Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Crossings of the River Thames (28) - Tower Bridge
Okay, this is the big one. When I first started my journey all that time ago in West London, this bridge was the target. London's most famous icon, recognised throughout the world, and the last bridge on my travels through London, this is Tower Bridge!
Where do I begin. Well, a potted history is in order. Opened in 1894, this crossing represents a combination is ingenuity and brilliant engineering. Tower Bridge was built at the time when London itself was the busiest port in the world. And the Thames was one giant dockyard. London needed a bridge that would cater to the expanding populations of the East End but at the same time would not impede river traffic. The growth of the metropolis was astounding, but such is the draw of money. That legacy is still with us Londoners today, as we inhabit the EU's biggest city with the Thames flowing through it. The trade has shifted from the water towards the air and the virtual, but as a result of this historic capacity, Tower Bridge remains the most easterly place in London to walk over the river.
So yes, this is London's only raising bascule bridge over the River Thames, a spectacular feat of engineering that still today can bring the city to a standstill. Yes, despite the reduction in river traffic, it opens a hundred times a year, with river traffic having priority over road traffic and has famously left some world leaders behind.
Tower Bridge is also the only crossing point to have a whole museum installed inside of it. Having visited it almost ten years ago, I think a revisit will be in order in the not-too-distant future of the absolutely fantastic Tower Bridge Exhibition. Pricey, yes, it is. Fantastic, absolutely! Informative, yes, and entertaining, very!
Tower Bridge is pretty, some say in a gaudy way, but screw them. I absolutely love the Victorian sense of kitsch in trying to match the nearby Tower of London. All that stone cladding is a fallacy however. None of it actually supports the bridge. For beneath the decoration, Tower Bridge is steel and concrete. It is the only way it could support itself and raise the roadways. However, never underestimate the prettiness of the structure.
Tower Bridge also marks one of the slowest ways to cross the Thames by car. A rigorous system of cameras means that 20mph is strictly enforced along with a 17ton weight limit. This actually makes it quite civilised for the thousands of tourists and pedestrians that use the bridge on foot. Tower Bridge also marks the eastern end of the Congestion Charge Zone (with Vauxhall marking the western boundary).
Tower Bridge also marks one very last boundary, the end of Central London. Yes, from Vauxhall Bridge right through, this tour of London's waterside has taken in the most famous landmarks of the city. Right through its great pulsating heart I have travelled, seeing the sights and sounds of this famed capital. But now my crossings will take in the suburbs of London again. However, from here I am venturing to a very different part of London, towards the east. THese suburbs are very different in tone from the greenery of the western half of the city. The East End was very much shaped by the river, the industry that wrought thorugh its heart and is today a vital part of London itself. This final phase of London's river crossings may not match the grandeur of West London. But it will take in a part of the city, rich in heritage. And it is a journey that is very much subterranean.
Tower Bridge is London's last bridge. That is it! Now we are in a world of tunnels and ferries. We are heading on a journey that will fascinate as well as titillate. And as a finale to this series of River Crossing along the Thames I cannot wait!
Getting there and away:
Tower Bridge is served by three separate stations. Tower Hill (District/Circle), Tower Gateway (DLR) and Fenchurch Street (Mainline Terminus) all on the northern side of the river. Also on this side of the Thames, bus routes 15, N15 and N550 serve the bridge. Bus routes 42, 78 and RV1 cross the bridge while 47, 343, 381, N47, N343 and N381 serve the southbank.