Studying in London gives plenty of opportunities for ‘going tourist’ and visiting attractions in London, so for a treat after two busy weeks away in France my friend Andrew visited and we went to see the Tower Bridge Exhibition. The Exhibition had been in the London newspapers recently as it had just opened a glass floor on the high level walkways, giving views from over 100 feet above the River Thames, and so we wanted to pay a visit – despite Andrew being afraid of heights!
Tower Bridge is in the eastern part of London so it was exciting to see a part of London I am not familiar with, emerging from the Tower Hill underground station we saw the Tower of London – another attraction on the list to visit while I am here studying. This area is an eclectic mix of old and new, with the 11th Century Tower mingled with modern iconic buildings such as The Shard and 30 St Mary Axe (better known as the Gherkin).
Tower Bridge is one of over 200 crossings of the River Thames, and was built between 1886–1894 to relieve pressure on London Bridge due to increased industrial development in the East End. However a fixed bridge was not possible as it would prevent tall ships from accessing port facilities downstream. A public competition resulted in 50 designs for a river crossing, the winning design being a combined suspension and bascule (drawbridge) design – some of the alternative designs are featured at the Tower Bridge exhibition.
The high level walkways originally allowed people to move across the Bridge when the bascules were raised to allow ships to pass, but it was found people preferred to wait for them to close rather than climb up so public access was discontinued in 1910. In 1982 they were re-opened as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition and more recently glass floors were installed, which Andrew and I enjoyed walking along and looking down onto the Bridge and River Thames from 42 metres above!
When it opened in 1894, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built, the bascules being raised by hydraulic power generated by steam engines. They are still hydraulic but are not powered by oil and electricity, with the original engines now exhibited in the Exhibition’s Engine Rooms. If you time your visit right you can even view the bridge being raised through the glass floor!