Tower Bridge reveals its construction secrets and the brave Victorian diver who dug its riverbed foundations
- Credit: Metropolitan Archives
The story of the brave Victorian diver who risked life and limb to help dig the vast foundations that anchor the 70,000-ton iconic Tower Bridge to the Thames riverbed is to be unveiled at a new heritage exhibition.
Historic research has uncovered archive footage of the bridge under construction in the 1890s which is being put onto the permanent show opening next month with vintage photographs of the workers.
The “human history” exhibition unveils the bravery of Friend Samuel Penney, head of the team of divers who risked their lives to build London’s most famous structure.
It celebrates the unsung engineering heroes who made the world’s biggest bascule bridge in its day and the fascinating story from its drawing board conception in 1886, the grand royal opening by the Prince of Wales in 1894 and through to the present day.
Visitors can try on a real-life Victorian diver’s helmet and “meet the architects and workers” who have kept Tower Bridge running for the past 124 years.
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There is the hair-raising episode of the London bus-driver who managed to hurl his 78 double-decker safely over the widening gap in 1952 when the huge bascule bridge suddenly began opening.
Another story is the exceptionally unlucky merchant ship Monte Urquiola, colliding into the bridge three times over the course of a decade.
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The exhibition is the second phase of a three-year plan following the redevelopment of the original steam engine rooms in 2017 that powered the lifting mechanism until replaced by electric power in 1976.
Exhibition manager Dirk Bennett said: “We’re uncovering stories from the history of the Bridge.
“It’s a celebration of our cultural heritage, uniting the past and present with the special place Tower Bridge holds in the historical fabric London.”
The permanent Tower Bridge exhibition opens to the public on July 27, It explores the extraordinary engineering feats achieved during construction, detailing the technical accomplishment of sinking the vast steel foundations into the riverbed.
Original objects from the lifespan of the Bridge are included alongside the rare images recorded by the Victorian photographers.