Exploring Tower Bridge Inside and Out
Due to increased commercial activity along the Thames, the city of London needed to create bridges to allow access to both sides of the river. Yet, they somehow had to do it without hindering the approach of tall-ships like the Cutty Sark. To accomplish this goal, a committee formed in 1877 to decide on a design. They had to choose between a tunnel below or a bridge that allow traffic to cross over the water.
The committee considered over 50 designs before choosing Sir Horace Jones’ hydraulic drawbridge was chosen in 1884. Construction took 10 years to complete. The bridge gets its strength from a steel skeleton, but the designers also used Portland stone across the facade to add a cosmetic touch. Though the bridge has two towers built on foundations sunk deep in the river bottom, that isn’t the source of the name. It comes from the nearby Tower of London.
Visiting the bridge and looking at the outside is of course free. But visiting The Tower Bridge Exhibition within has a small fee. Visitors begin by going up into the top of the north tower and enjoying historical and artistic exhibits on the East and West Walkways. Strolling among the rivets and struts gives you a real appreciation for this feat of engineering.
They recently installed glass floors on the West Walkway. Unfortunately for me, this happened shortly after my visit in September 2014 so I didn’t get a chance to experience this aspect of the bridge. I can only imagine the incredible view onto the bustling street below. But I can vouch for the panoramic views of the city from the top of the towers. (Even though those pics came out really dark because of the weather.)
My favorite part by far was venturing into the engine rooms below street level. The green and black coal-powered hydraulic engines reminded me of a giant mechanical grasshopper ready to spring, and made the whole exhibition worth the admission fee.