Having recently retired, I’ve become a member of the Walthamstow Historical Society, and joined them on an outing to Tower Bridge for what is now known as the “Tower Bridge Exhibition”:http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/.
Although the entrance fee is £6.30 for OAPs, we paid slightly more for a guided tour. Monty met us where the tour usually finishes, in the Engine Room where we saw beautifully restored boilers, large wheels painted green, red and yellow, polished copper pipes, huge spanners, pistons and lots of other moving parts. Whilst there are signs in various languages, for me I needed Monty’s simple, clear explanation to fully understand the workings.
It was then up around twenty steps (which I don’t think can be avoided) to the south tower where a lift took us up to the walkway. The views, both up and down stream, were impressive and it was a beautifully clear day. A relatively new feature is the glass floor with the city side walkway also having a mirror above making for interesting photographs. Now, whilst I’m fine with heights, one thing I normally hate is glass floors, but I decided to conquer my fear and felt fine (you can avoid it by walking along the edge).
On the walls, were pictures and facts and figures of other famous bridges in the world. This is a part where I would have liked to have more time, as I love mentally ticking off things I’ve seen.
Monty told us about the building of the bridge (which took 8 years between1886 and1894), how it operated and we learned it was a combination of bascule and suspension bridge. There were a couple of short videos: one about life in London prior to the bridge being built with lots of familiar landmarks with horse drawn carriages and one about the building of the bridge.
We also heard about the day ‘a bus jumped Tower Bridge’ in 1952 when the bridge began to open with bus driver Albert Gunter and twenty passengers still on it. He saved the day by accelerating and successfully bypassing the 3-foot gap and landing on the other side. He received a £10 bravery award.
What surprised me was that if you want the bridge opened to allow your ship to pass it’s free.
In 1974, the Bill Clinton’s limo was separated from his security car by the closing barrier as the bridge was opening to let the sailing barge Gladys through. They insisted the bridge be lowered, but were told that getting the appropriate signature would take longer than the 10 minutes the bridge would be closed for. The headline in Regatta online was “Gladys takes the rise out of Bill”.
Our tour took 90 minutes, but I suspect it would be easy to spend at least two hours there. For those interested, you can also get married on the walkway (but currently only on the north side in Tower Hamlets as Southwark on the south side has not as yet, granted a license.