Comedian Jay Foreman takes a look at the surprisingly recent history of Tower Bridge in a spanning installment of his “Unfinished London” series.
Last time we talked about London Bridge. But this time, let’s talk about…Tower Bridge. In the 19th century, London became the biggest city on the planet. Its population skyrocketed from 1 million in 1800 to 5 million in 1890. To accommodate the growth on both sides of the river Thames, the number of bridges shot up too from 3 to 14.
Foreman goes on to explain that before Tower Bridge was built, several pioneering developers attempted to build a tunnel under the River Thames. While they were able to cut through the slog underneath the river, the tunnels were eventually turned into subways.
As the famous saying goes, when you can’t build a bridge, build a tunnel, stupid.
The city of London eventually put out a call to the public to design a bridge to address road and water traffic. Architect Sir Horace Jones was put in charge of the contest and eventually chose his own design as the winner. Construction began after Parliament passed The Tower Bridge Act in 1885. While the contest in itself was suspect, Jones’ Tower Bridge perfectly matched both the needs of traffic while acknowledging the history of the neighborhood.
Despite its ultra modern engineering, the new bridge was designed to look a thousand years older than it really was so that it would forever fit in sensitively with the surrounding architecture. Matching the Gothic style of its next door neighbour the Tower of London which is how the bridge got its name, Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge opened in 1894 and the public fell in love with it immediately.