London, the capital of England, boasts a rich tapestry of historical landmarks and iconic structures that have withstood the test of time. One such architectural marvel that stands tall is Tower Bridge.
With its distinctive design, Tower Bridge has become a symbol of London and a must-visit attraction for tourists. In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating facts that make Tower Bridge so special.
1. Often mistaken for London Bridge, Tower Bridge is a large bascule (seesaw) suspension bridge. It is situated on the River Thames between the Greater London Boroughs of Southwark and Tower Hamlets.
2. The Bridge features two 65-meter (213-foot) towers and is 240 meters (800 feet) long. The two towers are connected by two walkways and a pair of bascules that open to allow tall ships through.
3. Tower Bridge isn’t the longest bridge in London. It’s 43 meters (141 feet) shorter than London Bridge and a whopping 527 meters (1,876 feet) shorter than the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. And to compare to another famous bridge around the world – it is 5 times shorter than Sydney Harbour Bridge.
4. Tower Bridge was given its name because of its proximity to the Tower of London. The bridge is less than half a mile away from the tower.
5. Sir Horace Jones and Sir John Wolfe Barry designed Tower Bridge. Construction began in 1886 and it was officially opened on June 30, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).
6. Sir Horace Jones won a competition to design the Bridge. The competition saw many architects put together potential plans for what the structure should look like. Unfortunately, Sir Horace never lived to see his bridge completed. He passed away in 1887, seven years before the bridge was opened.
7. Tower Bridge required an immense amount of materials for its construction. These include 11,000 tons of steel, more than 31 million bricks, 2 million rivets, and over 70,000 tons of concrete.
8. It cost almost $1.5 million to build Tower Bridge. Today, that money is worth approximately $190 million. To put that into context, building the Eiffel Tower today would cost approximately $80 million.
9. During its construction, a temporary walkway was placed at a height of 42 meters (140 feet) above the Thames to allow pedestrians to cross while the bridge was being built. However, the walkway fell into disrepair and had to be closed after it became an unofficial “red light district”.
10. The bridge’s color scheme hasn’t always been a combination of blue, red, and white. When it was built, it was coated in a chocolate brown color. The current color scheme was adopted in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Blue was chosen because the color lasts the longest.
11. In 1974, Tower Bridge was designated as a Grade I listed building. It is recognized for its architectural and historical significance.
12. Tower Bridge was originally powered by steam. However, the bridge switched from a steam-powered mechanism to electricity in 1976. This was done to make the bridge more efficient.
13. The two bascules rise to an angle of 83 degrees and each weighs more than 1,100 tons. That’s approximately the same weight as nine adult blue whales. Despite their weight, it only takes five minutes for the bridge to open.
14. Tower Bridge opens around 800 times a year. That’s roughly twice a day! In 1910, the record for the most bridge lifts was recorded when Tower Bridge opened 64 times.
15. In 2019, Tower Bridge had to be manually cooled down to stop it from jamming shut due to expansion. Temperatures hit 37°C (98°F) so street sweepers were called in to cool the bridge with water.
16. In 2021, serious rainfall and flooding posed drainage concerns on the bridge. However, it was also believed that anti-terrorist barriers could have been responsible.
17. Until the early 1980’s Tower Bridge’s engine rooms were home to several cats. The last pair of cats lived in the Bridge’s storeroom. They helped keep mice away.
18. Almost 500,000 tourists visit Tower Bridge annually, making it London’s most popular bridge. More than 40,000 people and 21,000 vehicles simply cross the bridge every day.
19. The upper level features a walking bridge with a glass floor. This bridge is regularly visited by thrill seekers that want to see the traffic flying by below them.
20. For a unique experience, visitors can take a guided tour of the Bascule Chambers below the river level to see the bridge’s immense machinery and learn about its operation. The bascules still lift for ships today.
21. It’s possible to hire Tower Bridge’s high-level walkways for events, private functions, and weddings. The bridge has three venues, two of which are licensed for ceremonies.
22. For the London Olympics in 2012, Tower Bridge was adorned with Olympic rings suspended from its walkways. An opening ceremony took place at the bridge and the Olympic flame was carried over it.
23. Tower Bridge is home to a unique museum. The museum hosts an exhibition on the bridge’s history and construction, allowing visitors to learn about its past.
24. Tower Bridge has seen countless crazy feats in its time. In 1917, Thomas Hans Orde-Lees jumped from the bridge with a parachute to prove his importance to the British Military.
25. In 1968, an RAF pilot named Alan Pollock broke direct orders by flying low over the city of London. He took things a step further by flying right under the Tower Bridge walkways. This was the only time a jet plane had been flown under the bridge.
26. On 13 July 2009, motorbike stunt performer, Robbie Maddison jumped the bascules of Tower Bridge on his motorbike. He even performed a daring 360-degree backflip during the stunt.
27. In 2022, Tower Bridge was closed for five hours when a man decided to climb it. The bridge was eventually reopened and the man didn’t face any punishment for his actions.
28. In 2023, “Jackass” star Steve-O was arrested in London for jumping off Tower Bridge. He jumped off the bridge ahead of the filming of the third installment of his comedy show. Incredibly, he climbed to the top of the bridge before jumping into the River Thames.
29. In the past, Tower Bridge has welcomed famous faces from all over the world. However, the British Royal Family is arguably the most famous. Members of the British Royal Family that have visited the bridge include Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II.
30. Politicians from around the world have also visited Tower Bridge. These include Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Winston Churchill. Bill Clinton also famously had to wait on Tower Bridge for 20 minutes when it opened to let a tall ship through.
31. Unsurprisingly, this iconic London landmark can be seen in a variety of popular movies. Some of the most popular movies filmed at Tower Bridge include “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001). “The Mummy Returns” (2001), “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007), “Sherlock Holmes” (2009), and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” (2017).
32. Tower Bridge can also be seen in a range of popular television shows. Some of the shows you might recognize the bridge from include “Doctor Who”, “The Apprentice”, “Sherlock”, and “Top Gear”.