Last weekend I was lucky enough to be asked to ‘open’ Tower Bridge – that is, to perform what is known as a bridge lift. Ian Visits has also written about what a surprisingly exciting experience this is and I thoroughly agree – I was on a real high afterwards.
I’d had this idea that opening the bridge would involve pressing only one button, but no, numerous buttons and a lever were involved. The buttons operate functions such as the traffic lights, the pedestrian gates and generally getting the bridge ready to be opened. The lever is surprisingly small and looks suspiciously like one you might find on a 1980s games console. You actually have to hold this lever down until the bridge fully opens, then hold it up for it to close. Such a small lever with such power!
The more high-tech computer pictured below was also involved, changing screens to track the progress of the bridge lift:
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I took a real pleasure in holding up both pedestrians and traffic. You can see them all queuing up here:
Bridge lifts are booked in advance by writing (though email is also acceptable these days) for boats whose height means the bridge must be opened to allow them through. They can take place at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, and are free of charge. I was happy that the two boats I was opening the bridge for were lovely multi-masted, vintage sailing yachts, SB Will and SB Kitty. You can see them approaching from the East below:
Many thanks to the City of London and Chris Earlie for organising my lift, and Bridge Driver Peter Brown in the cabin for his patient instructions and friendly conversation. Although you may not get a chance to open Tower Bridge yourself, you can always visit Tower Bridge and its incredibly scenic walkways. I also highly recommend their Behind-the-Scenes Tour, which normally runs several times a year between October and March, on which you will get to visit an old control cabin and descend into the bascule chambers that lie below the Thames.
Finally, here is the lovely certificate I received to commemorate my bridge lift: