Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Tower Bridge

As London continually expanded during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the traffic pressures were becoming greater with every year that passed. The pressures in West London were alleviated with the building of many bridges, but below London Bridge there was nothing. A major obstacle was that any form of traditional bridge would restrict access to the Pool of London, the dockland area situated between London Bridge and the Tower of London. A committee was formed in 1876 to examine the possibilities of a bridge or subway solution, and they decided to put it out to public competition. Over fifty proposals were received and the winning one was submitted by Horace Jones, the City Architect, and his engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry. Their suggestion was for a “bascule” bridge, allowing it to open to allow ships to pass beneath. Work commenced in 1886 and the bridge was opened on 30th June 1894.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

Let’s look at some of the statistics. Total length of the bridge is 800 ft (244m), and each of the two towers stands 213 ft (65m) high. The central span is 2001(61m) wide. Each bascule weighs over 1,000tonnes and is lifted to an angle of 81 degrees. The upper walkway, designed so that pedestrians could cross while the bridge was raised stand 143 ft (44m) above the high water mark.

The mechanisms for lifting the bascules are in the base of each tower. Originally they were steam operated, but now use an electro-hydraulic system.

The construction is of steel, clad with granite and Portland stone, giving it a Gothic appearance that fits well with the nearby Tower of London. The steel was originally a chocolate-brown colour, but was repainted in red, white and blue for the Queens Silver Jubilee in 1977 and it has remained so ever since.

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