Tower Bridge's Royal connection

Tower Bridge and its royal connections

Discover Tower Bridge’s royal connections, including some surprising facts to help you win the next pub quiz!

With a history as long as Tower Bridge’s, it’s no surprise that London’s defining landmark has many connections to the royal family. This connection can be traced back to long before the Bridge was built, but let’s start with the Bridge’s construction.

Prince of Wales opening the Bascules. The Graphic July 1894

The Victorian connection

To build a new bridge across the Thames, the City of London Corporation required approval from parliament and from the reigning monarch. Queen Victoria signed the Corporation of London (Tower Bridge) Act on 14 August 1885.

Less than a year later, Queen Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales (and future King Edward VII) laid the foundation stone to commemorate the start of the Bridge’s construction. The stone, located at the northern end of the Bridge, is decorated with the royal coat of arms and is engraved with the names of those present at the ceremony, including John Wolfe Barry and Horace Jones.

On 30 June 1894, the Prince of Wales returned to formally open Tower Bridge. This time he was accompanied by his wife, Princess Alexandra, and his son, the Duke of York (the future King George V). It was a celebration like no other, which took a whole week to tidy up after!

Image: Prince of Wales opening the bascules. The Graphic, July 1894

Portrait thought to be Edward I and image of Bridge House Estates symbol on Tower Bridge

The surprising and ancient royal connection

Did you know that Tower Bridge was funded by the Bridge House Estates? Many of London’s bridges owe their existence and ongoing maintenance to this organisation and the man who created it in the thirteenth century, Peter de Colechurch. Aware of the cost of maintaining infrastructure, de Colechurch set up the fund to ensure (the original) London Bridge was looked after. This fund would later be known as the Bridge House Estates.

Thirteenth century England was a tumultuous place. One of the results of a long civil war was that five of the arches on London Bridge collapsed. The blame fell on the Queen, Eleanor of Provence, who was managing the Bridge House Estates fund at the time. (Some say that she is the ‘fair lady’ mentioned in the song ‘London Bridge is falling down’.)

Her son, King Edward I, realised that without a bridge, London could not trade and with no trade, there would be no taxes. So, in 1282, he granted the City of London a Royal Charter, handing them management of the Bridge House Estates funds. Without this royal intervention, it’s likely that the City’s bridges as we know them would be very different.

Images: Portrait, thought to be King Edward I. Inset: Bridge House Estates mark on Tower Bridge

Queen Elizabeth II meets staff inside Tower Bridge. Copyright Clive Totman

The modern Elizabethan era

Current royalty also has its connections to the Bridge.

In 1954 Queen Elizabeth II finished her world tour with an unforgettable Bridge Lift – sailing through Tower Bridge on the Royal yacht with the words ‘welcome home’ on the walkways.

And in 1977, to celebrate her Silver Jubilee, the Bridge was painted red, white and blue - it was originally chocolate brown, rumoured to have been Queen Victoria’s favourite colour.

In 2010, for the first time ever, a reigning monarch visited inside Tower Bridge. It was a truly amazing occasion for the Tower Bridge team. Her Majesty made the day particularly memorable by taking the time to speak to each member of the team, although none of them would ever tell you what she said to them!

Image: Queen Elizabeth II visits Tower Bridge in 2010. Copyright Clive Totman.

In 2012, the Queen returned to Tower Bridge for her Diamond Jubilee. Sailing along the Thames, the Royal Barge was joined by a flotilla of 670 boats from the UK and the Commonwealth. As the Royal Barge passed beneath the Bridge the bascules raised as high as possible in ‘full salute’, a sign of respect for the monarch. The celebration ended with a rousing rendition of the British national anthem and a fireworks display from the Bridge’s high-level Walkways.

Since even before its construction, Tower Bridge and the organisations around it have had a close connection with the royal family. It makes you wonder how future royalty will interact with London’s defining landmark.

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