Days Out: Tower Bridge walks
Sunday 11 June 2006
One of London's great landmarks, Tower Bridge was completed in 1894. Built of 11,000 tons of steel and two million rivets, its stone facade is only for show. Its original designer, Sir Horace Jones, wanted red brick. It was his partner, John Wolfe Barry (son of the architect of the Houses of Parliament), who took over after his death and gave it its present look. The arms of the bridge, known as bascules (French for see-saw), are raised for shipping hundreds of times a year. Two high walkways, open to paying visitor, have marvellous views.
Outside, stand with one foot on each bascule and watch the boats go by below. Up on the walkway, have a £1 coin ready for the talking telescope. Pick out Jacob's Island, Dickens's model for Fagin's lair. In the Engine Rooms, there are a number of low-tech interactives (shortly to be made more high-tech) demonstrating the science and workings of the bascules, as well as the biggest spanners you ever saw. To time your visit for a bridge lift go to towerbridge.org.uk (020-7940 3984).
Two short videos about the history and building of the bridge are a 140ft lift ride up the north tower, where a couple of models of alternative designs demonstrate the wisdom of the bridge-commissioning panel. On the walkways, little windows can be opened in order to take glass-free photos, and information panels identify key buildings ranging from St Paul's to the Gherkin. A section on how the bridge works is a useful introduction to the Victorian engine rooms below, in which you can see the two large steam engines that lifted the bridge until electrification in the 1970s.
A café is due to open at the bridge next year. For now, there are plenty of eateries in the area.
The tour is accessible to those in wheelchairs and a motorised wheelchair can be borrowed. Hearing loop.
Open daily (except 24 and 25 December) 10am-6.30pm (April to September), 9.30am-6pm (October to March). Adults £5.50, child 5-15 £3, concessions £4.25.
How to get there
Tower Bridge, London SE1 2UP (020-7403 3761; towerbridge.org.uk).
By Tube: Tower Hill (District and Circle lines).
By train: Fenchurch Street, Tower Gateway DLR.
By bus: 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1.
By boat: from Westminster Pier, Waterloo or Embankment to Tower or St Katharine's Pier.
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