The Tower Bridge Part 3: The Inner Workings

Tower Bridge Engine Room 1My favorite part by far of visiting the Tower Bridge was venturing into the engine rooms below street level. The green and black coal-powered hydraulic engines reminded me of a giant mechanical grasshopper ready to spring, and made the whole exhibition worth the admission fee. One of the biggest surprises for me during Steam Tour was how colorful some of these old engines are! If you are a fan of engines and haven’t seem my post about the London Museum of Water and Steam don’t forget to take a look.

How it works: “When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed (“bascule” comes from the French for “see-saw”). These bascules were operated by hydraulics, using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators, as soon as power was required to lift the Bridge, it was always readily available. The accumulators fed the driving engines, which drove the bascules up and down. Despite the complexity of the system, the bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees.” From the Tower Bridge website.

For more information and pictures from my visit to the Tower Bridge, check out Parts 1 and 2.


  1. I recently found a tremendously powerful steam exhibit here in my own hometown of Birmingham Alabama, USA. This is a steel town. There is an iron furnace in the center of the city. Iron is a major component of steel production. The facility is Sloss Furnace. This is a blast furnace. ‘Blast’ has to do with forcing super-heated air into the base of the furnace to achieve higher temperatures. Built in the 1880’s, it was steam power that turned the turbines that produced the blast, or what they refered to as, ‘the wind’. Massive ovens boiled the water to raise the steam that turned these monster turbines. A tremendous hall with eight giant steam turbines produce the wind. These engines are approximately, [guessing} sixty feet tall. This may be one of the largest steam-powered plants in history, and it still stands. It was in operation from 1888 to 1971. It ran on steam until the early fifties, when two, extremely powerful electric turbines were intstalled. It is a historic landmark now, but is slowly decaying. I have visited it many times, as the admission is free, and find it endlessly fascinating.


  2. Dang it! I can’t find any images of the steam turbines! This hall of giant engines is refered to as ‘the blowing engine room’. I found some pictures of the electric motors, but not the steam. 😦


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