Everyone knows one of the most iconic buildings to be seen in London: The Tower Bridge. The Olympic Rings had been suspended between its two towers and its raising platforms have fascinated generations. Have you seen it? Stupid question, you might think, pictures are all over the internet. But have you seen the working bridge? Because what you see is not what you get.
Tower Bridge is a three part bridge. Two suspension bridge parts connect the Thames river banks North and South with the two piers holding the towers. The part connecting the two towers is a bascule bridge with two platforms that can be elevated to let river traffic pass. The two towers are connected by a walkway at the top to give them stability.
That said, what is the big secret? The suspension bridge parts are not the issue, there you see what you get. But the two iconic towers built by the Victorian architects involved in the project are nothing else but window dressing. To say it succinctly, all that stone is just a stage prop. The real working bridge is hidden inside two huge follies. The working bridge is pure metal designed to withstand the changing pressures and tensions of a bridge designed with moving platforms.
To get a look at what makes this beautiful bridge tick, you'll have to go to the Tower Bridge Exhibition. The exhibition will get you inside the towers, all over the walkways on top, and down into the belly of the beast where the hydraulic machinery is on display that raised and lowered the bascule parts. Entrance to the exhibition is gained through the North tower and will cost you £8 for an adult (and keep your eyes open for boys and girls handing out leaflets, they usually have discount vouchers to give away).
The towers house film arenas that explain the history and the working of the bridge. The walkway holds an exhibition of other bridge designs that were proposed; these sketches alone are worth taking time out to see them. Designs submitted ranged from the weird to the mad. Guided tours will take you through it all and explain the machinery behind the wonder. Do it! I had a lot of fun there.
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