Thursday 3 July 2008

Tower Bridge: a quick guide

It's one of London's most famous landmarks and one of my favourite places. I still get excited every time I cross it in the 78 bus! (Thankfully we've never had to jump the gap). Here are five things everyone should know about Tower Bridge:
  1. It might look mediaeval, but the bridge was built in 1894.
  2. The bridge is steel; it's covered in stone cladding to blend in with the Tower of London.
  3. It is a bascule bridge (ie it lifts open to allow ships through). Call 020 7940 3984 to find out when it's due to be lifted.
  4. Even when it used steam engines, the bridge took only about a minute to open.
  5. You can walk across, either at road level or (if you go to the Tower Bridge Exhibition) via the high-level walkways.
And five less well-known facts:
  1. The high-level walkways were closed in 1910 because they were little-used by the general public but more popular with suicides and prostitutes.
  2. Contrary to popular myth, Robert McCulloch didn't think he was getting Tower Bridge when he bought the old London Bridge and shipped it to Arizona.
  3. Freemen of the City of London no longer have the right to herd sheep across the bridge, since there are no livestock markets left in the City. (Nonetheless, Freeman Jef Smith herded his sheep across in 1999).
  4. About 40,000 people cross the bridge every day.
  5. River traffic takes priority over road traffic, but boats have to book an opening 24 hours in advance.

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