London icons: Tower Bridge is 120 years old this week!

Did you know that you can get Tower Bridge raised just for you?  All you need is a boat with a tall mast over 30 metres and 24 hours notice and they will do the rest!  This was just one of the fascinating facts I found out this week when I visited Tower Bridge. 

It’s a big week for the folk at the bridge as it is 120 years since it was declared open by the Prince and Princess of Wales and they are rightly celebrating this London icon’s birthday. It has become a potent symbol of London and is well worth a visit inside as well as outside.

From the entrance on east side of the bridge you step into the large smooth lift and emerge 42 metres above ground right inside the northern tower.  There’s a fun video bringing to life the key characters involved in the design and building of the bridge: Horace Jones who had the idea of the ‘bascule bridge’ and John Barry-Wolfe who developed this and completed the bridge after Horace’s death.

Then you step into the high-level walkways to enjoy the views and the exhibitions on show.

There are 2 walkway exhibitions, one is temporary and features photos of the Sixties showing the fashion, music and design of that vibrant decade. In the other walkway, there is a permanent exhibition of over 20 other great bridges of the world with information about different bridge designs and great photos. However, London’s very own Tower Bridge claims to be ‘the most famous bridge in the world’ and I’m pretty sure that’s true. Here you can learn about the history of the area and the bridge itself and I was intrigued to see some of the other designs submitted to the competition set up to gather the best ideas.  London could have looked very different and even the one chosen originally had another arch. The bridge staff are full of great information and really friendly – some are even dressed in 1894 costume!

Early design version of Tower Bridge

It’s a great experience being inside the bridge, enjoying the walkways, but what really hits you are the amazing views from high up above the Thames. It was a very sunny morning for my visit so the views to the east are hazy as I was pointing my camera into the sun but upstream London was looking glorious!  The north bank of the Thames mixes the old of the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral with London’s newest buildings the ‘Walkie Talkie’ and the ‘Cheesegrater’. The south bank has City Hall and the Shard with HMS Belfast adding some history.

North bank of the River Thames

South bank of the River Thames

Looking east towards Canary Wharf

Looking straight down the Thames

I am fascinated by a bridge which lifts, a design chosen to enable the tall ships to access the docks along the river upstream of this crossing while still offering a road crossing at this point where the busy east of the city needed it. It takes just 60 seconds to raise the 2 leaves and the whole process from stopping the traffic to starting it again takes just 6 to 8 minutes – pretty fast. After you have enjoyed the walkways you can visit the Engine Rooms and learn in detail about how the lifts happen now and how they did it back in 1894 so don’t miss out this part of the tour. Outside it’s not as easy to spot the point where the bridge parts in two as you would think, so here it is:

And, I couldn’t leave you without a photo of a bridge lift, tho’ taken on a different day:

Bridge lift –  on the way up…

The bridge was looking splendid in the sun with its red, white and blue livery and I was surprised to learn that it was originally brown and cream because they were Queen Victoria’s favourite colours. It would have looked very dull to our eyes! The colours we see now only date back to 1977 when the patriotic look was brought in to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

I was heartened to learn that all the profits from our visits goes to a charity supporting the City of London and the surrounding boroughs.

When you are visiting London don’t forget to check their website which tells you when the bridge will be lifting so you can schedule to be there and grab that brilliant photo (Tower Bridge website)   On the website you will also find the super cool ‘How to Book a Bridge Lift’ button!

Let’s hope the sunshine lasts…

Disclaimer: I was invited on this visit. Normally entry is £9 for adults and £3.90 for children but it’s cheaper online. Ticket prices and online booking.

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