The Tower Bridge
Yes, Tower Bridge is that huge and beautiful bridge with the massive towers on either side of its span which crosses the River Thames at London's East End. No, it is not also referred to as London Bridge. Well, maybe many people actually do refer to it as "London Bridge" but if they do, then they are wrong (London Bridge is the less iconic bridge a little further west of Tower Bridge). Despite its prominent two towers, Tower Bridge derives its name from its proximity to the Tower of London. It was completed, after eight years of construction, in 1894 and was considered to be one of the greatest engineering feats of its day. More than 400 round-the-clock labourers participated in its construction which was overseen by five major contractors.
The idea to build the bridge arose out of growing demand for a river crossing in London's East End. Originally, London Bridge was the furthest east. Upon completion, Tower Bridge was the largest and most advanced bascule bridge in the world. A bascule bridge is a moveable bridge with a counterweight continuously balancing its span, generally to provide clearance for boat traffic. As this area of the Thames was (and still is) a busy waterway, such a moveable bridge was required. Hydraulically operated, Tower Bridge used steam power to run its gigantic pump engines. Today, the bridge's bascules are still hydraulically operated but now powered by oil and electricity to run its engines.
However, Tower Bridge is not just a bascule bridge. It is also a suspension bridge. Its two towers are joined by two upper level walkways designed (according to the Tower Bridge Wikipedia entry) to "to withstand the horizontal forces exerted by the suspended sections of the bridge to the left and the right." These walkways, set at 42 metres (138 feet) above the Thames are open to the public, offering some of London's most scenic and panoramic views.
In addition to providing a major throughway for north-south access in and out of the City of London for car and pedestrian traffic, these days Tower Bridge is a much loved tourist attraction. Information about visiting Tower Bridge is available at the Tower Bridge Exhibition's website, www.towerbridge.org.uk. Interestingly, the bridge is also available to hire for parties and receptions. Its four on-bridge settings (including its Victorian Engine Rooms) are popular venues for everything from promotional events to wedding receptions.
Be sure to experience the Tower Bridge the next time you book a flight to London and visit.
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Photo: Chris Osburn