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A Guided Tour of Tower Bridge

with Dinner at Cantina del Ponte

16th May 2017

Members and their guests were blessed with a fine evening and spring sunshine as they gathered for a tour of Tower Bridge.


Our most engaging and knowledgeable guide provided each of us with very efficient audio earphones before we ascended by lift to the top of the North Tower. It was explained that in the second half of the 19th century there was a requirement for a new river crossing downstream of London Bridge. A traditional fixed bridge at street level could not be built as it would cut off access by sailing ships to the port facilities in the Pool of London between London Bridge and the Tower of London.


From many submissions the design chosen, under the direction of architects Horace Jones, John Wolfe Barry and George D Stevenson, was a combined bascule and suspension bridge. It was built between 1886 and 1894. Five major contractors were involved employing 432 construction workers.


To support the towers two massive piers containing over 70,000 tons of concrete were sunk into the river bed before over 11,000 tons of riveted steel provided the framework which in turn was clad in Victorian Gothic style with Cornish granite and Portland stone. The cost was £1,184,000 equivalent today of £122 million!!


The East and West walkways provide magnificent views over London and include a glass floor section which we were assured was strong enough to support an elephant and two taxis!


The towers are 65 metres high, the length of the bridge 240 metres and the central span 61 metres. The two bascules, which weigh over 1000 tons each, can be raised to an angle of 86 degrees. The original raising mechanism was powered by pressurised water stored in several hydraulic accumulators pumped by two twin-tandem stationary steam engines. This arrangement was replaced in 1974 by the introduction of a electro-hydraulic drive system.


The bascules are raised about 1000 times a year and 24 hours’ advance notice is required. (opening times are recorded on the bridge’s website).


On descending the South Tower, we strolled along the ‘Walk of Fame’ noting the plaque to the

Master's Great Grandfather, Alfred Wheatley, who was a bridge stonemason (see the final photo below). Below pavement level we viewed the original steam engine rooms, now kept in an immaculate and pristine condition.


To conclude the evening a most convivial supper was enjoyed at the river fronted restaurant Cantina

Del Ponte.


                                                      Ian Kelly

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