15 Fun Facts About Tower Bridge

If you’re interested to know some fun facts about Tower Bridge in London, we’ve got you covered!

London being the capital of England seemed to have also become the place where a lot of tourist attractions have gathered. Some of which we often hear about from news and current affairs to myths and folklores.

When we hear about London’s Tower Bridge, we might mistake it for the famous bridge a lot of us have heard about in a nursery rhyme. But that is not it.

So, are you ready to learn some fun Tower Bridge facts? We have come up with a list that will help supply you with good-to-have knowledge about this famous London bridge (note the lower case!).

15 Fun Facts About Tower Bridge

The list below should help you get to know Tower Bridge, starting from its construction down to several other interesting facts about it.

1. Tower Bridge is NOT London Bridge

This is London Bridge

In order to expound on the hint we have in our introductions, it is highly possible that the majority of us – particularly those who are not locals – may mistake the two bridges for the other.

The two bridges are located right next to each other hovering over the Pool of London on the River Thames. They’re approximately less than a 15-minute walk away from each other.

Tower Bridge is pooled near the Old City Hall and the Tower of London. It flows through between the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark. Their location is probably just one of the few factors why they can be easily mixed up together.

London Bridge may seem more familiar to the ear as it is known from its background and from the nursery rhyme we all know.

Looking at appearances, it is actually on a much simpler tone compared to that of Tower Bridge. The latter being constructed in the Victorian Era has a much more grandiose castle-like feel to it.

2. Tower Bridge is not a drawbridge

Being built with a combination of heavy stone, iron, and steel structure, it would put too much burden on the entirety of the bridge if it was made as a drawbridge. Hence, the structure and mechanisms of Tower Bridge allowed it to be described as raising bascules or as a bascule bridge which is derived from the French word for “seesaw.”

3. Queen Victoria had a say about the construction of Tower Bridge

Queen Victoria

The discussions about building a new river crossing to help with the traffic back in the mid- to late 1870s didn’t go as smoothly as one might think.

The then reigning sovereign Queen Alexandrina Victoria had initially objected to the construction of a bridge that was to be seated near the Tower of London.

Hence, they met halfway and made use of a “Victorian Era” design featuring a Neo-Gothic or Revival Gothic architecture similar to that of the Tower of London and even that of the Palace of Westminster and the Big Ben.

The outcome worked well as they had wished for it not to take away the attention from the Tower of London. Instead, it serves up to this day as part of a great attraction.

4. Tower Bridge’s design was decided by a contest

They always say work smart and not hard, as it is more efficient that way. That was probably why even back in the Victorian Era they already tended to hold competitions when it came to making tough decisions like choosing the design and the construction of Tower Bridge.

What couldn’t they do if there were about 50 designs submitted to choose from, right?

5. They had the winners of the competition after several years

It was Sir Horace Jones who worked as the Chief Architect while Sir John Wolfe Barry was the Chief Engineer after their design/s triumphed in the competition held several years prior in the late 1870s.

It was not until the year 1885 that hey finally decided on the winning design wherein the Parliament officially passed The Tower Bridge Act.

After much delicate preparation they started the construction on the 22nd of April 1886.

6. “Like father, like son”

Charles Barry

Sir John Wolfe Barry was the Chief Engineer. The phrase “like father like son” couldn’t be more fitting in this case as his father was the great architect Charles Barry who designed the Palace of Westminster – or otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament – after it was burned down during the Victorian Era.

The younger Barry’s work engineered the process of encasing steel and iron in concrete to prevent rust and the practice is definitely still being used to this day. It can be observed on one of his projects like the Blackfriars Rail bridge installed in 1886 with its extensive iron and steel pillars.

7. The winners of the competition were not limited to the Chief Architect and the Chief Engineer

Aside from the two aforementioned chiefs who oversaw the foundation of Tower Bridge, there were a few others who contributed as greatly.

There was Sir William Arrol, who, prior to being a civil engineer, had begun training as a blacksmith as early as age 13 while studying mechanics and hydraulics at night. With enough perseverance, he later started his own business and was behind the masterpiece of Tower Bridge’s 8 kilometers of iron and steel skeleton.

