This was a recording project done on several days in 2013 to record different aspects of Tower Bridge being raised. Thanks to the help and kind permission of Tower Bridge's staff, I was able to get access to places where the public aren't normally allowed to go. The bridge must share joint first position with Big Ben as London's most widely recognised landmark. The lifting of the bridge is also a local event of some significance too, since all traffic has to be stopped for the duration and tourists jostle to get good views and photos as the road sections rise up. For these reasons it seemed like a good idea to record different aspects of a bridge lift but I didn't know what to expect. Fortunately, there are hundreds of liftings a year, so it wasn't long before I found out.
The graphics version of this page has a drawing of Tower Bridge with five audio players in boxes arranged around the outside. A line from each box extends to a point in the drawing to show where the recording was made. The five locations are: the Old Engine Room, the Bascule Chamber, the Machine Room, the South Bays, and the North Tower.
Tower Bridge Old Engine Room. Description: Tower Bridge was originally raised by steam power. Two of the old stationary steam engines which did the work have been kept in working order, although they're now driven by compressed air. They're on the south side of the bridge and the public can visit them. The engines sigh, puff and groan as they slowly turn. Duration: 1:59.
Tower Bridge Bascule Chamber. Description: The bascule chamber is one of two large hidden vaults where the road section's counterweight sinks as the bridge is raised. It's built of brick and has a quarter-circle cross-section some 15-20m across. The recording had to be made remotely for safety reasons. It's one of the best recordings I've ever made due mainly to being in the right place at the right time, as is usually the case. Duration: 6:54.
Tower Bridge North Tower. Description: The bridge's staff took me to a vantage point high up on the North Tower to record what happens during a lifting. It was a windy day and you can hear the clattering from a nearby flagpole, a helicopter flying low overhead, and a ship passing below. Duration: 5:41.
Tower Bridge South Bays. Description: The bays are railed-in balconies below the road sections on each side of the bridge. They're used for maintenance work only and, for safety reasons, I had to set up the microphone and then retreat inside as the bridge was lifted. I was told by the head engineer that workers in the past found the sight of the bridge suddenly lifting over their heads so disorienting that sometimes they'd lost their balance and fallen over. You can hear the river only a few feet below the recording point and the ship passing through. A siren sounds as the road sections are lowered. Duration: 6:14.
Tower Bridge Machine Room. Description: Powerful electric motors now lift the road sections, although their work is made easier by counterweights. I like the humming and droning sounds they make before they cut out abruptly just before the very end. Duration: 5:39.
The London Sound Survey 2015. A Creative Commons Licence applies to all site content except where stated otherwise.