Day 3, Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Nearby the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge, so we headed there next. The bridge was built between 1886 and 1894, and is a bascule (otherwise known as a drawbridge) and suspension bridge.
The bridge was built for both pedestrian and vehicle traffic. However, there is a twist! The bridge was built with pedestrian walkways up above too so people could still cross the bridge when it was open to allow ships to pass through. Talk about a view!
Unfortunately, you had to climb several stories to get to the top walkway and most people didn’t want such a workout just to cross a bridge. According to some sources, the upper walkway became a place frequented by prostitutes and pickpockets. As a result, the upper pedestrian walkway was closed in 1910. The official story is that the upper walkways were not used because pedestrians preferred to wait at the bottom and watch the bridge open when ships came through. Perhaps they preferred to wait at the bottom because of all the prostitution on the upper walkway!
In the 1980s the upper walkway was reopened and now you can visit. When we were there, the elevator was broken, so we still had to climb all those stairs – 206 steps! On a very hot day… With no air conditioning… Wow – it was a good workout…
The exhibit explains how the bridge was constructed, with divers wearing those old fashioned bell helmets submerging to build the underwater portions of the bridge. These workers were very well paid! It also shows some of the more than 50 designs that were submitted for the bridge before the existing design was chosen. Additionally, the exhibit shows other bridges around the world and the way that they are designed.
The real draw (ha ha – no pun intended!) of the paid experience is the glass floor that allows visitors to see down to the bridge and the water below. It is a very interesting experience! I was a little bit nervous about standing on the glass at first, but I was brave! Once I got over my fear, it was pretty amazing.
Your admission also gets you into the original engine rooms; the bridge was once lifted with steam power, 20 – 30 times per day! It took a crew of 80 people to keep the engines operating. In 1976, the operation of the bridge was converted to electricity, and now the bridge is only lifted approximately three times per day. It is pretty incredible to imagine what went into making this bridge operate!
I enjoyed our visit to Tower Bridge, and the view of The Shard nearby. We were going there next!
Costs: Tower Bridge – 9.80 pounds (free with London pass)