Tower Bridge is probably the most iconic bridge in London, famous the world over for its striking design and neo-Gothic architecture. It’s not the oldest bridge in the Capital, but it is a modern-day symbol of it. But why was it built? What’s with its unique design? And how can you make the most of a trip to this grand landmark?
In this article, we look at the history of Tower Bridge and discuss some of the lesser-known facts about its life. We’ll also let you know what you can do when visiting this London icon.
Tower Bridge is a marvel of Victoria-era engineering
Tower Bridge was constructed during the Victorian era to help the Capital’s residents navigate the city faster amidst a rapidly growing population. It needed to allow ships to sail along the Thames, which is why it can open and close. It took around 430 construction workers over eight years to build (1886 – 1894). It also required over 70,000 tonnes of concrete, 11,000 tonnes of steel, 31 million bricks and two million rivets. Quite the engineering feat, to say the least.
Ships still get priority
Even though around 40,000 people cross Tower Bridge on a daily basis, ships sailing up the River Thames are still given priority when it needs opening. When a ship needs to pass, everybody has to wait. In 1997, Bill Clinton famously had to wait 20 minutes to cross the bridge due to a passing ship. As long as the ship notifies the bridge operators 24 hours before they intend to sail through the bridge, it gets priority over people, no matter who they are.
On average, Tower Bridge is raised around 850 times per year, which is about 2.4 times per day. Stick around for long enough, and you’re almost bound to see a ship passing by.
Tower Bridge was expensive
When its construction was commissioned over 120 years ago, Tower Bridge cost £1,184,000 to build. In today’s terms, that figure would look more like £150 million, and that only accounts for inflation. With the modern wages of 430 construction workers thrown in, we can only suspect that figure could look much higher in today’s reality.
It might have been an expensive build, but the Tower Bridge is a true London icon that’s just as practical as it is attractive. It was the world’s largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge at the time of its opening, and its neo-Gothic architecture has certainly not passed its style expiration date.
Tower Bridge was named after the Tower of London
Tower Bridge owes its name to the nearby Tower of London, another London icon with a fascinating history. Even though the bridge was built much later than the famous castle fortress, it complements the Towers appearance thanks to its neo-Gothic style. Whether its architectural style was chosen to match Queen Victoria’s tastes or the Tower of London’s façade remains up for debate.
Crossing the Tower Bridge on foot doesn’t cost a penny, unless you want access to the upper walkways. After checking out Tower Bridge, don’t miss the chance to explore the Tower of London. If you’re interested in a guided visit, browse our Tower of London tours.