Opening of the Tower Bridge (model), Tower Bridge Museum

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Tower Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world and surely the best-known bridge in London. It stands in the City, close to the Tower of London that gave it its name. It is bascule and suspension bridge.

In the second half on the nineteenth century there was a need of new bridge that would not cut off access to the London port. The competition was opened in 1876 and in 1884 Horace Jones’ design was finally chosen. Jones’ engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry designed a bascule bridge with two towers built on piers. Construction started in 1886 and Tower Bridge was opened on 30 June 1894 by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark.

As far as its technical parameters are concerned, the bridge is 244 metres (800 feet) long, divided into three spans. The central span, 61 metres (200 feet) long, is divided into two equal bascules. They can be raised to an angle of 83 degrees in five minutes, in spite of the fact they weigh, 1,000 tons each. The two side-spans are suspension bridges, each 82 metres (270 feet) long. Each of the towers is 65 metres (213 feet) high. The clearance below the bridge (for the river traffic) is 8.6 metres when it is closed and 42.5 metres when opened. The pedestrian walkways are 44 metres (143 feet) above the river at high tide.

The original raising mechanism was powered by pressurized water stored in six hydraulic accumulators. This system was replaced in 1974 by a new electro-hydraulic drive system. Some of the original hydraulic machinery has been retained for the bridge’s museum in the old engine rooms on the south side of the bridge. A computer system was installed in 2000 to control the raising and lowering of the bascules remotely.

There are not many incidents connected with Tower Bridge, however, one of them was remembered. At 21:35 on 30 December 1952, a crowded double-decker London bus jumped over the gap when the bridge started to open while it was halfway across.

Tower Bridge is still busy nowadays. It is crossed by over 40,000 people (motorists and pedestrians) every day. The bascules are raised around 1000 times a year. River traffic is not as busy as it used to be, but it still takes priority over road traffic. Today, 24 hours' notice is required before opening the bridge.
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