Today is the architect Sir Horace Jones‘s birthday. He was born in 1819 in the City of London. He also trained in the City before opening his practice in Holborn. He was architect and surveyor to the City of London from 1864 until his death in 1887. A Londoner of Note indeed.
Much of Jones’s work has survived both the Blitz and the wrecking ball, notably the Temple Bar memorial along with Billingsgate, Leadenhall and Smithfield Markets. He loved iron and steel. But most sensational of all was Tower Bridge.
In the late 19C, London’s rapid expansion required yet another bridge to link the City to the Surrey side downriver of London Bridge. The difficulty was that this could potentially block the old Customs House and its surrounding wharfs from offloading vital cargo – food and fuel – to supply the city’s massive populus: shipping needed to pass by the bridge. Many wacky and bizarre plans were put forward, along with more practical ones by the great Joseph Bazalgette, Horace Jones, and others. In 1884, Jones’s design was given the nod. It was essentially a drawbridge idea, the key difference being that it was based on a bascule (see-saw) principle rather than chainlift. The power that drives the bascules up and down is provided by hydraulic chambers filled by water pumps, originally steam but electric from 1976.
Jones died only two years after work began on the bridge, but his technical partner, the engineer John Wolfe Barry saw the project through to completion in 1894, when it was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on 30 June. Barry had also been responsible for the mechanism and hydraulics systems for the bascules.
London Historians had a group visit to Tower Bridge last month where we visited the museum and walkways along with the rest of the public, but we were also shown the modern engine room, the old control room, the storage tanks for the hydraulic lift system and, crucially, we went down into one of the bascule chambers. A week or two previous to that, I had the enormous privilege of raising the bascules myself from the modern control room. Here follows some pictures from these visits, but I’ve put a larger set on our Flickr space here.
Tower Bridge Trivia:
- On full lift, the bascules are 77° to the horizontal except when the monarch passes through: 87°.
- Between 1894 and 1976 the bridge had over 300,000 lifts without a failure.
- In 1940, an anti-aircraft gun was removed from the bridge after damaging one of the towers.
- The pedestrian walkways were closed in 1910 due to lack of use.
- In 1968 a disgruntled RAF pilot flew a Hawker Hunter jet through the bridge.
- Raising the bascules for shipping is a free service.
- Shipping always has priority over road traffic (1885 Tower Bridge Act).
- In 1952, London bus driver Albert Gunton famously jumped the gap between the rising bascules after the traffic management system failed. He received a £5 reward.
- John Wayne drove a yellow Ford Capri – simulated – across Tower Bridge in the 1975 movie Brannigan. Clip.
- In 1997 the motorcade carrying Tony Blair and Bill Clinton was split by a bridge lift, leaving the leaders on opposite sides of the crossing. An international incident almost occurred when the bridge team, to prevent making matters worse, refused to stray from the procedure.
On behalf of London Historians as a group and me personally for my lifting the bascule experience, a big thank-you to the City of London who manage Tower Bridge, in particular Chris Earlie, Iain Stanford and Charlie Harrison who are directly involved in the day-to-day running of the bridge, all highly professional, knowledgeable and welcoming.