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Tower Bridge APRIL 2016

A London Icon

Tower Bridge is a London icon. Instantly recognisable and utterly steeped in history, there are few who have been to London without pausing to look at it. On a clear day, it seems to glow. On a foggy one, it looms up from the bleak Thames waters like a great castle. And yet it isn’t a pretty, neglected relic: it remains an integral part of London life, ferrying cars across the water, whilst also allowing river traffic to make its way west along the Thames. It is true that it has changed: there are no longer stables beneath its belly, and it doesn’t open with such regularity – the Thames, after all, no longer serves as the lifeblood of London and the docks are not the thrumming bundles of activity they once were. 

But it still stands, a monument to British innovation; its purpose has changed but it is no less significant. It was built in the 1880s; a feat of engineering second to none, in a city that served as the beating industrial heart of a worldwide Empire. The design was chosen by public competition, and combined the most up-to-date technology with the aesthetics of a bygone age. The steam hydraulics and bascules were set against two imposing Gothic towers, designed to blend in with the nearby Tower of London. 

The bridge was opened on Saturday 30 June 1894 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. Summer sun illuminated the waters of the Thames; boats and barges and wherries, all brilliantly decorated, crowded in for a closer look; and the Prince himself triggered the hydraulics, declaring it open. The Tower guns thundered, trumpets sang out in delight and spectators roared their approval. 

Since then, Tower Bridge has survived two world wars; been witness to jumping buses and soaring airplanes; and watched London’s economy shift from industrial to financial and service-based. The old steam hydraulics were replaced by a far more efficient electrical model; the Victorian machinery is now a valuable museum piece, showcasing past innovation. Tower Bridge has been renovated, repainted and even been lit up for the Olympics – glowing gold every time Team GB brought home a gold medal (if you’ll forgive the smugness, it did glow gold an awful lot in the summer of 2012).

Tower Bridge is more than a landmark: it is a living, breathing chunk of London history. Scala’s new guidebook showcases its glorious past and exciting future, coupling archive images and fresh new photography with engaging, entertaining text.