ADVERTISER 150: A gun solute in 1894 for opening Tower Bridge, the marvel of the age
PUBLISHED: 19:00 25 November 2016 | UPDATED: 00:30 27 November 2016
ADVERTISER 150: We continue our nightly celebration of the East London Advertiser’s 150th anniversary looking at some of the big stories of the day, like the opening of the iconic Tower Bridge by the Prince of Wales on 1894, London’s gateway on the Thames, a symbol of British imperial power in the last decade of the 19th century...
1894: The iconic Tower Bridge is completed on June 30, an example of Victorian engineering wonder, as the East London Advertiser reports the official opening by the Prince of Wales.
Cannon at the Tower of London are fired in salute and crowds of tens-of-thousands cheer Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) who sets the hydraulic steam-driven machinery in motion to raise the two giant bascules.
Civil engineer Sir John Wolff-Barry has completed the eight-year construction project, based on a neo-Gothic design approved by Queen Victoria herself. He covers the steel-frame structures of the two towers above the bascule counterweight chambers in a Gothic-style brickwork to make a unique ‘gateway to London’ approach to the capital of the world’s biggest empire.
The Wolff-Barrys are at the centre of London’s Victorian grandeur, on a par with Brunel and Bazalgette. His father Charles is already famous by 1859 for rebuilding the Houses of Parliament, installing Big Ben and laying out Trafalgar Square.
Sir John himself had already completed the Inner Circle Railway a decade before his Tower Bridge masterpiece, widening and straightening many thoroughfares around Aldgate and Tower Hill at the northern approach to the bridge that is soon to take shape and eventually be London’s most iconic landmark.
It takes 432 construction workers to build the massive steel skeleton frame, clad it in Gothic stone and install the 1,200-ton bascule counterweights that lift the bridge to let shipping through.
But the project is not without the headlines of the day, as 10 workers had lost their lives during construction.
Before Tower Bridge, a-million Londoners a day have had to use the heavily-congested London Bridge to cross the Thames.
Once in use, Tower Bridge opens 6,160 times in its first year to allow shipping through.
The high-level walkways which let pedestrians cross when the bridge is lifted proves unpopular and is eventually closed to the public by 1910—most prefer waiting at street level for a ship to pass through so they can watch the giant bascules rise.
There is also the risk of suicides from the high walkways which concerns the City of London Corporation.
Tower Bridge often hits the headlines over the years. Most notable is 1911 when a small biplane has to fly under the high walkway above the carriageway between the two Gothic towers to avoid hitting the bridge.
A daring double-decker bus leap makes the news in 1952, when traffic lights fail to turn red as a No 78 to Shoreditch approaches from the south side with the bridge already starting to open.
The driver makes a snap decision and revs the engine into folk history by leaping his big red bus across the 3ft gap that is opening and getting wider. He manages to land the double-decker safely on the other side of the gap with no injury to any of his passengers, and is later awarded £10 from the public purse for his bravery.
Tower Bridge is at the heart of the nation for 122 years. It miraculously withstands the Blitz unscathed, a symbol of Britain’s stand against Hitler in the Second World War, while the Luftwaffe’s nightly air-raids bomb and set ablaze the London Docks on either side.
More recently, it is decorated for both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Thames flotilla in 2012 and the London Olympics that same year, Britain’s best-known icon around in the world.