How Tower Bridge Almost Looked

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 8 months ago
How Tower Bridge Almost Looked

Tower Bridge is iconic, a symbol of London. But it in an alternate timeline, it might have looked rather different.

Back in the late 19th century, budding designers entered an open competition to design a new bridge on the eastern edge of the city. The designs range from the intriguing to the farcical.

Alternative Horace Jones design. Courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives

The winning design came from Horace Jones, who'd spent the Victorian period designing some of London's most famous markets: Smithfield, Billingsgate and Leadenhall.

He submitted more than one design for consideration, as evidenced by this arched offering above. Its design is similar to the eventual winner, in that the bridge opens up from the bascules lifting in the middle.

Frederic Barnett's design. Courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives

Another designer who tackled the challenge was Frederic Barnett. This bridge came from a place of impatience, understanding that road traffic would not be best pleased waiting for the ships to cross. How little things change, eh?

To keep traffic happy, Barnett came up with a patented duplex bridge. The road traffic part of the bridge could rotate to allow ships through it. The ingenious — or overly-complex — part of the design was the duplication; the bridge had two rotating units so one road remained open.

F. J. Palmer's design.

The next design is another that tries to deal with the impossibility of allowing ships to pass through while maintaining road traffic momentum. It comes from F. J. Palmer, and involved locking ships in a loop of road. We're not quite sure if this could've worked, but it's a creative idea. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed.

Joseph Bazalgette's design.

Famed civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette threw his hat into the ring, with this not very interesting design. That might sound harsh, but there's no flair to this one, just let's make it tall and throw in lots of steel. Ok, it does include a few nods to the nearby medieval Tower of London, but it still isn't doing it for us. We'd even take the duplex bridge over this snoozefest. Stick to the sewers Joe.

Tower Bridge clad in glass from W.F.C. Holden.

Here's a bonus one for hardcore Tower Bridge fans. Not an entry for the bridge, but an ammendment to the one we know and love today. W.F.C. Holden feared for the bridge during the second world war, as bombs fell across the city.

He had a solution that would keep the bridge safe. Encase it in glass. Not quite sure if this guy knew how glass worked...

The river before Tower Bridge. Courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives

Instead of that mixture of intrigue we got the iconic bridge we all know and love today. One whose image takes pride of place on postcards sent across the world, and is memorialised in the Underground's Barman moquette.

Here's how it looked midway through construction:

Tower Bridge partway through construction. Courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives

Tragically Horace Jones died before Tower Bridge's completion. At least he isn't turning in his grave with the thought of it encased in glass.

Take a look at what happened when we got to open up Tower Bridge:

With thanks to London Metropolitan Archives for use of documents from their collections. You can find out more about visiting LMA here and also search Collage: LMA’s online picture archive.

Last Updated 13 December 2017