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Design of Tower Bridge

In the second half of the nineteenth century, increased commercial development in the East End of London led to a requirement for a new river crossing downstream of London Bridge. A traditional fixed bridge could not be built because it would cut off access to the port facilities in the Pool of London, between London Bridge and the Tower of London. A tunnel beneath the Thames, the Tower Subway, had been opened in 1870, for pedestrians only.

 

A Special Bridge or Subway Committee was formed in 1876 to find a solution to the river crossing problem. It opened the design of the crossing to public competition. Over 50 designs were submitted, including one from civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The evaluation of the designs was surrounded by controversy, and it was not until 1884 that a design submitted by Horace Jones, the City Architect, was approved. 

Jones' design was for a bascule bridge 800 feet (244 m) in length with two towers each 213 feet (65 m) high, built on piers. The central span of 200 feet (61 m) between the towers was split into two equal bascules or leaves, which could be raised to an angle of 83 degrees to allow river traffic to pass. The bascules, weighing over 1,000 tons each, were counterbalanced to minimize the force required and allow raising in one minute.

Construction started in 1886 and took eight years, employing five major contractors and 432 construction workers. Two massive piers, containing over 70,000 tons of concrete, were sunk into the river bed to support the construction. Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways. This was then clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone, both to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the bridge a pleasing appearance.

Jones died in 1887, and his chief engineer, Sir John Wolfe-Barry, took over the project. Wolfe-Barry replaced Jones' original medieval style of facade with the more ornate Victorian gothic style that makes the bridge a distinctive landmark.

The bridge was opened on 30 June 1894 by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark.

 

 

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