in 1968 during a heatwave when the metal locks had expanded in the heat and it wouldn't close properly, and in 2005, the computer failed and it was stuck in the upright position. In 1952 the bascules began to rise with the number 78 bus still on it and the bus dropped about a metre from the north to the south bascule injuring ten people including the driver who was later given ten pounds by way of compensation.

Upstream view from the bridge.

Downstream view from the bridge.

The southern abutment showing the suspension chains.

The central towers with the bascules and footways between.

View of the roadway over the bridge.

One of the decorative lamps on the north side of the bridge.

On the southern abutment leading to the Bridgemaster's quarters.

Close up of the Bridgemaster's Dining Room sign beside the door.

Picture taken from the north bank showing the bridge opened to let the Amelia Rose through.

Ann Voysey