A towering achievement – photos show Tower Bridge being built

News Desk (28 July, 2016)

Incredible images found lying in a skip

11008© London Met Archives

A unique set of photographs depicting the construction of Tower Bridge has been unveiled on a new website by the London Picture Archive.

The new catalogue of sepia pictures (available at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk) date back to 1892, and reveal the incredible ingenuity behind one of Southwark’s most notable landmarks.

The photos depicting Tower Bridge’s construction surfaced in the media in 2011.

But before that they had been discovered lying in a skip in Westminster in 2006. The Daily Telegraph reported in 2011 that a caretaker, aged 59, had found the photo albums and kept them underneath his bed in a carrier bag for a year.

A City of London Tower Bridge tour guide, Peter Berthoud, who realised the significance of the images, said: “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.”

Laurence Ward, Head of digital services, at the London Metropolitan Services the City of London, said his company then bought them from a dealer just over a year ago.

© London Met Archives Tower Bridge

© London Met Archives

© London Met Archives Tower Bridge

© London Met Archives

© London Met Archives Tower Bridge

© London Met Archives

© London Met Archives Tower Bridge

© London Met Archives

Mr Ward said they were taken by the construction companies who built them as works commenced in 1887, and took eight years with five major contractors. The resident engineer for the bridge’s construction was E W Crutwell.

Its foundations were laid by Sir John Jackson, the hydraulics were by Baron Armstrong, with the rest of the assembly taken on by William Webster, Sir H.H. Bartlett, and Sir William Arrol & Amp Co. Together they employed 432 workers. Two massive piers containing over 70,000 tons of concrete were sunk into the riverbed to support the construction.

Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways, then clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone. The total cost of construction was £1,184,000 – the equivalent of £122m in 2015.

The bridge was officially opened on June 30, 1894.

Mr Ward added: “A few people have said to me while we were completing this project that they didn’t realise how recent the bridge was actually built. It’s a very nice story and something that’s very well recorded.”

The prints and photographs available on the Collage website form one section of the world’s largest collection of historical images of the capital, including over 150,000 historical pictures of London streets. The gallery also includes images of the Great Fire of 1666 and compelling photos of Victorian street life. Its oldest sketches and prints date back to 1450.

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