Interesting facts about Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is a bascule crossing over the River Thames in central London, not far from Tower Tower Bridge. It is one of the most popular sights in London, which is easily recognized even by those who have never been to the capital of the United Kingdom. Thousands of tourists flock here every year to discover the magnificence of this gothic structure.

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Video: Tower Bridge

Creation history and appearance

In the 19th century England began to rapidly increase technical power and expand international trade and political ties, so by the end of the century there was an urgent need to build a new crossing over the Thames. And in 1884 a design of the bridge by Horace Jones was approved. The design by its style successfully harmonizes with the general architectural appearance of the famous Tower of London.

Construction of the bridge in 1892 Tower Bridge in 1900

Construction began in 1886, specifically on June 21. The construction was fully completed 8 years later, and it was opened in 1894, the last day of June, with the participation of Prince Edward and his wife Alexandra.

The bridge has a total length of 244 meters, with two towers in the middle, each 65 meters high, and a 61-meter span between them, which is a drawbridge element. This allows the passage of ships to the city docks at any time of day or night. The powerful hydraulic system was originally a water system, powered by large steam engines. Today the system has been completely replaced by an oil system and is controlled by a computer.

A London bus enters the Tower Bridge. 1967

It takes less than two minutes to fully unfold the bridge when each wing is raised to an angle of 83 degrees. While city traffic had to wait for the passage of a ship, pedestrians could move through specially equipped galleries. However, fairly soon after it opened, pickpockets as well as maidens of easy virtue became active here, so the city government closed the crossings in 1910.

It was not until 1982 that pedestrians were allowed to use them again. Then it was equipped with a paid museum of the history of the structure, as well as a spectacular viewing platform for tourists. You can get up here by elevator (two elevators in each tower) or by steps. The glazed galleries offer stunning views of the city.

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Video: Tower Bridge Construction

Interesting Facts

Initially, London residents showed the same disdain for the new architectural element as the Parisians did for the Eiffel Tower, considering the towers old-fashioned and ridiculous.

View of the Tower Bridge from the City Hall

In the early twentieth century, namely in 1912, the British pilot Frank McClean was able to fly his biplane between the towers of the bridge in the space between the upper and lower tiers. A similar incident occurred in 1968, when Alan Pollock, a member of the Royal Air Force, flew his fighter jet through the same space to protest the political actions of the government. After the incident he was immediately arrested and dismissed from service.

During World War II the German air force made every effort to destroy the most important structures of the British capital. Among the main targets was the Tower Bridge, but fortunately the structure remained intact.

A very famous incident in the history of the bridge took place in 1952, when a maintenance worker of Tower Bridge forgot to warn the driver of a city bus about the spreading of the wings of the structure. The driver realized this when he had already entered the bridge and saw the rising span. He took an extremely brave decision, speeding up as fast as possible and jumping to the other side. This desperate maneuver succeeded, leaving all passengers alive. The city council even gave the driver a small cash bonus for his bravery.

The interior of the pedestrian galleries Glass floor Tower Bridge from above Inoperative Victorian hoists

An interesting story happened in 1997, when the motorcade of then U.S. President Bill Clinton followed the motorcade of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair’s motorcade crossed the Tower Bridge safely, but Clinton’s cars had to be delayed because of the drawdown. The bridge could not be drawn down immediately to avoid diplomatic problems, because the river transport has a legal priority over the land. So the U.S. head had to wait for the ship to fully pass under the bridge.

Not many people know that the towers are more than just a decoration of the bridge – they are powerful steel supports lined with stone to protect against corrosion and environmental influences.

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Inside the towers there are two elevators – one to go up, one to go down. Each is capable of taking up to 30 people at a time.

London Bridge, which is often confused with the Tower Bridge

Any vessel, from 9 to 42 meters high, can apply to draw the bridge. You can do it a day before the expected passage. It is not necessary to pay for this operation to the owner of the ship – such events are financed by a charity organization of the city.

The Tower Bridge is often confused with the London Bridge, located upstream of the Thames. In London there is even a very popular legend about how in 1968 an American businessman Robert McCulloch bought the old London Bridge, which was meant to be demolished, thinking he was buying the Tower Bridge. The bridge was dismantled and transported to the United States, and the stone blocks were incorporated as cladding into the reinforced concrete load-bearing structure of the canal bridge near Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Tower Bridge

Tourist Information

The bridge is located at Tower Bridge Exhibition, Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 2UP, UK. To get here you can take the Tube at London Bridge or Tower Hill stations, London buses 15 and 42, and cabs.

You can visit the galleries of Tower Bridge from April to September from 10.00-18.00 (admission until 17.30), from October to March 9.30-17.30 (admission until 17.00), on January 1 the museum opens at 12.00 and is closed December 24-26.

Road to Tower Bridge View of the bridge from the promenade

Tickets are £13 for adults, £6 for children aged 5 to 15. Children under 5, people with disabilities and accompanying persons are free to enter. For the cost of admission or any other information, call +44 (0)20 7403 3761 or visit the official website at

Tickets can be purchased at the entrance or through some online services. Also, right in front of the entrance to each tower there is a schedule of the unfolding of the bridge, so each visitor can find out exactly when this spectacular event will take place. Usually the bridge is drawn about four or five times a week.

What river does the Tower Bridge cross?

Tower Bridge is a unique engineering structure, the main attraction of London, and from its upper gallery you can see a panorama of the British capital.

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Tower Bridge is a bascule and suspension bridge over the Thames River, located in the center of the British capital. It is an important transport artery and a symbol of London. The neo-Gothic towers of the bridge fit in perfectly with the nearby historic Tower, which gave its name to the crossing.

