Tower Bridge Engineering Tour

Control cabin

Control cabin

I announced at the start of the year that the Londonphile would be one of the lucky participants on a Tower Bridge behind-the-scenes Engineering Tour. Well just last Sunday was my day to enter the belly of the beast that is London’s prettiest bridge and, as promised, here are some pictures from the big day. Although the tour started and finished like a standard Tower Bridge visit (up on the walkways and down in the engine rooms), we had our own guide and gained access into off-limits areas, where a Senior Technical Officer was subjected to much grilling about the bridge’s mechanics.

It turns out that Tower Bridge is also a fine spot for a bit of photography, especially if your tastes run to taking pictures of industrial/Victorian settings. I took plenty of pictures on the day, but will focus on ones from the restricted areas in this post. If you’d like to see the whole set you can find them on the Londonphile’s Flickr stream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelondonphile/sets/72157629529321039/

The old steam hydraulic machinery

The old hydraulic machinery - powered by steam.

Accumulator

The image at the very top of this post was taken in the first of the off-limits areas we visited: the south east Control Cabin (no longer in use), where the levers for lifting the bridge were once activated. These days it’s all done at the touch of a button. Next stop was the machinery rooms, where the old steam hydraulic machinery (pictured above) sits literally side by side with the modern oil and electric hydraulic machinery now used to lift the bridge. A frighteningly high staircase then took us past one of the accumulators (pictured right), where the steam used to lift the bascules would collect until it was required for use.

Next was the highlight of the tour: we visited one of the huge bascule chambers underneath the river bed – where the counterweights that balance the bridge swing down when the bascules are opened. We first viewed it from above through a doorway from the machinery room, before descending into the chamber itself. It is truly massive in size  – so large it’s hard to capture it in the one photograph. It’s also a little awe inspiring – truly an amazing feat of Victorian engineering – though not surprisingly also a little cold and damp.

Bascule chamber - viewed from above.

In the year Tower Bridge first opened – 1894 – there were 6,160 bridge lifts. Traffic on the Thames has reduced dramatically since then, and although the promotional material still states that there are around 900 lifts a year, the Senior Technical Officer advised us that more recently that figure is closer to 700. All bridge lifts require 24 hours written notice, and the timetable of when lifts will occur can be found on the Tower Bridge website. The bridge has had a fresh paint job to pretty itself up for this year’s Diamond Jubilee. One Tower Bridge fact which you may not be aware of is that its metalwork was originally painted in a chocolate brown colour – and was re-painted red, white and blue to mark the Silver Jubilee back in 1977. You can see examples of the original brown colour – as used on internal metalwork – in the first two photos in the Flickr set.

Competition for tickets for the Engineering Tours was fierce – as predicted – and they are now sold out. You can put your name down on a waiting list for any future tours by contacting 020 7407 9191. Alternatively, you can always view the walkways and engine rooms by attending the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which is open daily.

Tower Bridge website

The Londonphile’s Tower Bridge Flickr set

In the machinery room.

In the machinery room.

Aldwych tube tour

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Every so often the London Transport Museum opens up the ‘non-operational’ Aldwych Underground Station for guided tours. And at the risk of sounding like a train-spotter of the first order, I was lucky enough to get tickets for the latest round of these, held over the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December.

Aldwych station, first opened in 1907 and originally known as ‘Strand’, finally closed to the general public in 1994 – though it’s hard to believe it was so recent given the state of its interior and the 1970s posters still adorning the walls. Other than transporting people from A to B, it’s other major claim to fame was as a bomb shelter in World War One and World War Two. What it also sheltered from the bombs was paintings from the National Gallery (WWI) and objects from the British Museum and the V&A (WWII). The Elgin/Parthenon Marbles spent some years languishing behind the door in the picture below (and note the tiling ‘practice’ on the right hand side).

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The station also features in a number of films (V for Vendetta, Atonement and James Bond’s Die Another Day), and is currently used for training purposes by emergency services. The tour takes in both platforms, and ladies you should leave the heels at home for this one as sensible shoes are required in case of a serious evacuation – which would involve walking down the tunnel to Holborn station. It’s a fascinating way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon and is again the sort of event that I hope to advise people of beforehand in the future! You can keep an eye out for yourself on the Transport Museum’s page below, but be quick when tickets do go on sale next time as they sell out extremely quickly.

www.ltmuseum.org

ICA’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ re-enactment

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One interesting thing about living in a city like London is the opportunity to get involved in quirky little one-off events. This is exactly what I got to do last weekend when I joined in the Institute of Contemporary Art’s (ICA) re-enactment of the Odessa Steps scene from Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin. That’s me in the top right of the picture above, in the dusty pink jacket, and isn’t it great that in my first appearance in my own blog I am playing dead!

This flash-mob style event was held as part of ICA’s fundraising day held on 26 November. Luminaries such as Tracey Emin (yes, she did chase me down the steps dressed as a cossack) and Andrew Logan joined in with us mere mortals to raise money and create a new version of the old classic scene. You can watch our creation at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLFr6YbcQfA&feature=channel_video_title

ICA are planning to hold further re-enactments in 2012, so keep an eye on their website for more details. This is also the kind of event that I plan to promote beforehand now that the Londonphile is up and running, so keep an eye out here too.

http://www.ica.org.uk/

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