London River Thames Boat Services
Tower Bridge Design
Tower Bridge is younger than it looks. That was built-in to the design, which was intended to match,
but not compete with, the Tower of London.
1870: Some fifty schemes for a crossing here were examined including a free ferry as at Woolwich.
The subway built in this year, should not, it was decided, include a giant under river arcade of shops.
1878: This rejected rather quaint but essentially complete design was Sir Horace Jones' first attempt. It appears to use a cable lifting system.
Tower Bridge rejected first design by Sir Horace Jones, 1878
Frederick Barnett's design (Courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives)
F J Palmer's design
Joseph Bazalgette's design
Sir Horace Jones' final design was approved and built.
Queen Victoria was not amused -
... to those who say the bridge will increase the defensive strength of the Tower and improve the beauty and historical associations of the place all I can say is "Bosh!"
Other hostile comment included -
... architectural gimcrack ...
... a monstrous and preposterous architectural sham ...
... a discredit to the generation that created it ...
1886: Tower Bridge work started.
1890: Tower Bridge under construction, Francis Frith -
Tower Bridge under Construction, 1890, Francis Frith
1892: Photo of Tower Bridge under construction. The design had to keep the river unobstructed during the building period, and it was desirable that the roadway should be no higher than bank level. This ruled out a stone bridge because of the timber supports required below the arches whilst the stones were positioned, and also the clearance for large ships would be impossible.
380 feet long, 60 feet wide.
Central drawbridge with two bascules of 1,100 tons each,
originally raised by steam-driven hydraulic power,
today by electricity.
Two 300-foot steel towers clad in granite and Portland stone support the bascules as well as a 200-foot-high walkway which is cantilevered out from the towers. Suspension chains support the road spans from the riverbanks to the two towers.
Architect: Horace Jones. Engineer: John Wolfe Barry. Contractors: Sir William Arrol & Co. and William Armstrong.
View from top of the southern tower of the new bridge before it was opened.
Tower Bridge view of Tower from top of southern tower before the bridge was opened, 1894
1894: Tower Bridge opened 30th June. Painting by Wyllie, National Maritime Museum Site -
The day was glorious, the sun hot enough to raise a tremulous golden haze over river and land, the breeze brisk enough to keep colour sparkling and the landscape clear. Mr Wyllie found here all that his heart could desire - the close-packed flotilla of shipping, the race of the mighty river tide, the avenue of unpaintably brilliant and varied flaunting bunting, which led up to the mighty bridge standing white midstream in the westering sunlight, and the great fleet of craft of all sizes and rigs, headed by the Admiralty yacht Irene, passing under its vast uplifted arms. Here was a subject for an historical painter, and in that sense he has conceived and executed it.
Tower Bridge opening, 1894. Wylie
Tower Bridge Opening, 1894
Tower Bridge opening, 1894
And at that very moment with the royal coach on the bridge this drawing was pictured:
Tower Bridge opening, 1894
1894: Tower Bridge opening, Francis Frith -
Tower Bridge Opening, Francis Frith.
Known as 'the Wonder Bridge'
1894: Tower Bridge opened to traffic. It has a double drawbridge (bascules) to enable tall ships to pass into the Port of London. The machinery was steam-driven. The high-level walkways were built as a result of the Act of Parliament giving permission for the construction of the bridge specifying that there should be access to the public at all times. When the bridge was first built it needed to open approximately 22 times a day but this is now reduced to about once or twice a day and of course on special occasions. The original design was by Sir Horace Jones assisted among others by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
1894: The Builder -
"the most monstrous and preposterous architectural sham that we have ever known."
1910: Tower Bridge, Francis Frith -
Tower Bridge 1910, Francis Frith
1913: Tower Bridge, Postcard -
Tower Bridge, Postcard, 1913
1918: A Dictionary of London -
TOWER BRIDGE: Over the Thames, from the eastern boundary of the Tower to Southwark, parish of St. John Horseleydown (O.S.). Erected by the Corporation of the City of London at a cost of over £1,000,000, 1885-94. Designed by Sir Horace Jones and Wolfe Barry. Half a mile long. Southern Approach opened 1902, Northern Approach carried out 1907.
1920: Tower Bridge, Francis Frith -
Tower Bridge 1920, Francis Frith
original steam machinery was replaced by a diesel electric hydraulic
system. The original machinery was preserved.
1976: Regulations for opening -
The bascule bridge will be open for the purpose of providing passage for the navigation of any vessel
after the receipt by the Bridge Master of not less than 24 hours notice that passage for the navigation of the vessel is required and at or about the time stated in the notice as the intended time of passage.
Provided always that if the navigation of any vessel is not thereby delayed or interfered with it shall not be necessary to open the bascule bridge for the passage of any vessel, the mast or masts or funnel or funnels of which are capable of being readily moved or lowered with safety to the vessel.
By day and by night a red light will be shown both up and down the river from the piers on each side of the bascule bridge to indicate that the bascule bridge is closed or being closed or opened.
By day and by night a green light will be shown both up and down river from the piers on each side of the bascule bridge to indicate that the bascule bridge is open.
In restricted visibility, in addition to the signal prescribed by Regulation 4, a high frequency repetitive note of 820 cycles per second will be transmitted for a period of approximately 10 seconds, followed by a silent period of the same duration. These signals will be given over the loud hailer system from the north pier of the bridge for such period as the bascule bridge is open for river traffic.
In the event of it not being possible to give the signals mentioned in the Regulation owing to electrical failure or otherwise, hand beaten gongs will be sounded every 30 seconds from the north pier of the bridge for such period as the bascule bridges is open for river traffic.
In restricted visibility, the bascule bridge will be opened in pursuance of Regulation 2 for the passage of any vessel on the Master thereof giving warning when ready and in position to pass through the bridge by a sound signal of one prolonged blast followed by two short blasts followed by one prolonged blast.
22nd July 1976 S.J CLAYTON Town Clerk
Alisdair MacDonald (1940-2007) set up his camera on London Bridge (with Tower Bridge in the background) between noon and one o'clock and photographed every vessel that passed in the hour. He then created this composite image to show how busy the Thames really is! -
THAMES STRATEGY EAST Part 4 - Reach 1-3 - This covers the following Reaches:
Upper Pool; Lower Pool; Limehouse; Greenwich; Blackwell; Bugsby's; and Woolwich. A large (7.79Mb) pdf file.
Thames Strategy East has the overall details.
Detailed description of Upper Pool, Lower Pool, and Limehouse reach