Tower Bridge is London's only major dog-friendly attraction, welcoming hundreds of visitors and their four-legged friends each year. But it's not just dogs who've enjoyed access to the landmark over the last century and more. 

From cool cats to hardworking horses, read on to discover the 'tails' of animal antics in and around Britain's most famous river crossing.

Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt/Wikimedia Commons

It's a dog’s life

This story might give you paws for thought. On 4 August 1894, not long after Tower Bridge first opened in June, Dundee's Evening Telegraph reported a strange sighting: an unnamed canine who was determined to get across Tower Bridge at all costs!

The article details how the dog was making his way across the Bridge when suddenly the giant bascules began to rise beneath him. Undeterred, the hound started to run, climbing upwards as the bascules continued to open until his path was so steep that ‘the unhappy creature found further ascent impossible’.

It was at this point that the dog decided to give up on his bid to cross the Bridge. ‘He turned and gazed down the abyss, and then, with a whine, rolled over and over until he reached the bottom, much shaken and considerably bruised.’

Image: Dog (Canis lupus familiaris) Dogghe. / Molossus canis / Dogue © Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt/Wikimedia Commons

Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt/Wikimedia Commons

Quick-thinking Rover

Another determined pooch managed not to make such a dog’s dinner of things. In a magazine article, Leslie Roberts, son of Captain R.W. Roberts, Bridge Master of Tower Bridge between 1899 and 1917, recalled a story his father told him about a dog named Rover.

It appears the dog, who belonged to the Superintendent of Billingsgate Market, was also caught on the Bridge when it began to rise. Quick-thinking Rover ran to the middle and gripped on to the edge of one of the bascules, clinging on until the Bridge was fully open and the ship beneath had passed through.

As the bascule was lowered and about to meet its counterpart on the other side, Rover leapt over the gap and continued his journey to the south side of the river as if nothing unusual had happened at all.

Wikipedia: Beagle of Braque du Bourbonnais (Canis lupus familiaris) © Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt/Wikimedia Commons

Chief Mousers at Tower Bridge

Young visitors to Tower Bridge will be no stranger to Bella, the fictional cat that goes on various adventures in and around the Towers and Engine Rooms. She is the main character of ‘The Tower Bridge Cat’ series, written by author Tee Dobinson and illustrated by Steve Cox. 

Discover Bella the Tower Bridge Cat

In turn, Bella herself is inspired by real life cats who used to be based at the Bridge. Up until the early 1980s, several cats lived in and around the Engine Rooms. A Cat Manager named Linda Foster was even employed to take care of the cats onsite!

The last pair of Tower Bridge cats were called Bridget and Gladys – named after a vintage Thames barge – whose quarters were in the storeroom. The cats were employed by the City of London Corporation and were paid in cat food and vets’ fees. 

The role of these cats was simple: to keep mice and rats away! Rats were a particular problem in Victorian times, especially around the docks near the Bridge. ‘The number of rats that infest all the London docks is very great, and the size that some of them attain is monstrous,’ noted a report in the Edinburgh Evening News in 1889. ‘To get rid of them more than 300 cats are kept distributed through the various warehouses, and there are several ‘rat-catchers’ in human shape, who find the neighbourhood a remunerative hunting-ground.’

Archive image of construction works

Horsing around

When Tower Bridge was first opened in June 1894, an essential part of the team included a blacksmith and a number of horses, which were stabled underneath the southern approach.

These animals would come to the rescue if any approaching horses got into difficulty pulling their carts up the incline to the Bridge. As well as shoeing the horses, the blacksmith’s job also included repairing steelwork components and removing debris from the road prior to each lift.

More often than not, this debris included horse manure. Lots of it!

Horses and carts crossing Tower Bridge in Victorian times.

The 'Great Manure Crisis'

 In 1894, London was in the grip of the so-called ‘Great Manure Crisis’.

Thousands of horses were needed to transport people and goods around London every day, which led to growing concerns about the amount of manure they left behind them. A Times newspaper article in 1894 even stated that ‘in 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure!’

To some, however, a problem quickly became an opportunity. A visitor recently recalled how her father, who was born in 1916, regularly went to the Bridge with his dad carrying two empty buckets. They would wait for the Bridge to lift then collect the horse manure that rolled down the bascules as they rose upwards. Afterwards, they’d take their now full buckets home and spread their contents on the garden – a cheap and efficient form of fertiliser.

Sheep with lambs in the background.

Counting sheep

Tower Bridge played host to un-baa-lieveable scenes in August 1999 when two sheep visited.

Clover and Little Man were accompanied by their owner Jef Smith, who was exercising his right as a Freeman of the City of London to 'cross the Thames toll-free to livestock markets'. Mr Smith, then aged 60, was made a Freeman in 1975.

The wooly animals are more commonly associated with our neighbour, London Bridge, which hosts an annual sheep drive as part of a centuries-old tradition. However, Mr Smith herded his sheep across Tower Bridge to make a stand for older people and encourage them to assert their rights.

'I want to make a stand for older people, whose rights are continuously being eroded', Mr Smith told the BBC.