General view

History and features of the Tower Bridge

The impetus for construction was the need for an additional transport and pedestrian link to London’s East End proletarian district. The announced competition was won by the project of the capital’s chief architect Horatio Jones with the participation of the famous engineer John Wolf Barry.

They proposed the design of a combined bridge. The central 61 metre long section between the two towers was intended to be a drawbridge for passage of ships on the Thames, while the 82 metre long sections from the towers to the banks were to be suspended. The chains supporting them were attached to the towers and to the shore. The centers of moving sections of the bridge and mechanisms for controlling them were located at the base of the towers rigidly connected with an upper gallery at a height of 44 m. It let the pedestrians pass over the bridge even in a dilapidated condition.

London Bridge under construction in 1888

The project began in 1887 and lasted seven years. After Jones died, Barry took over construction and hired architect George Stephenson. He made an extremely significant change to the original design that largely determined the subsequent popularity of the bridge. The planned plain brick cladding of the metal towers was replaced by a refined Victorian Gothic style. Thanks to this the bridge formed a harmonious architectural ensemble with the Tower.

Construction of the bridge in 1893

The underwater part of the crossing rests on two enormous concrete piers weighing a total of 70,000 tons. The two halves of the central unfolding span, each weighing 1,000 tons, are raised 86 degrees (almost vertically) for the passage of ships. The upper pedestrian gallery simultaneously compensates the load of the suspended sections. The height of the towers of the bridge is 65 m and its length is 244 m.

The original raising mechanism was hydraulic. Two steam engines were used which were fueled by coal. Under the influence of steam pumps pumped Thames water into accumulators which transmitted power to rotating hydraulic motors. The dilution time initially did not exceed one minute.

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UBoat155 in London after the First World War, 1918

In 1974, the water was replaced by special oil and the hydraulic motors by electric motors. Of the original components, only the gears of the span axles remained. Vintage pump motors, accumulators, and steam boilers of the former mechanism are now on display in the bridge museum. In 2005, the control of the bifurcation was computerized. Three years later, the lighting system was turned into an economical LED system and the pedestrian gallery was equipped with a transparent floor.

An unfurled bridge and the passing passenger liner Silver Cloud

The bridge, commissioned in 1894, quickly lived up to expectations. But most pedestrians crossed it on the side walkways without going up to the upper gallery. Unfortunately, prostitutes, pickpockets and drug dealers took advantage of it. In 1910, city officials decided to close the gallery. It was reopened only in 1982 as a great vantage point and museum. It is accessible by elevator or stairs.

In 1977, on the occasion of the anniversary of the British monarch, the original brown metal components of the bridge were painted in the colors of the British flag – blue, white and red.

Interesting facts about the Tower Bridge

There are several interesting facts about the Tower Bridge.

  • In 1912 pilot Frank McClean, avoiding an aerial collision, had to direct his biplane between the tiers of the bridge.
  • At the beginning of World War II, the bridge was one of the main targets of German bombing raids on London. Fortunately, it was not damaged.
  • In December 1952, the bridge traffic manager failed to warn the driver of a double-decker passenger bus of the beginning of the drawdown. Fortunately, he was able to find his bearings correctly and, increasing his speed, managed to move the bus to the opposite draw-off section. The driver was even rewarded for his resourcefulness.
  • But the actions of Royal Air Force pilot Alan Pollack provoked a very different reaction. After learning that the command was not going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the troops, he celebrated it in his own way, flying his fighter across the bridge. For this he was arrested and later fired.
  • The next time he flew over the bridge was in 1973, clerk Paul Martin. He did it twice in a light single-engine plane. Unfortunately, he crashed two hours later in another location.
  • In 1997, during Bill Clinton’s visit to London, his motorcade followed British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the bridge. Blair’s motorcade crossed the bridge, and then the bridge began to open for the passage of a barge on the Thames. Clinton’s motorcade had to wait, to the horror of the guards. River transport has priority over land transport by local law, and no exception was made even for the American president. Especially since the barge followed exactly as previously filed, and the motorcade was some time late. In response to the President’s security protest, the bridge administration claimed that no one at the U.S. Embassy responded to their warning calls.
  • In 1999, a venerable citizen of the City crossed the crossing by chasing two sheep, using one of the forgotten pieces of legislation. In doing so, he wanted to draw attention to other obsolete laws.
  • Protests continued into the new century. On October 31, 2003, David Crick, dressed as Spider-Man, broke into the bridge and spent almost a week there. All this time it had to be closed to the great displeasure of Londoners.
  • In 2009 a tower elevator and its passengers collapsed, but fortunately they were not seriously injured.
  • The Tower Bridge is sometimes confused with the London Bridge stretching upstream of the Thames. Several crossings were known by this name, successively succeeding each other. The London Bridge that preceded the present one was bought in 1967 by Robert McCulloch of the United States, dismantled, transported to Arizona, and reassembled. The businessman was rumored to have believed he had purchased the Tower Bridge.
The Sky Bridge on Langkawi Island, Malaysia

The bridge from the inside

Practical Information

Tower Bridge can be reached by subway, getting off at Tower Hill or London Bridge stations, or by bus 15 or 42;

Passage across the bridge (not during the swing, of course) is free. A ticket should be purchased for the observation deck and the museum. It costs 13 GBP for adults and 6 GBP for children aged 5 to 15. Opening hours are 10:00 – 18:00 in April to September and 10:00 – 17:30 in other months. Tickets can be bought at the entrance or online. The bridge swing schedule is posted at the entrances to the towers.

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