Although many people visualise the unmistakeable Tower Bridge when they utter the lines of that age-old nursery rhyme (‘London Bridge is falling down’), they’re actually mistaking it for London Bridge. That is, they’re mistaking Tower Bridge for London Bridge – or vice versa. The two bridges are not the same.
Although, standing only about a 10-minute-walk along the Thame from each other, they do cross the river at very nearby points in the centre of the UK capital. So, just what does make Tower Bridge so famous? Why should someone bother visiting this landmark during a London city-break, combined with Spa at Montcalm day?
Well, there’s that iconic castle-like appearance it has – perhaps to mirror the medieval fortification look of the within-walking-distance landmark that’s the Tower of London (after which the bridge is named, of course). But what exactly is Tower Bridge’s function? Why does it cross the Thames where it does?
Well, fundamentally, the bridge serves as a Central London crossing point of the River Thames, of course. Yet, it’s also grown to become an undeniable major landmark of the capital, too. Its image graces everything from tea-towels and mugs for sale in the city’s gift shops to the logo of the one-time London incarnation of one the UK’s major TV channels.
The history of Tower Bridge
Built between 1886 and 1894, the bridge was required to help ease the burden of road and pedestrian traffic on the aforementioned London Bridge, while providing a somewhat impressive-looking, would-be-entrance point to the heart of the city when traversing on the Thames.
That said, the construction and appearance of Tower Bridge is far from merely aesthetic. For, its castle-like bascules house the complex mechanics that enable its roadway to break in half, teeter-totter-like, and open up so river-going craft can pass through. Lest we forget, back when the bridge was built and opened, river craft tended to be taller than they are today, of course, owing to the large amount of goods that arrived in and departed from the city via the river.
The bridge operated as a working, bascule-operated-opening bridge for its first century. Although, following its opening, it had fast become a landmark and, over the decades, an icon of the city, on a par with St Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster and Buckingham Palace.
Come 1982, though, and the bridge embraced its status as a landmark by becoming a fully-fledged tourist attraction. This saw the opening of the walkways between its two towers for the general public – or, at least, for paying participants of its Tower Bridge Exhibition; an arrangement that remains in place to this day.
Taking visitors through the bridge’s history and explaining exactly how its mechanical wonders make sure it works properly, the exhibition’s maybe one of the most revealing of its kind to experience on a stay in the city, when you’re booked into a London City suites hotel.
Tower Bridge today
Being a fully operational bridge that opens up in order to let river-going craft pass up and down the river, right into and from the heart of the city, the bridge has had to undergo much renovation and repair work over its many decades of existence. This work ensures it can play its necessary role as a committed cog in the wheel of daily life on the Thames.
Mercifully, no river-craft that passes under Tower Bridge is required to pay for the privilege, whether public or private craft. As such, costs for the upkeep of the bridge, ensuring it remains standing and can open and close every day in good order, are met by the Bridge House Estates, a fund that actually meets the costs of Central London’s five major bridges.
When it first opened, the bridge required a team of horses, kept on-site, in order to pull horse-drawn cabs, carts and wagons up an incline to cross the bridge because a single horse, on its own, wouldn’t be capable of doing so. Cleary, no such issue arises today. Not least because few horses actually cross the bridge any more, but also because the incline no longer exists, what with roadways leading up to and crossing the bridge.
In fact, Tower Bridge actually forms a critical and busy part of the road network that connects the north and the south lungs of the city. (Although, if you’ve travelled to the bridge on a day of sightseeing and then want to get back in the evening to The Montcalm Restaurant, you’ll doubtless travel by Tube.)
Finally… remember when this happened?
To conclude this look at the terrific Tower Bridge, here’s a look back at some of the times when the iconic structure was splashed all over public life. For instance, back in 1917, a chap named Thomas Hans Orde-Lees jumped off the bridge with a parachute; the first of its kind made and issued by the UK’s Royal Air Force, in order to test the efficacy of the device – important, too, because, remember, the First World War was just around the corner.
Later, in 1952, a double-decker bus (a number 78) was trundling along the bridge when it began opening. However, instead of stopping and reversing, its driver Albert Guston chose to accelerate, ensuring the bus cleared a short but widening jump in the centre of the bridge and calmly carried on its way.
Finally, to commemorate the 2012 Summer Olympic Games being hosted in London, the iconic Olympics rings logo was mounted on one of Tower Bridge’s walkways for the duration of the Games and for all the world to see. Not least during the Opening Ceremony, when millions upon millions of TV viewers across the globe watched David Beckham motor beneath the bridge on a speedboat, as he took the Olympic torch on the last leg of its journey to the stadium in the East End of the city. Not a moment to forget – especially for any guests staying at the Montcalm hotel Chiswell Street, located not at all far from the stadium’s Stratford location.