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How Edwardian cook used Tower Bridge as giant ‘musical instrument’ to make her plants grow

PUBLISHED: 20:46 15 June 2020 | UPDATED: 20:46 15 June 2020

Hannah Griggs... hired in 1911 to be Tower Bridge master's family cook. Picture: Tower Bridge Exhibition

Hannah Griggs... hired in 1911 to be Tower Bridge master's family cook. Picture: Tower Bridge Exhibition

Tower Bridge Exhibition

The Edwardian world of Hannah Griggs has gone online this week about the real-life story of the first woman ever to get a job on Tower Bridge more than 100 years ago.

How Hannah Griggs may have imagined Tower Bridge awash with flora. Picture: Tower Bridge ExhibitionHow Hannah Griggs may have imagined Tower Bridge awash with flora. Picture: Tower Bridge Exhibition

Hannah was a passionate gardener, but actually hired as a cook to the Bridge Master and his family.

Her story came to life by chance when one of the present-day staff overheard Susan Belcher telling friends on a visit to Tower Bridge how her grandmother became the Cook-in-Service back in 1911.

The exhibition manager who was planning for the 125th anniversary of London’s iconic landmark immediately got in touch with Susan.

Hannah depicted in Di Mainstone's film 'playing' Tower Bridge to help her plants flourish. Picture: Tower Bridge ExhibitionHannah depicted in Di Mainstone's film 'playing' Tower Bridge to help her plants flourish. Picture: Tower Bridge Exhibition

Hannah’s story was used as part of his Making the Bridge Sing exhibition which is now online for the first time, having been staged in the old Victorian engine rooms from January to March.

It includes a film by sound artist Di Mainstone that imagines Hannah experimenting by “playing” different parts of the bridge with invented instruments to help her plants flourish, as she goes about her work as the cook.

“It was inspiring to meet Hannah’s descendants,” Di said when her exhibition first opened. “I was determined to bring her personal history to life in such a wonderful location.”

Bascule chamber for giant counterweights when Tower Bridge spans are lifted... but at this moment it's a Docklands Synfonia concert. Picture: Steve StillsBascule chamber for giant counterweights when Tower Bridge spans are lifted... but at this moment it's a Docklands Synfonia concert. Picture: Steve Stills

Her film has Hannah as maestro plucking the suspension cables or “strings” of the bridge like a giant instrument.

But it’s more about climate change, using the bascule counterweight mechanism that lifts the bridge span “as a metaphor for harmony and our delicate ecosystem”, turning the Victorian structure into a giant musical instrument and inviting anyone to “play” it.


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