This year Tower Bridge celebrates its 120th birthday, and to fully appreciate it, we spent an afternoon enjoying the Tower Bridge Exhibition, its wonderful walkways in the sky, the engine room, and watching films and animations.
There’s no bridge in the world as instantly recognisable as London’s Tower Bridge. This Victorian Gothic masterpiece of 70,000 tonnes of concrete clad in elegant Portland stone is both aesthetically pleasing and perfectly functional. It supports heavy traffic over the River Thames as well as allowing tall ships, ferries and cruise liners through the waterway by simply raising its bascules.
As you approach the bridge from the south of the river walking past its most famous neighbour- the Tower of London, you can see that it was designed to blend well with the historic architecture of the ancient fortress.
You can purchase tickets for Tower Bridge online in advance, or at the exhibition entrance; a family ticket costs £18 for two adults and two children. Or for a couple of pounds more you can purchase a combined ticket that includes the Monument- the world’s largest single column which marks the spot where the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666. Although the combined ticket represents good value for money, being designed in 1677 by Sir Christopher Wren, the only way up is to climb 311 steps to the viewing platform, which is not advisable with young children.
Walking up the original wooden staircases and peering out through the small windows on the way, we arrived at a seated area where we were shown a short film about the history of this brilliant piece of nineteenth century British engineering and design.
From here visitors move on upwards to the East and the West walkways in the sky connecting the tops of the two towers. These are now used as galleries, the East side has an exhibition of the ‘Great Bridges of the World’ which makes you pause and reflect on the complexities of bridge design, as well as appreciate the sense of national pride in these structures. Our children identified some of the bridges they’ve traversed, including; the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Firth of Forth Bridge in Edinburgh, and the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
From the walkways there are unobstructed views of the River Thames flowing below, flanked either side by a distinctive skyline that includes St Paul’s, the Monument and the Shard.
The West Walkway has a new exhibition of the 1950s children’s picture book, This is London, illustrated by Miroslav Sasek. I was particularly pleased to see this exhibition because my father presented me with this book when I was a little girl. I remember spending ages looking through London’s greatest landmarks. Although London life and culture has changed tremendously in the fifty years since the book was first published, these landmarks still top the tourist destinations list today. This book reminds me of why I love this city so much, and that’s why I would like to share one copy with a reader in my latest give away (details at the end of this post).
The next part of the tour is the Engine Room in the base of the tower. Down here you can see the lovingly painted Victorian hydraulic system of well oiled pumps, pistons and pulleys.
You can talk to duty engineers who are happy to answer your kids questions about the curious mechanisms that power the bascules.
And there are some great oversized spanners and pliers to look out for.
Following on in the Engineer’s Gallery there’s an interesting time lapse animation of the workings of the bridge.
On your way out there’s a small gift shop with an assortment of goodies to remind you of your visit. They also have copies of Miroslav Sasek’s book This is London. We have one to give away, courtesy of Tower Bridge Exhibition; for your chance to win, just tell us what your favourite London landmark is, or you can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or retweet the competition, or all 4. Good luck!
February Half Term 2014 ‘ Design a bridge competition’ for kids: Tower Bridge is celebrating its birthday and during this half term they’re launching a ‘Design a Bridge’ Competition for Kids. This new national competition for 6 to 14 year olds, invites young artists, designers and engineers to draw their very own version of the iconic bridge. The overall winner will see their masterpiece transformed into an amazing ‘real-life’ 3D model for public display in Tower Bridge Exhibition, seen by 2,000 daily visitors! Entry forms and full terms & conditions can be downloaded from the Tower Bridge website (www.towerbridge.org.uk), the competition closes on 14th March.