Sword from the armoury of Tipu Sultan (1750-99)


Colossal marble foot

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North Greenwich

Guy's Hospital Chapel

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The Life Guards


Barons Court

The clipper ships and great tea races

William Hogarth (1697-1764), Gin Lane

Head from a statue of the Buddha

Southwark Bridge (part two)

Tufnell Park

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Not everyone welcomed the royal opening of the bridge. A number of anarchists were arrested for inciting others to murder any members of the royal family who attended the opening. The day before the big day, they were on Tower Hill, carrying placards with sentiments such as: ‘Fellow workers, you have expended Life Energy and Skill in Building this Bridge ... now come the Royal Vermin and Rascally Politicians with Pomp and Ceremony to claim all the credi ...' Others enjoyed the new bridge rather too much, and after the opening there was a spate of incidents in which people jumped off the bridge, either for a wager or simply for the hell of it. One well-planned stunt went seriously wrong in November. Benjamin Fuller, a professional diver who claimed to have jumped from all the other bridges in London, disguised himself with a wig and false moustache and managed to get through a trapdoor on to the roof of one of the walkways. From there he dived into the Thames but drowned because of the strong tide.

Tower bridge (part five)

The Opening of Tower Bridge on 30 June 1894 by William Lionel Wylie.

The bridge was opened to pedestrians on the Monday, when 141,000 people took the opportunity to inspect it at close quarters, and the following weekend the numbers were even greater. Vehicles were first allowed on to the bridge two days later, and within a month the bridge was carrying a third as many vehicles as had been using London Bridge before the new bridge was opened, giving users of the older bridge at least some temporary relief. During its first year, up to eight thousand vehicles and sixty thousand pedestrians crossed the bridge daily.

Building the new approaches involved a considerable amount of demolition, and bodies had to be exhumed from a burial ground in the Tower to make way for the northern approaches, which were ready on time. On the south side the Corporation built the new roadway as far as Tooley Street, but the construction of a new link to the New and Old Kent Roads was the responsibility of the London County Council, which had taken on the duties of the MBW in 1889. Unfortunately, work on this section of the approaches had not even been begun by the time the bridge opened, so that southbound traffic still had to negotiate a maze of narrow, winding streets. The delay was caused by the LCC's attempt to get Parliament to agree to a 'betterment' scheme, in which property owners would be charged for the increased value to their property after the improvements.

The City was legally required to provide a tug to help ships navigate the bridge during and after its construction. In early 1896 it proposed discontinuing the service, but, after much opposition, the proposal was dropped, and the tug continued to operate until after the Second World War. Stables were also provided, so that horses would be on hand to help horse-drawn vehicles across the bridge and so alleviate congestion. This service operated until the 1930s. In the days before the advent of the internal combustion engine, every time the bridge was opened horse droppings would roll down the slope of the rising road, and two men, armed with shovels, were employed to keep it clear by disposing of the droppings through the small doors which can still be seen on the outer walls of the towers.

When it opened, the bridge required a staff of eighty to operate it, including the Bridgemaster, his deputy, a Resident Engineer, fifty-seven men to operate the machinery, eight constables and a maintenance team of carpenters, plumbers and blacksmiths. The Bridgemaster and Engineer originally lived in flats in the abutment towers (there is still a sign on the southern abutment that reads 'Bridgemaster's Dining Room').Today the bridge still needs thirteen people to maintain it, and about sixty people work on the bridge in various capacities.

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