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Bridging the Thames

Introduction
The first London Bridge
Rennie's London Bridge
The window into the port
Tower Bridge
A symbol of London
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Tower Bridge

The bridge to the east

A sailing barge passing the Tower of London.
View full size imageA sailing barge passing the Tower of London, c. 1886. © NMM

London clearly needed another crossing to the east, but the main problem was how to build a bridge that would not prevent shipping from using the Upper Pool.

In 1876, the Corporation of London announced an open competition for a bridge to be built to the east of the Tower.

A modern design ...

In 1884, the Corporation decided to build a bridge to the designs of its architect, Sir Horace Jones. With the engineer John Wolfe-Barry, Jones proposed a bascule bridge.

An artist's impression of the future Tower Bridge.
View full size imageAn artist's impression of the future Tower Bridge. © NMM
Instead of a fixed roadway, Jones's bridge would contain two bascules, which could be raised to allow even the largest vessels to pass. At each end, a huge steel tower was to house the lifting gear for the bascules. Above the bascules, two fixed walkways were to allow pedestrians to cross from one tower to the other.

... but a traditional facade

The Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
View full size imageThe Tower of London and Tower Bridge. © NMM
The design caused another major problem, as many people feared a modern bridge would look out of place so close to the Tower of London.

As a compromise, the towers were to be covered with a neo-Gothic facade of Portland stone, complete with pinnacles and other decorations.
 

Building Tower Bridge

Progress of the works at Tower Bridge, February 1888.
View full size imageProgress of the works at Tower Bridge, February 1888. © NMM
John Wolfe-Barry was appointed as the engineer and work began in 1886. The first task was to sink deep shafts into the bedrock before the building of the huge steel towers could begin. These shafts took over two years to complete.

The works at Tower Bridge in September 1890.
View full size imageThe works at Tower Bridge in September 1890. © NMM
By 1890, the shafts were completed and work on the towers had begun. The structure eventually required 11,000 tons of steel.

 

 

 

 

The opening 

The opening of Tower Bridge, in 1894. Procession of ships passing through, Trinity yacht Irene, HMS Landrail, Bismarck and the ClactonBell.
View full size imageThe opening of Tower Bridge in 1894, by W.L. Wyllie. © NMM

Horace Jones died in 1887, so he did not live to see his vision completed. The work took eight years.

Tower Bridge was finally opened by the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII) on 30 June 1894. As usual on such occasions, the opening ceremony was lavish.

The procession of boats passing through the bridge included the Trinity House yacht Irene and the Royal Navy gunboat HMS Landrail.  

The opening of Tower Bridge.
View full size imageThe opening of Tower Bridge, by W.L. Wyllie. © NMM
William Wyllie, the prolific artist of the Thames and its shipping, attended the ceremony with his wife. He recorded the event in several paintings and sketches.

 

 

 


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Glossary
Corporation of London

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