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Tower Bridge is a familiar sight to millions – but it has only been part of London’s skyline for a little over a hundred years. Before that time the most easterly crossing in the capital was London Bridge – but the city’s rapid expansion had put a third of the population beyond it.
By the 1870s things were getting desperate, so a decision was taken to build another one in roughly the same place as the City limits.
A competition was launched amongst the nation’s engineers with a few tight provisos: 1) London’s docks were still in use, so any bridge had to allow access for tall-masted ships, and 2) it had to allow cars to cross the river.
The winning design came from Horace Jones in 1884. It consisted of a bridge and two towers, 200-feet tall. The central span was split into two so they could be lifted clear of the water by two huge engines. The engines were fed by six water tanks hidden in the towers. (These have now been replaced by electric motors, but have been preserved in the Tower Bridge museum.) The whole process took less than a minute.
Construction began in 1886, and was completed eight years later. It was opened by the future Edward VII in 1894.
Entry to the two towers is through The Tower Bridge Experience – a museum exhibition filled with facts and information, with photos, films and holograms. You can read the history of the bridge, and see the original Victorian engines room.
The best reason for visiting the museum, though, is to get upon the tower top walkway – with splendid views across the River Thames.
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