Edward 'Ted' Forrest

A working life at the Bridge

Inside the Engine Rooms at Tower Bridge, you can find an old workbook containing a neatly written diary of the works undertaken at the Bridge across two years - 1933 to 1934. In its pages you will discover the names of the people employed to take care of the Bridge: Arthur William Cross, William Joseph Meager, C. Hale, W. Wood, Stanley Thomas Fleay, Charles Campbell Carley, Thomas Hayman and many more.

But there’s one name appears on almost every page: E. Forrest.

Who was E. Forrest?

In autumn 2015, an email from someone claiming to be the grandson of E. Forrest landed in the Tower Bridge inbox. He knew his grandfather had worked for many years at the Bridge and wanted to find out more.

As it turns out, the grandson and the wider family had a lot of material about Tower Bridge and we ended up learning a lot from them. A meeting was arranged, at which the story of E. Forrest, or Edward ‘Ted’ Forrest to give him his full name, was revealed.

Edward Forrest sitting next to his motorbike

Ted Forrest

Ted was born in Deptford, South London. He had started work as a builder but decided to look for a ‘proper job’ eventually finding employment as a handyman and bricklayer at Tower Bridge in the early 1930s. He rose through the ranks becoming the head of the maintenance team, which at the time was more than 40 men strong.

During Ted’s 40-year service, he witnessed the massive changes which occurred on the Bridge, the river and the surrounding area, which was juxtaposed against the unchanging presence of the neighbouring Tower of London. His family explained how he talked fondly of his time at the Bridge, particularly of his colleagues - most of them ‘real Londoners’ like him, from East or South London. Ted retired from his position at Tower Bridge in the late 1960s.

Ted's scrap book

Meeting Ted's descendants

When we met Philip Forrest, Ted’s son, he reminisced about his boyhood visits to the Bridge – he remembered the pervasiveness of the steam, the vivid colours and smells of the Engine Rooms, and the warmth with which his dad spoke about his colleagues and his work place. His father would tell him stories about crawling into the long and narrow boilers, which regularly had to be cleaned from the inside - not a very comfortable task for a man over 6 foot tall!

Phillip also brought with him a scrap book his dad had kept over the years, proudly adorned with the historic Bridge House Estates’ symbol on the front, which had been part of his work uniform. 

Bus jump cartoon

Inside, Ted had collected photographs, magazine articles and newspaper cuttings of incidents and anecdotes from across four decades of his life at the Bridge, many of them unusual and  some previously unknown to the Tower Bridge team. These include the electrification of the Bridge, fly-throughs by ‘daring’ pilots (we’d now call them reckless), the passages of famous ships, and, surprisingly, articles about the idiosyncratic hobbies of Bridgemasters’ wives.

One of the most charming discoveries was an old-fashioned cartoon, which was published in 1952 following the famous Bridge jump of Albert Gunther. The cartoon, illustrated by Bill Baker, is a wonderful, if slightly naive, retelling of a remarkable event in a time before social media and smartphones.

Image: Top Spot Magazine, 20 June 1959, Copyright © Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Listen to the podcast

In this episode exploring the oral history of Tower Bridge, David Laird speaks to Phillip Forrest, the son of Edward ‘Ted’ Forrest. Ted worked at Tower Bridge for over 40 years as a bricklayer and foreman.

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Ted’s legacy at Tower Bridge

Today, Edward ‘Ted’ Forrest takes pride of place on the Bridge. There is a plaque with his name on the eastern pavement and his image is used in the Engine Rooms. His re-discovery was a starting point to find out more about the people who have worked at and looked after the Bridge since 1894. 

This information is now preserved for later generations and for future research. And, it helps us to add the human story to the Bridge’s interpretation; it informs guided tours and the activities taught to school children when they visit. 

Over the years, we have found that many people have links with Tower Bridge: letters, photographs, stories or objects. If you have a connection to Tower Bridge, get in touch and help us tell the history of London’s defining landmark.