Tower Bridge : Acknowledging Sir William Arrol’s contribution

Tower Bridge in London is considered by many to be the finest bascule bridge in the world, an icon of bridge building. Designed by Horace Jones and John Wolfe Barry, its construction owes much to Sir William Arrol’s innovation and engineering expertise. His company – one of five main contractors – was responsible for the construction of the central steel structure that is hidden from view, but provides the bridge’s core strength. His success in constructing, in steel, the Forth Bridge – another of the world’s iconic bridges – led to the significant commission at Tower Bridge.

Colour photograph of Tower Bridge showing the central towers, bascules and side spans.

Tower Bridge, London

Construction of Tower Bridge took eight years. Arrol’s construction of the bascules, side spans, towers and walkways involved over 11,000 tonnes of steel, each section manufactured at the Dalmarnock Works in Glasgow and shipped to London. The visible stone structure is both protective of the steel core and decorative.

Until the summer of this year, Arrol’s role in the construction of this iconic bridge was lesser known. Through our website, FoSH was contacted by Dirk Bennett, Tower Bridge’s new Exhibition Development Manager, who knew of Sir William’s contribution and wished to make it visible. FoSH was delighted to provide background detail. In July, Sir William Arrol’s portrait was placed alongside those of Horace Jones, John Wolfe Barry and Sir William Armstrong, the hydraulics engineer, in Tower Bridge’s main exhibition hall.

colour photograph showing the 4 portraits on display at Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Portraits in Tower Bridge Exhibition: Sir Horace Jones, Sir William Arrol, Sir William Armstong, Sir John Wolfe Barry. Photograph ©Tower Bridge Exhibition

 

Sadly, the research for the Tower Bridge element of the engineering and construction series that Rob Bell presented for Channel 5’s current series, “Britain’s Greatest Bridges: Discover how six of Britain’s most iconic bridges were designed and constructed”, did not reference Sir William Arrol. Indeed – surprisingly, given the programme title – those responsible for Tower Bridge’s construction were entirely overlooked. Happily, in the previous programme on the Forth Bridge, Rob Bell paid full tribute to Arrol’s innovation and construction prowess.

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Bascule Chamber Concerts Return

Following the success of the Bascule Chambers performances last year, Iain Chambers is returning to the Totally Thames Festival this September with a new programme to be performed  inside the Tower Bridge bascule chambers.

Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch - on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons
Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch – on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons

All the steelwork for Tower Bridge was manufactured by William Arrol & Co. Ltd. in Glasgow and shipped down to London for construction. Bascules are the steel sections of the bridge which lift to allow passage of tall ships underneath. The bascule chambers are massive, brick-lined spaces which house the counterweights that enable the bascules to be raised.

Performances of “Bascule Chambers” are being held on the weekend of the 24th and 25th September. A unique opportunity to admire Arrol’s engineering prowess whilst listening to classic and contemporary music in the atmospheric subterranean chamber.

Further information on the performances can be found on the Totally Thames website.

Further information on bridge tours can be found on the Tower Bridge Exhibition website.

Engineering Music at Tower Bridge

As part of the Totally Thames Festival in September there will be a novel opportunity to see some of Sir William Arrol’s engineering, inside the Tower Bridge bascule chambers, whilst listening to a performance of Iain Chamber’s composition “Bascule Chambers”.

Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch - on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons

Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch – on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons

All the steelwork for Tower Bridge was manufactured by William Arrol & Co. Ltd. in Glasgow and shipped down to London for construction. Bascules are the steel sections of the bridge which lift to allow passage of tall ships underneath. The bascule chambers are massive, brick-lined spaces which house the counterweights that enable the bascules to be raised. Iain Chamber’s composition is based around the sounds made as the bascules are raised, so essentially the bridge becomes the musical instrument and is supported by 4 brass players.  The premiere of the composition will be the first ever public performance inside the chamber.

Sir William Arrol was very fond of music and often held live performances in the large wooden panelled hall at Seafield House. I don’t suppose  that, as he supervised work on Tower Bridge, he ever imagined that the chambers would be used as a venue for a musical performance although he may have commented on the acoustics of the cave-like space.

Performances of “Bascule Chambers” are being held on 26th and 27th September.  Further information can be found on Iain Chamber’s website and the Tower Bridge Exhibition website.

Budding engineers inspired by Arrol bridges at NSEW exhibition

Despite the beautiful weather, members of the public abandoned the sunshine to visit South Ayrshire Council’s National Science and Engineering Week (NSEW) events at Rozelle House in Ayr at the weekend.

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) were there with an exhibition on Sir William Arrol, the bridges he constructed and Seafield House, which became his home at the height of his building career and which FoSH are now campaigning to save.

photograph of a display case containing photographs and books of Sir William Arrol with a scale model of Tower Bridge in the background.

Sir William Arrol exhibition – display case and Meccano model of Tower Bridge

photograph of a display case containing a board with information about Sir William Arrol and in the background another information board and stereoscope with photographs of Arrol bridges.

Sir William Arrol exhibition – Display case, information board and stereoscope with photographs

Display cases with photographs, books and  exhibition boards told the story of Sir William Arrol and his successes in engineering construction, including Tay Bridge, Forth Rail Bridge, Tower Bridge and the Arrol Gantry (used in construction of the Titanic).  Throughout the weekend a short film about the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge was being shown, “The River is Spanned” , courtesy of Harry Birrell, filmmaker, and Scottish Screen Archive.  The film was a prize winner at the Scottish Amateur Film Festival in 1950 and used original still photographs of the bridge being built, including 50’s special effects, to show the work involved at the different stages of spanning the River Forth.  There were also photographs of some of the bridges built by Sir William Arrol which, when seen through the Stereoscope viewer were revealed in their full 3D splendour.

Many thanks go to the Meccano Society of Scotland for their contribution, one of the highlights of the FoSH exhibition. Their meccano models brought life to examples of bridges built by Sir William Arrol: Tower Bridge built 1886-1894; and a transporter bridge similar to Arrol’s Middlesborough Transporter Bridge built 1910-1911.

photograph of a meccano scale model of Tower Bridge

Model of Tower Bridge, built by Bobby Middlemas of the Meccano Society of Scotland

photograph of a meccano scale model of a transporter bridge

Model of Transporter Bridge, built by Alistair Rennie of the Meccano Society of Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The working models were fascinating to watch and demonstrated the engineering principles behind the bridges. With the expert assistance of Alistair Rennie of the Meccano Society of Scotland, some budding engineers had a go at bridge building, helping to construct a meccano model of a bascule bridge similar to the bridge over the White Cart in Renfrew, which was completed by Sir William Arrol & Co Ltd in 1924.

photograph of a boy and girl building sections of a bridge using meccano with help from a meccano expert

Budding engineers building a meccano model of a bascule bridge

Download a copy of the FoSH Exhibition leaflet for National Science and Engineering week.