Tower Bridge at 120: Ten museums, galleries and artists telling the tale of the landmark

By Ben Miller | 30 June 2014

On the 120th birthday of Tower Bridge, here are ten places to find out more about the icon

Click on the picture to launch the gallery

The Tower of London Children’s Beach transported more than 1,500 tons of sand

Having formed a small beach on the River Thames, the Tower Beach, which opened in July 1934, attracted hundreds of thousands of bathers despite being restricted to minimal opening hours by the tide.

Made inaccessible during the Second World War, it closed due to the pollution of the Thames in 1971. Find out more from the Museum of London and see an impressionistic view of the Bridge from 1909 and a view from more than 50 years ago.

Courtesy Tower Bridge Exhibition
The original invite to the opening of Tower Bridge
Artists have always wanted to get closer to the Bridge

Jim Page-Roberts, who began documenting the Bridge in a series of photos during the 1940s and ultimately produced myriad views of barges on the river, bought a warehouse on the Thames to help achieve his aims.

Page-Roberts is one of the artists featured in the Guildhall Art Gallery’s Bridge-based exhibition this September, from Victorian martime painter WL Wyllie and the wartime imagery of Charles Pears to the modernity of Frank Brangwyn’s working river and a special commission from Ecuadorian New Expressionist Mentor Chico.

You can still Swim the Thames

In a dip which will halt the trading route for an hour, aqua-obsessed adventure-artist Amy Sharrocks will inspire 100 people to take to the Pool of London beneath Tower Bridge.

Sharrock positions the river as port, sewer and lifeblood of the city in a rare opportunity for her squad of swimmers.

The original lifting material lived in a set of Victorian Engine Rooms

There are three exhibitions being held on the walkways and in the Victorian Engine Rooms of the Tower Bridge Exhibition.

The highest view stands 42 metres above the river, and entry has been reduced to £1.20 on the anniversary, when visitors will receive tickets replicating the design of the original 1894 opening ceremony.

Courtesy Tower Bridge Exhibition
The Bascule Chamber Interior
The Old London Bridge was demolished in 1832

Henry II commissioned the old London Bridge, which would become full of houses and shops, in 1176, but never saw the completion of a project which lasted 33 years.

The first stone crossing over London, over the centuries it was affected by London’s great fires and at the centre of tax pinches in order to fund its repairs.

See a 17th century Dutch view from the V&A and visit The London Bridge Museum and Educational Trust.

There were doubts over the bridge’s design

Launching a competition for a bridge to be built to the east of the tower in 1876, the Corporation of London settled on one by its architect, Sir Horace Jones, to be engineered by John Wolfe-Barry in 1884.

Jones’s idea would consist of two bascules which could be raised. To allay fears that the modern bridge wouldn’t suit the Tower of London, a neo-Gothic façade was created. Find out more from the National Maritime Museum.

You can make your own Bridge for a fiver

The Imperial War Museum sells a sturdy 36-piece buildable miniature version of the Bridge. Elsewhere, try seeing it by night in 1940, looking across the Bridge and through car lamps.

The Bridge has long been a sightseeing icon

There’s a Dali-esque feel to James Marsh’s depiction of the bridge under a swirling ecosystem and watchful warden at dusk, made in 1986.

It’s one of several held by the London Transport Museum, joining a series of pictorial posters first produced by London Underground and London Transport in 1908.

The Museum of London Docklands has a vast amount of bridge-related art

Not usually known so well for its hefty art collection, the museum’s comprehensive new show includes plenty of canvasses in a 120th birthday display for the bridge. See a gallery of images.

Austrian expressionist Oskar Kokoschka took on the bridge in crayon

Doll-destroying Kokoschka fled Austria in 1934 and became a British citizen for 32 years from 1946. During that time, in 1967, he produced three energetic visualisations of the Bridge, given to Tate by his widow in 1990.

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