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Tower bridge (part seven)
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The most famous incident on the bridge occurred in 1952, when the bascules began to open before a number 78 bus had managed to cross. The bus dropped about 3 feet from the north bascule, which had started rising too soon, on to the south bascule, injuring ten people, including the driver. The City Corporation accepted responsibility for the error, and the driver was awarded, £10 by London Transport.

During its history, Tower Bridge has rarely failed to operate. One occasion was during the heatwave of 1968, when it was unable to close properly as metal locks had expanded in the heat. Firemen had to spray the locks with water and the bridge was temporarily closed to traffic. More embarrassingly, in 2005 the bridge jammed in the upright position after letting a ship through, because of a computer failure, which took ten hours to correct, causing serious traffic problems.


Tower bridge (part seven)

An early morning view of Tower Bridge and the Pool of London.



The bridge has occasionally been hit by ships, and one of the most dramatic incidents occurred in 2004, when a three-masted training ship tried to sail through, its master believing that it had been arranged for the bridge to open, which was not the case. The pilot attempted to contact the bridge, but when he realised the bridge was not going to open, he tried to turn the ship around, hitting the south pier, and it had to be pulled clear by a tug. Fortunately no one on the ship was injured and no serious damage was caused to the bridge.

The hydraulics were replaced by electricity in 1976, but when the change happened it was decided to keep two pumping engines and four of the engines driving the bascules in situ .What was surplus to requirements was sold off. As with the original equipment, the new electrical units supply twice as much power as is strictly necessary. Now only one person is needed to operate the machinery, and it needs far less maintenance, which makes the bridge more economical to run. This also meant that it was now possible to consider opening the bridge as a tourist attraction. The bridge had originally been painted chocolate brown, Queen Victoria's favorite colour, and later a dull grey, but in 1976 it was repainted in blue and white, with touches of red and gold. The whole bridge was refurbished, which included replacing damaged stonework and repairing or replacing damaged windows. Much of the cast-iron decoration that had been taken down during the Second World War was also replaced, but made now of lighter glass-reinforced plastic. This included the giant City coat of arms and the smaller emblems of the Bridge House Estates, which now adorn the upper walkways. New lifts were installed to replace the old hydraulic ones, and the walkways were glassed in. On 30 June 1982, eighty-eight years after it first opened, the bridge was reopened to the public as a museum, named the Tower Bridge Exhibition. Visitors can enjoy the views from the walkways, see the engine rooms and learn about the history of the bridge. To find out more, including when the bridge opens to let ships through, visit the website www.towerbridge.org.uk During the winter, they offer more specialist behind-the-scenes tours, which take in places that cannot normally be visited, including the engines that operate the bascules and the enormous bascule chambers, which alone are worth the visit. These need to be booked in advance.

On the northern approach there is a curiosity noticed by few people. The Tower had agreed to give up part of the Tower Ditch for the bridge approaches, and they were allowed to occupy some of the arches under the approach road. One of them houses a uniform store and a guardroom, and its location is marked by a single cast-iron chimney among the line of cast-iron lamp standards standing on the balustrade.

Being such an important London landmark, Tower Bridge regularly appears in films, but usually as an establishing shot. One film that did rather more than that was the John Wayne film Brannigan, which, imitating the bus incident mentioned above, staged a spectacular chase in which a car jumps over the half-opened bridge.


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