Sir William Arrol’s company, which is now known as William Arrol & Co., won the contract to supply the 11,000 tons worth of steel and 1,000 tons of ornamental ironworks and pioneered its installation. They even have great contributions across the globe, such as the Nile River Bridge in Egypt, and are also renowned crane manufacturers.

Another one was the industrialist, Sir William Armstrong, who had dedicated more than a decade of his life as solicitor after studying law when he decided to finally follow his passion and practiced engineering. Armstrong was the one behind the genius solution to the wasted potential of the waterwheel. He invented the first hydro-electric machine in the world, a hydraulic accumulator that helped conserve and store energy for later use.

The two had also undeniably and remarkably contributed to this great achievement of a masterpiece, but it wouldn’t have been done without the over 400 workers and few other companies involved.

8. The Chief Architect Sir Horace Jones didn’t witness the Tower Bridge’s completion

Sir Horace Jones honed his architectural knowledge in Greece and Italy and after which he returned to London and began taking commisions for different projects. He was even elected City of London surveyor in 1864 and was also knighted.

Sir Horace Jones’ designs often exhibit his fondness for Greek architecture and the intricate ironworks, one of which is the Caversham Park that was built for the “Iron King” – William Crawshay II of Wales.

Unfortunately, however, the architect had untimely passed on in 1887 before Tower Bridge reached its completion and never got to witness the project in its full glory.

9. It took 8 years to build Tower Bridge

… and 432 diligent construction workers.

10. The Royal family pioneered the opening ceremony of Tower Bridge in 1894

King Edward VII

The Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII) and his wife the Princess of Wales spearheaded the official opening of Tower Bridge in London on the 30th of June 1894.

The event attracted many who had gathered in anticipation of the ships and vessels that would pass through Tower Bridge for the first time.

The first ship in line that crossed it was the Daisy but was immediately followed by a lot more.

11. Tower Bridge was the “muse” for a painting

The Opening of Tower Bridge, London, 30 June 1894

The launch of London’s Tower Bridge was greatly celebrated as it started to serve its purpose to aid on the river traffic therefore had been undoubtedly marked as another historical event. And it was just right to keep an equally precious memento of it; in this case, in a body of a painting with Tower of Bridge being the “muse” and main subject of it.

William Lionel Wyllie named his masterpiece The Opening of Tower Bridge, London, 30 June 1894, painted around two years after the event. The festivities of the opening ceremony were captured in an impressive oil and watercolor canvas and effectively allowed the moment to live for as long as the artwork exists.

12. Tower Bridge used to be chocolate brown in color

The Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which was celebrated with blasts of colors on Tower Bridge, changed that.

It happened in a relatively nearer past, during the late (HM) Queen Elizabeth II’s 25th year of accession in 1977. They decided to paint Tower Bridge in colors white, blue, and red – a fittingly grand gesture for a royal celebration!

13. The walkways had been closed for years

The walkways which extend 61 meters between the two tower bridges and stand 12 meters above the River Thames have long become a part of a great attraction Tower Bridge is.

But the walkways have not always been as popular as they are now. They were closed back in 1910 due to the lack of use and weren’t opened again until 1982.

14. A makeover for the walkways

Looking through Tower Bridge’s glass floor

It’s been quite some time since the walkways were closed for years due to minimal usage and were just later on reopened. Possibly wanting to avoid another closure, glass floors were installed on the walkways in 2014 for easier access to the view of the River Thames and the bridge from above.

15. The bascule bridge used to be raised around 17 times a day

In the present time, the bridge is raised about twice a day – or approximately 800 times a year.

However, back in the Victorian times shortly after its opening, the bascules were lifted approximately 6,194 times per year or 17 times per day on average. The bridge’s staff were on the lookout 24/7 for ships passing through.

Since the first day of 1971, vessels must book a bridge lift at least 24 hours ahead and this must be done in writing.

Witnessing Tower Bridge lift is a must-include in every London itinerary, so do not miss it!

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