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Tower bridge (part four)
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The length of the bridge is 940 feet and the central span is 200 feet. The central roadway is 50 feet wide, with the side spans being 60 feet wide.The gradients are much less steep than on most other bridges, and on the north side it is almost level, which was of great benefit to hauliers with heavy loads, and certainly kinder to the horses. Work on the bridge was completed in 1894. On 27 March the two bascules were lowered for the first time, marking the bridge's completion, and they were later tested by having a huge weight placed on the southern one, including traction engines and carts loaded with granite. The bridge was officially opened on Saturday 30 June by the Prince of Wales, who had laid the foundation stone eight years earlier. The opening was a day of great pageantry, with the streets full of people and the Thames full of boats, all helped by the glorious weather. The royal procession, accompanied by an escort of Life Guards, drove from Marlborough House to the Mansion House, where it was met by the Lord Mayor, before continuing to the bridge. The Prince and Princess, accompanied by other members of the royal family, marked the opening of the bridge to land traffic by processing in their carriages across it and back again to a pavilion full of special guests. The Prince then opened the bridge to river traffic by operating a lever with the lid of a loving cup, which was set on a pedestal (the cup, engraved with an image of the bridge, was later presented to him). As the bascules rose there was a fanfare of trumpets, a gun salute from the Tower and a cacophony of steamboat whistles. Twelve decorated steamboats then passed through the bridge, one of them carrying a band playing the National Anthem. The royal party returned to Westminster by steamboat, passing between rows of gaily decorated boats. The colourful scene was captured for posterity in a painting by William Lionel Wylie, now on show at the Guildhall Art Gallery. After the successful event, the Lord Mayor received a baronetcy, but Barry was only made a Companion of the Bath for his efforts; he had to wait until 1897 for his knighthood.


Tower bridge (part four)

Engraving from the Illustrated London News of the work to construct the piers of Tower Bridge.



The great enterprise was considered to be a huge success. In the words of the French writer Alphonse Daudet,'It is the most colossal symbol of what human effort can accomplish'. Whilst generally considered to be a great engineering triumph, not everyone felt it was a great piece of architecture. The architectural treatment of the bridge was much criticised in some quarters, with some saying it was a sham and that its steel skeleton should have been left as it was, like the Forth Railway Bridge, though others suggested that the naked steel framework would have looked ugly in such a prominent location. One would have thought that the adverse views would have mellowed with familiarity, but not so. In 1909 The Times was particularly scathing, saying that ‘it looks like a monstrous Gothic toy that ought to be one of the side-shows of an exhibition', and George Bernard Shaw commented in 1924 that 'engineering bridges are offensive only when they are artistically pretentious, like the Tower Bridge'. As late as 1952 Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, referred to the ‘barren Gothic towers ‘and says of the bridge that ‘The massive structure does much damage to the skyline of the City’. To the general public, however, it has always been a great favourite and has become one of London's most enduring icons, its unique profile appearing on postcards and souvenirs bought in great numbers by visitors to the city.


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