AFTER three years of grit-blasting, paint analysis, abseiling engineers, scaffolding, cradles and polyethylene wraps, the most famous bridge in the world has been restored to all its majestic glory – and the raising of the Bridge is back!
The major restoration of Tower Bridge, which only takes place every 25 years, was completed at the end of March and with the polyethylene wraps removed from the freshly painted bascules, the bridge is now back in full operational mode and open to shipping. The first vessel to pass through will be the MV Dixie Queen at 5.30pm on Saturday 2 April.
“As custodians of one of the world’s most iconic and much-loved structures, it is a privilege to be trusted with the responsibility of ensuring it is preserved for future generations to enjoy,” said Tower Bridge Bridge Master Eric Sutherns MBE.
“As Tower Bridge is both a very busy London thoroughfare and a tourist attraction that’s open 363 days of the year, the works had to be phased to have minimum impact on the public which is why it took three years to complete. It’s fantastic to see the Bridge finally divested of all wraps, scaffolding and cradles and standing proud in pristine condition again.”
Beginning in March 2008, the scope of the essential works was to strip away the old layers of paint and repaint all the steelwork. The Tower Bridge Exhibition remained open throughout the process but the impressive spectacle of the raising of the immense bascules had to be suspended from November 2010 to allow the contractors to carry out the work.
Tower Bridge was the creation of architect Sir Horace Jones and civil engineer Sir John Wolfe-Barry. It took eight years to complete and was officially opened on 30 June 1894 by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). It was originally painted a greenish-blue colour and was a chocolate brown before adopting its present colours of blue, white and red for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1976.
The £4 million cost of the works has been funded by Bridge House Estates, an ancient City trust that dates back to 1097 when medieval monks founded a charity that charged Londoners a toll for crossing London Bridge. The primary purpose of this trust was, and still is, to maintain all five City bridges (London, Tower, Southwark, Blackfriars and Millennium Bridge) at no cost to the taxpayer. The trust is now worth £700million and continues to give grants totalling millions every year to charities in Greater London.
22,000 litres of paint forming six layers of primers and top coats were used in the state-of-the-art high performance coating system and around 1,500 tonnes of abrasive material were used to blast away the old paint and reveal the original metal framework underneath.
When the repainting began in 2008, paint specialist Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints was brought in to establish how the Bridge was painted when it was erected in 1894. By taking samples of paint from all over the Bridge he was able to analyse the many layers laid down over the life of the Bridge and record the decorative history before the evidence was lost. The process revealed more than just layers of old paint – by removing all the coats of paint from over the past 116 years it was clear to see how the Clean Air Act of 1956 improved the quality of London’s atmosphere – no more soot between layers!
Since the restoration project began it has been recorded and documented in a dedicated website by Harris Digital Productions, see www.thetowerbridge.info for a comprehensive record of images and procedures used.