Grumpy Bugger Logo

  Grumpy Bugger

    A look at life from another perspective.
    Or, pull the other one mate, I ain't buying it!
  Home   •   Contact   •   Archives   •    








Date: 05 January 2015

Today's Topic: Old photos of Tower Bridge construction across the Thames

Triggers: An email from a friend

My Grump: We don't celebrate enough what makes this country GREAT

An amazing find: Never before seen photos of the construction of Tower Bridge, London, and another example of the ingenuity and quality of the engineers and builders of their day. We are very used to seeing photos of the workers bolting beams during construction of the Empire State Building in the late 20's, early 30's, but these rare photos show the steel construction of the Tower Bridge some 40 years earlier.

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Never seen before: The pictures of London 's Tower Bridge were found in a skip and then wrapped up in brown paper and put in a carrier bag under a bed. The unique pictures, dating back to 1892, document the construction the iconic bridge, which at the time was a landmark feat of engineering nicknamed “The Wonder Bridge”.

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Remarkable find: The discarded pictures, which were retrieved by a caretaker, who was looking after a building being turned into flats in 2006, have spent the last five years in a carrier bag underneath his bed. The 59-year-old, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that after the occupants of the Westminster office building moved out, the album and a number of documents were thrown into a skip outside. He said, “I took the ledgers to the Tower Bridge Museum because I thought they might have some historical value.” The prints reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital's most popular tourist attractions and how it was put together.

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

A view of the bridge: The sturdy steel frame of Tower Bridge can be seen, before it was covered with its distinctive stone-cladding on the orders of architect John Wolfe-Barry. They included records of the materials and used in the bridge's construction and what they cost. I told the man at the museum that I had also found some photos but he told me they already had plenty of those. I didn't know what to do with them so I wrapped them in some brown paper and put them in a bag under the bed. It wasn't until earlier this month, when the owner of the photos mentioned them to his neighbour, City of Westminster tour guide Peter Berthoud that the significance of the find fully emerged. Mr Berthoud, an expert in the history of London who gives guided tours around famous landmarks including Tower Bridge , said he was gobsmacked by the haul.

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Stripped down: The photographs show how the bridge was put together over eight years, revealing why it was nicknamed at the time the 'Wonder Bridge'. Mr Berthoud said: 'My favourite pictures of the simple, humble guys building the bridge, unaware that what they are making will be so historic. People are so used to seeing images of the Empire State Building being built, but this is part of British history being created 50 years earlier.’

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Unique: Many of the 50 sepia prints are in good condition, despite dating back to 1892. Several are even dated, making it possible to trace the progress in construction. Although many of the century-old pictures are in a state of disrepair, around 20 are in good condition. Many of the 12 by 10 snaps are dated and clearly show how the bridge was put together over a space of eight years. Memorable scenes include turn-of-the-century labourers taking orders from a site foreman in a bowler hat, and a shot of the bridge's original steam-powered engine room, which could open the bridge in less than a minute. In one poignant picture flags decorate the body of the bridge and a hand-written pencil note reads: ‘Note, flags denote Mr Hunter's wedding day.

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Development: Photos show the progress in the construction process, from basic structures to something easily recognisable as Tower Bridge as we know it today

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Discovery: Peter Berthoud was gobsmacked when his neighbour showed him the haul of photos. He spent hours going through books to find something similar, only to discover they are totally unique

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Transformation: The bridge took eight years to build and at the time was a landmark feat of engineering, combining elements of a suspension and high level bridge and a bascule. It combines elements of a suspension bridge, a high level bridge and a bascule which allows it to open for ships to pass. Nothing had ever been made like it before, and nothing since. People are always surprised when I tell them Tower Bridge is a steel bridge, as the stone cladding is so recognisable. According to the tour guide, the bridge's original architect, Horace Jones, wanted to clad the bridge in brick, however, following his death he was succeeded as architect by John Wolfe-Barry who decreed the bridge should be clad in stone.

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Sepia to silver screen: The incomplete Tower Bridge features in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes battles with his adversary Lord Henry Blackwood. And contrary to popular misconception, the images reveal the bridge is a sturdy steel frame beneath the instantly recognisable stone-cladding. Mr Berthoud said: 'When my neighbour gave me a disk with the images on I just couldn't believe it. I spent hours going through my books to see if these pictures were already around, but I couldn't see them anywhere - they are totally unique. Quite simply London Bridge is the world's most iconic bridge, and it's the only bridge over the Thames which has never needed to be replaced at some point.'

Tower Bridge Construction from the 1890's

Landmark: Tower Bridge remains one of the capital's most iconic structures and a tourist attraction today, 125 years after building started (built 1886–1894)

To the copyright holder of these images. It is not my intention to abuse your rights over these images. I am only putting them here to celebrate the fabulous engineering skills of our ancestors. If you would really like me to remove them, please let me know through the email address below, or tell me how you would like me to credit your ownership, which I will gladly do. If you are happy for them to remain, then I thank you, most sincerely, for your generosity in this matter.

Please share your thoughts below, thank you.



Home   Email: