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Tower Bridge

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

Tower Bridge is one of London's most recognized landmarks, which is odd considering most people confuse the epic structure with London bridge. The latter was the only river crossing in London since the Roman times, but due to London's growing congestion in the 1800s, engineers built a new crossing to help ease the problem.

London Bridge has a chequered history, and some of you may have heard of the popular children's nursery rhyme 'London’s bridge is falling down.' Although the song's origin is unknown, it could have been written about many of the catastrophic events that have plagued the bridge since medieval times. It was severely damaged in 1281 by ice and again in 1309, 1425, and 1437. In 1633, it was severely damaged and weakened by fire. The medieval version of the London Bridge did last for 600 years until it was demolished in 1831, so we must give some credit to its ability to endure. 

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However, let us get back to this beautiful image captured by Chalbaud on her European travels. Tower Bridge took eight years to complete and has stood proudly since 1894 and has never fallen down. I know you may be wondering why it looks like a medieval fairy-tale tower, but it really is just 127 years old. Its ability to blend in with London's other cultural landmarks was crucial to its design.

Various architects submitted designs to the Special Bridge or Subway Committee for consideration, and many of those entries are displayed at Tower Bridge. However, it was to be Sir Horace Jones, in partnership with John Wolfe Barry, who produced the winning design. They wanted the bridge to look like the Tower of London and desperately wanted to avoid building an eyesore.

Most people call Tower Bridge a suspension bridge, when in fact, it is a bascule bridge. Bascule is the French word for a seesaw. The two parts of the bridge are too heavy to be lifted like a suspension bridge, and instead, they were built to lever upwards and are driven by substantial hydraulic pumps. They used to be steam-powered but have since been upgraded with new electric-driven hydraulic pumps. 

Tower Bridge also has strong links to Scotland. The Portland stone and granite facade hide a substantial steel framework that makes up the structure. It was constructed by Sir William Arrol & Co, a famous Scottish Civil engineering company that had a hand in many of Britain's most famous bridges, including the Forth Bridge and Tay Rail Bridge.

The crystal image captured by Chalbaud shows the bridge under a typical grey and gloomy British sky, but its history is not as dull as the backdrop infers. 

On 30th December 1952, like something out of a movie, a London bus to Shoreditch miraculously jumped the gap between the two bascules. Unbeknown to Albert Gunter, the bus driver, the watchman who usually rang a bell and closed the bridge's gates before he lifted it, had forgotten to do so on this particular occasion. The number 78 bus carrying 20 passengers was halfway across the bridge when Gunter noticed the opposite side disappear. Realizing the bridge was opening, he floored the accelerator, reaching a speed of 12mph. Yes, just 12mph, that is a whopping 19.3kph. Still, it was enough to leap the gap leaving the twenty passengers dumbfounded but entirely unharmed. Unfortunately, Gunter broke his leg in the incident but it wasn’t all bad news as he was rewarded for his actions with a day off work and a £10 bonus.

More recently, Tower bridge played a pivotal role in a daring stunt carried out to celebrate London's 2012 Olympic Games. Two helicopters passed through Tower Bridge with a special royal cargo. The Queen. The incredible feat culminated with her royal highness parachuting into the London Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Of course, the queen was actually a stunt double.

The bridge is still fairly busy today with the bascules separating around 700 times each year to allow boats free access to the Thames. You may think that is a lot, but the bridge was lifted 6194 times on its opening day. Also, the watchmen had to stand alert to spot vessels approaching, but today any boat wishing to pass must book at least twenty-four hours in advance. 

London and the UK are steeped in history, and Chalbaud is building a substantial portfolio capturing these famous European landmarks. We excitedly wait for her next trip out with her camera.

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