blog.categories.trip-and-adviceHistory, art and culture

Fun facts about Tower Bridge: did you know…

Tower Bridge is one of the best London attractions – no matter if you’re travelling with a loved one, your family or friends. It’s a great way to enjoy the stunning views over the Thames from the high level walkways and get an insight into the Victorian Engine Rooms to learn about the inner workings of one of the most famous bridges in the world. But before you go, we thought we’d prep you with some interesting facts to give you a bit of context... Design London Bridge was originally the only crossing over the Thames, however, as the city grew larger more bridges were added. By 1876 the area around East London was so densely populated that another bridge had to be built, so a committee called for new bridge designs and opened a nationwide public competition. Over 50 designs were submitted, some of which can still be seen today at Tower Bridge Exhibition. However, it wasn’t until eight years later in 1884 that a design was finally chosen. The winning idea came from Horace Jones, the City Architect, in collaboration with John Wolfe Barry. Construction It took eight years to finally complete as the building work went through five major contractors. In order to build the bridge, two giant piers made from 70,000 tons of concrete, were sunk into the river bed to support the structure and over 11,000 tons of steel was used to create the framework for the towers and walkways. The high-level walkways were in fact designed so that people could still cross the bridge when it was raised, however, at one point they were closed down due to lack of use. The total length of Tower Bridge is 244 m (800 ft), while its longest span is 61 m (200 ft). How it works When it was first constructed, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever to be built. The bascules were operated by hydraulics, using steam and giant pumping engines and, despite the complicated procedure, the bascules only took a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees. Today amazingly the bridges still operate by hydraulics – but oil and electricity have replaced the need for steam since 1976. If you’re a mechanic or engineer, the Engine Rooms are well worth a visit. Escapades As one can imagine, there have been a number of hair-raising near-misses involved with the raising of the bridge, as well as daring pursuits. In 1952 a London bus driven by Albert Gunton had to leap from one bascule to the other when the bridge began to rise with the number 78 bus still on it! Pilot Frank McClean was also forced to fly his biplane between the bascules and the high-level walkways to avoid an accident. Most recently, in 1997, an 'unexpected' opening of Tower Bridge divided the motorcade of US President Bill Clinton! Modern-day Tower Bridge Today over 40,000 people use Tower Bridge – and that’s only on a daily basis! The bascules are still in use and are raised more than 1000 times a year; you can even book a visit during bridge lift times to watch them rise yourself. The Exhibition has been running since 1982 with a permanent display featuring photography and art of bridges around the world. As the bridge itself is such an iconic London landmark it makes for a stunning venue – you can even hire it out for parties and events... Perfect if you want to plan a special something while you’re in the city. With the London Pass you can visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition for free – simply show your pass and save £8 upon entry. Don’t forget to bring a camera because you won’t want to forget the views! Why not discover what the Tower Bridge has to offer with our interactive infographic...

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