ABOARD THE VIKING SKY – Other people plan for it. They check the schedule, arrive in plenty of time and find a prime location for a good view.
They have their cameras aimed and ready. They try to leave nothing to chance. I, however, saw it all by sheer luck.
Strolling along the River Thames, I saw the mighty structure open to allow a tall ship to pass through. Watchers oohed and aahed in appreciation.
In truth, the Tower Bridge is a mighty impressive structure even when it is not opening and closing.
This is the London bridge that people visualize when they think of the famed attraction. It has been one of London’s most spectacular sights for more than a century and is possibly the most famous bridge in the world.
It is also the one, some folks believe, that an American had in mind when he offered to buy the London Bridge. Instead, he ended up with the one up the river — an older bridge and a nice bridge but not THE London bridge.
Just remember — there is the Tower Bridge completed in 1894 and the London Bridge completed in the 1830s. Tower Bridge still spans the River Thames. London Bridge is now in Arizona.
London Bridge finds a home in Arizona
London Bridge survived a terrorist attack in 1884 and bombing from Germans in both world wars. But it could not withstand the forces of nature.
That old nursery rhyme about “London Bridge is falling down” was true. London Bridge was sinking into the River Thames’ clay bottom.
In 1968, the city of London decided to sell its bridge for $2.6 million to Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City in Arizona. McCulloch wanted a bridge to connect the city to an island in the lake.
Tour guides like to say that the American believed he was buying Tower Bridge but there is no evidence to support that tale. Instead, photos show McCulloch standing on London Bridge before it was dismantled and transported to the United States.
It took three years to carefully take down, transport and reconstruct the landmark bridge. It also took more than $7 million to rebuilt it in Lake Havasu City. London Bridge was officially dedicated at its new American home on Oct. 10, 1971.
Tower Bridge a beloved British landmark
But London still has its Tower Bridge which has become an important British landmark.
Of course, the bridge serves a very important function, along with being a lovely sight.
Back in 1876, it was decided that the River Thames needed a new bridge. London Bridge was fine but it was the only practical means of crossing the Thames. With London experiencing a population boom, horse-drawn carriages could queue up for hours at busy commuting times.
The design of the new bridge was open for public competition. But the requirements were quite demanding for the era. The bridge had to be able to accommodate ships masts of up to 140 feet, while providing a gentle access up which a horse could pull a carriage.
The winners were John Wolfe Barry and Sir Horace Jones. However, Jones died and much of the design we see today can be attributed to his assistant, George Daniel Stevenson. It was Stevenson who changed it from red brick to a stone-cladded building.
Ten workers lost their lives in the building process. On June 30, 1894, Tower Bridge was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales.
It was a flamboyant Victorian masterpiece of its time. Tower Bridge measures 800 feet between its two towers. Its pinnacled towers and linking catwalk support the mechanism for raising the roadway when big ships have to pass through or for special and historic occasions.
When raised, the bridge is 135 feet high and 200 feet wide. In its heyday, it was opened hundreds of times a month. Now it often raises several times a day and I was fortunate to see it.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch