Often confused with the simpler yet less aesthetically pleasing London Bridge, Tower Bridge is one of the great icons of the English capital. Depicted on countless t-shirts, mugs, hats, scarfs and bags, the Bridge is a breathtaking monument to the bold architecture of the Victorian age in Britain.
The bridge is a great place to while away a couple of hours or even a whole day with a host of things to see and do. You can uncover the history of the iconic structure at the Tower Bridge Exhibition, take a breathtaking walk across the high level walkways and glass floor, or maybe explore the heart of the operation in the Victorian Engine Rooms.
If you are thinking of visiting the attraction but are not sure what there is to see and do, then here’s City Countdown’s definitive guide to Tower Bridge.
The Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tracing the history of the bridge from its origin in 19th century Britain until the present day, the Tower Bridge Exhibition gives visitors a fascinating insight into the immense skill and planning that went into the making and upkeep of the bridge. Most of the exhibition is housed in the two sky walkways (the views are breathtaking) with a section in the Engine Room below. Mercifully there are lifts/escalators to take you up and down again.
The exhibition begins with an animated video. It depicts Horace Jones, John Barry and Queen Victoria as talking portraits discussing the bridge. It sounds like a yawn fest but it’s actually quite fun. The exhibitions are in multiple languages too which is nice to see.
The Glass Floor
The Glass Floor is one of the newer attractions at the bridge. Designed to give visitors a bird’s eye view over the bridge, the floor is situated at a jawdropping 42 metres above the river Thames. The floor itself measures 11 metres long and 1.8 metres wide with each panel weighing 530 kilograms each!
The attraction is accompanied by an app called “Raise Tower Bridge” which allows visitors to experience a 360 degree video of the bridge being raised while they stand on the bridge itself!
The Victorian Engine Rooms
Victorian Engine Rooms give visitors a glimpse of a bygone era when steam power dominated industry and production. The engines were used to raise the bridge’s bascules, allowing water traffic to safely pass the structure.
The exhibition gives visitors an insight into what it took to raise the iconic bridge with an array of interactive exhibits, films and photographs.
The history of Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge was designed by City of London architect Horace Jones. Jones was also responsible for Smithfield Market and his reputation within the world of architecture was suitably impressive. However, Tower Bridge was not a run of the mill commission. With the challenge of securing a design that would both delight Londoners but not disrupt the normal activity of the river, the City of London Corporation decided to launch a competition.
Over 50 designs were submitted before Jones was selected by the committee. The year was 1884. It would be another ten years until the bridge was ready, being unveiled to the public on the 30th of June 1894.
In that time, the project exhausted five contractors and 432 construction workers (ten of which perished). Unfortunately, Jones was not around to see the finished structure either. The distinguished architecture passed away in 1885 and the job of completing the bridge was left to his partner, John Wolfe Barry. George D Stevenson was hired to work with Barry and it is to him that we owe the bridge’s Victorian Gothic styling.
The completed structure consisted of over 70,000 tonnes of concrete, 11,000 tons of Scottish steel, and 2 million rivets to hold it all together. Once the basic structure was in place, the whole thing was then clad in Portland stone to give the finished bridge an aesthetically pleasing finish. The total cost of construction would be equivalent to £132 million in today’s (2019) money.
Did You Know
- Tower Bridge has a total length of 244 m with a longest span of 61 m.
- In 1953, in one of the bridge’s most daredevil if unintended feats, the driver of a no 78 bus failed to stop as the bridge began to rise. Realising his error far too late, the driver realised he had no choice but to keep going. Fortunately, fate was on his side and he narrowly made it to the other side, just clearing the three feet drop to the other bascule.
- Tower Bridge once had its own stable of horses. At a time when most traffic was horse powered, the owners of the bridge worried about what would happen if a horse found that it was not strong enough to pull its load up the bridge’s incline. Keen to keep things moving, the Corporation of London decided to keep its own horses for just such an occasion.
- In 1977, the bridge was painted red, white and blue in honour of Her Majesty the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The bridge had originally been a fudge brown colour.
Tower Bridge is one of London’s most popular and instantly identifiable icons. A symbol for the city for over a century, the modern day bridge is also now a visitor attraction with an array of entertaining experiences including an exciting exhibition, a thrilling glass floor and a fascinating Engine Room attraction.
We hope that this guide to Tower Bridge will help you get the best out of a visit to the venue. However, there’s not time to lose, because, as we always say, the clock is ticking.