REG ________________________________







It’s a world-famous symbol of London and has long deserved a book to celebrate it. Now along come two.

The more substantial is a lavishly illustrated Tower Bridge by architectural historian Kenneth Powell published by Thames and Hudson.

From its early conception the dilemma facing city planners was for a bridge which met the demands of river and road traffic but was not too architecturally jarring with the neighbouring Tower of London.

A new crossing was needed in the late 19th century because with no way across the Thames below London Bridge there was severe road congestion getting from one bank to the other..

Despite opposition from watermen – the river’s taxi drivers - once it was decided a bridge was needed many designs were put forward in attempt to solve a dilemma – how to bridge the river while still allowing passage for ships in the thriving Pool of London.

Among the solutions: tunnels, high-level bridges, floating bridges, bridges with a lock-like layout in the middle allowing ships and traffic to pass and cross simultaneously. There was even a retractable bridge that ‘rolled’ across the water on bridge supports.

In the end the design we know today was selected – stone-encasing a steel frame. The cost : £1.1 million.

Appropriately for the combination of engineering achievement and architectural design the two men responsible for designing the bridge were engineer John Wolfe Barry and City of London architect Horace Jones.

So busy was the river that the bridge had to be built without interrupting shipping traffic.

The design and construction are explained with a fascinating selection of historic photographs from the city archives and some ink and watercolour plans and artists’ impressions of the new structure, some only rediscovered in the 1970s.

At the royal opening in 1894 it was greeted with amazement by the 3,000-strong crowd which gathered on the day especially when the bridge was opened for the first time.

In its first year it opened 6,000 times an average of 17 times a day. In the same year 8,000 vehicles and 60,000 pedestrians crossed in a typical day.

Since then it has frequently been in the news like the day a bus was crossing as the bridge was being lifted so the driver had to accelerate across the gap.

And the day the entourage of the then US President Bill Clinton was stopped for a bridge lift. River traffic has priority – even over a president.

Always popular with tourists and constantly photographed, in 1982 it opened up to visitors. They can now tour the interior of the structure and see its workings – the machinery which lifts and lowers the bridge bascules was originally steam-driven but has been powered by electricity since the 1970s.

Since it opening in Victoria’s reign it has featured in books, films, been in numerous television programmes and pictured on millions of postcards. Before the practice was banned dare-devil pilots flew aircraft through it.

A fine addition to books about the Thames – a tribute to one of London’s wonders with a superb selection of pictures and clear explanations of its construction and working.

(Tower Bridge: History, Engineering, Design by Kenneth Powell published by Thames & Hudson. £24.95).

The book’s illustrations and those of the second book from the same publisher show Tower Bridge at its photogenic best.

In its Pocket Photo Book series this features photographs by Harry Cory Wright with an introductory interview with the bridge’s technical officer Glen Ellis.

Aptly described as “an experience of the awe-inspiring structure of Tower bridge [is pictured] in exquisite detail from the machinery to the intricate machinery of its engine rooms to the cathedral like chambers for the bascules” as they are lifted.

(Tower Bridge. Thames & Hudson Pocket Photo Book. Thames and Hudson. £12.95)