Who runs Tower Bridge?

Ask a Londoner "who runs Tower Bridge?", and if they know, they will probably tell you "it’s the Bridge Master". There's truth to the answer but the real situation is a bit more complicated.

When Tower Bridge was completed in 1894, the people directly responsible were the Superintending Engineer and the Bridge Master, each in charge of their own department at the Bridge. Read on to find out more about these historic Tower Bridge jobs - don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news and offers from Tower Bridge straight to your inbox.

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Bridge Master George EW Crutwell. Courtesy of British Library

The Superintending Engineer

The first Superintending Engineer at Tower Bridge was George Edward Wilson Cruttwell. He worked as John Wolfe Barry’s resident engineer during construction - his knowledge of the Bridge during the hand over period from Armstrong’s & Co. was highly valued, earning him £500 per annum plus residence. Cruttwell was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Bridge and served in this role until 1897. 

Cruttwell’s role was then taken on by the Superintendent of the engines, John Gass (you can see his picture in the displays in the Engine Rooms). Cruttwell, via his role at the firm of Sir John Wolfe Barry, would continue as ‘consulting engineer’ for Tower Bridge until his death in 1933.

The Bridge Master

The First Bridge Master and Assistant Bridge Master were Lt Bertie Cator RN and Capt. Richard Roberts, each employed, including residence on the Bridge, at £200 and £150 per annum, respectively. Their department was responsible for road and river traffic management and they lived in the South and North abutments – the two smaller towers at each end of the Bridge. Bertie Cator returned to the Royal Navy in 1899. Richard Roberts was promoted and served as Bridge Master until his retirement in 1917. 

John Gass. (c) Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library

Merging the departments

In 1917, the two departments were merged by John Gass, who continued to serve as Superintending Engineer and Bridge Master until his retirement in 1930, at the age of 78. 

He was succeeded by Lt John Buchanan RN in 1931. Buchanan kept the Bridge running through the trials of World War II and retired in 1949. 

Next came Leslie Priestly, who had joined the Bridge as First Assistant engineer in 1937 and was subsequently promoted to Superintending Engineer and Bridge Master upon John Buchanan’s retirement. Famously, on 30 December 1952, Priestly was seen dashing from his residence, not forgetting to put on his bowler hat, after the notorious jumping bus incident.

Image: John Gass operating the Bridge. (c) Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library

Capt Charles Gosling (c) David Lewis Hodgson/Mary Evans Picture Library

Priestly retired in 1959 and was succeeded by a decorated war hero: Captain Charles Gosling RN, who saw the Bridge through the swinging sixties and the infamous Hawker Hunter fly-through in 1968. You can find a plaques in memory of Captain Gosling and his fellow Tower Bridge workers on the south east side of the Bridge (pictured at the top of the page).

Captain Gosling retired in 1969 and was succeeded by his assistant, Major Harry Buckley, who had worked at the bridge since 1966. Major Buckley served until 1974, when he, in turn, was succeeded by his assistant, Commander Anthony Rabbit RN (Asst Superintending Engineer and Bridge Master since 1969). 

Image: Captain Charles Gosling. (c) David Lewis Hodgson/Mary Evans Picture Library

Ticket Office circa 1994

Commander Rabbit was at Tower Bridge during a time of change. A minimum 24 hours’ notice for bridge lifts was introduced, and the old steam engines were replaced by electric engines, moving the Bridge into modern times. In addition, in 1982, he oversaw the opening of Tower Bridge as a visitor attraction. This marked a new and increasingly important aspect of life at Tower Bridge – tourism. The new visitor attraction helped to raise funds for the bridge’s ongoing maintenance and operation, with surplus going to the City Bridge Trust for charitable causes in Greater London. It also provided new jobs at Tower Bridge establishing its role as part of our national heritage. 

Commander Rabbit retired in 1985 and was succeeded by Lt Col. Roy Dalton (1985-90), then Lt Col. Chris Stevens (1990-5).

The Colonels were succeeded by Keith Patterson (1995-2002), who was the last person to hold the title 'Superintending Engineer and Bridge Master' at Tower Bridge.

Image: The first orginal Tower Bridge ticket office, circa 1990

The modern day Bridge Master

From 2002 the man in charge of operations at Tower Bridge was Eric Southerns, 'Operations Manager', who accepted the title of 'Bridge Master' for the Queen's visit in 2010 and the Olympic and Diamond Jubilee celebrations of 2012. Following this, the role of Bridge Master was assumed by the then 'Director of Tower Bridge', William David Wight, who was responsible for the installation of the Glass Floor in the high-level walkways, now visited by over 800,000 people a year.

Chris Earlie, Head of Tower Bridge

In 2014, Chris Earlie became the current ‘Head of Tower Bridge’, a role that now not only includes the responsibilities of the Bridge Master, but also the management of one of London’s most popular visitor attractions, award winning London event spaces for hire, and an iconic filming location.

With the title and duties of 'Bridge Master'  included in his remit, the Head of Tower Bridge continues in the traditions of his predecessors by doing his bit to keep this iconic London structure running smoothly. 

One more thought...

Visit Tower Bridge and you will learn that the Bridge is owned by the Bridge Houses Estates, a charity established by Royal Charter in 1282 by the City of London Corporation. This means you could argue that the person who runs Tower Bridge is actually the Lord Mayor of London, an even longer-standing tradition dating back to 1189.

Now you know the history of the Bridge Master, visit our discover pages for learn more about the history of Tower Bridge.

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About the author

This article was written by Iain Stanford, a Welcome Host at Tower Bridge and City Guide.