A visit to Tower Bridge Exhibition clearly explains how the
Bridge works and describes its fascinating history. The information
below provides a backdrop to help make the most of your visit.
The Need for a New Bridge
London Bridge was originally the only crossing for the Thames.
As London grew, so more bridges were added, although these were all
built to the west of London Bridge, since the area east of London
Bridge had become a busy port. In the 19th century, the East End of
London became so densely populated that public need mounted for a
new bridge to the east of London Bridge, as journeys for
pedestrians and vehicles were being delayed by hours. Finally in
1876, the City of London Corporation, responsible for that part of
the Thames, decided the problem could be delayed no longer.
The view today from the high level Walkways has changed
dramatically, although there are still signs of the area's amazing
history. With the aid of photographs and interactive kiosks,
visitors to Tower Bridge Exhibition can gain a greater
understanding of how life would have been when the idea of a new
bridge was originally conceived.
How a Design was Chosen
A huge challenge faced the City of London Corporation - how to
build a bridge downstream from London Bridge without disrupting
river traffic activities. To generate ideas, the "Special Bridge or
Subway Committee" was formed in 1876, and opened the design for the
new crossing to public competition.
Over 50 designs were submitted for consideration, some of which
are on display at Tower Bridge Exhibition. It wasn't until October
1884 however, that Horace Jones, the City Architect, in
collaboration with John Wolfe Barry, offered the chosen design for
Tower Bridge as a solution.
The Building of the Bridge
It took 8 years, 5 major contractors and the relentless labour
of 432 construction workers to build Tower Bridge.
Two massive piers were sunk into the river bed to support the
construction and over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework
for the Towers and Walkways. This framework was clad in Cornish
granite and Portland stone to protect the underlying steelwork and
to give the Bridge a more pleasing appearance.
To learn more about the building of Tower Bridge, the people
involved in its construction and why it was needed, visit The Tower
Bridge Exhibition where video screenings explain the entire
project, including the difficulties faced.
How it Works - Then and Now
When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most
sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed ("bascule" comes from
the French for "see-saw"). These bascules were operated by
hydraulics, using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The
energy created was stored in six massive accumulators, as soon as
power was required to lift the Bridge, it was always readily
available. The accumulators fed the driving engines, which drove
the bascules up and down. Despite the complexity of the system, the
bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle
of 86 degrees.
Today, the bascules are still operated by hydraulic power, but
since 1976 they have been driven by oil and electricity rather than
steam. The original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are
now exhibits within the Tower Bridge Exhibition.
Tower Bridge Exhibition - A History
In 1910 the high level Walkways were closed to the public due to
lack of use. People arriving on the bridge preferred to wait at
street level for it to close rather then heading up the stairs
carrying their heavy loads. In 1982, as part of the new Tower
Bridge Exhibition, visitors to the bridge could once again enter
the walkways, now fully covered, and experience the amazing
panoramic views. Although Tower Bridge is now powered by oil and
electricity, the original steam engines maintained by a dedicated
team of technical officers remain in their original location for
all to see. This area is known as the Victorian Engine Rooms, the
second section of Tower Bridge Exhibition. Over the past 28 years,
the exhibition has been developed to keep pace with modern day
needs without losing its Victorian essence. Through interactive
kiosks and video walls along with knowledgeable Guides, visitors
can learn about key events in the Bridge's history, ranging from
Royal visits to dare devil stunts.
Tower Bridge has a fascinating history, which is explored in
full in The Tower Bridge Exhibition. Here are a few interesting
facts you may not have known:
1910 - the high-level walkways, which were designed so that the
public could still 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
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 was painted red, white and blue to celebrate
the Queen's Silver Jubilee. (Before that, it was painted a
chocolate brown colour).
1982 - Tower Bridge opened to the public for the first time
since 1910, with a permanent exhibition inside called The Tower