London's River & Bridges Part 7 – Tower Bridge to Queen Elizabeth II Bridge

Having passed under London Bridge the River then flows towards Tower Bridge passing on the south bank the battle cruiser HMS Belfast on the north bank the Tower of London. HMS Belfast is now permanently moored near to Tower Bridge as a museum and was opened to the public on 21 October 1971, which was Trafalgar Day (commemorating the victory og Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805). The ship saw active service in the second world war and was decommissioned from the navy in 1963.

The Tower of London is amongst the most significant buildings not just in London or Britain, but in the world. It is a World Heritage Site. From its earliest structural beginnings by its founder William I of England better known as William the Conqueror 1066-87, the Great Tower or White Tower as it later came to be called was fast becoming the most talked-about building in England. The White Tower was also the most awe inspiring, and frightening structure to the Anglo-Saxon people who were trying to get used to the rule of their new Norman king, the destroyer of their own ruler, Harold II, at the in 1066. Within three months of his victory William the Conqueror had begun to build a castle on the north bank of the river Thames in London. However, the tower as a whole is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. The tower's primary function was a fortress, a royal palace, and a prison. It has also served as a place of execution and torture, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, the Royal Mint, a public records office, an observatory, and since 1303, the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

Tower Bridge is the last bridge in London, although the only other bridge before the sea is the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford, which is just outside London. In the mid 19th century because of increased traffic into the docks in London (now gone), the need arose for a further bridge downstream of London Bridge. However A traditional fixed bridge could not be built because it would cut off access to the port facilities between London Bridge and the Tower of London. A competition was held and of 50 designs submitted, the competition was won by Horace Jones. The bridge is a bascule and suspension bridge, which means that the roadway is split in the middle to allow the two halves (bascules) to rise and allow tall ships to pass by. The two bascules were raised by two steam engines at the base of the bridge, one for each bascule. These have now been replaced by electric motors although the original steam system is still retained and on show as part of the visitor exhibition. There is a high level walkway between the two towers which give wonderful views of London and the River.

Just downstream from the bridge on the north bank of the River is St Catherine Dock. For over a thousand years the site of St Katharine Docks has been a focus of commerce and human endeavour. From King Edgar's bequest in the 10th century throughout the turbulent middle ages and Elizabethan times, to the founding of the dock we can see today, St Katharine's has played an important part in the life of London. From being a busy port with extensive warehousing facilities the dock in now a pleasant mix of marina, restaurants, residential and commercial in a water setting.

Further downstream the River takes a long sweep to create an isthmus called the Isle of Dogs. This was once the centre of the enormous London docks complex, but has now been redeveloped into what is known as Canary Wharf, with some of London's tallest commercial developments.

Opposite the Isle of dogs on the south bank of the River is Greenwich. Greenwich is best known for it maritime history and as giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian (0 ° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time. It is now a World Heritage Site. The maritime connections of Greenwich were celebrated in the 20th century, with the sitting of the Cutty Sark (an tea clipper form the 19th century) and Gipsy Moth IV (the yacht that was used by Sir Francis Chichester – the first man to sail solo around the world in 1967) next to the river front, and the National Maritime Museum in the former buildings of the Royal Hospital School. The National Maritime Museum includes the Royal Observatory and the Queens House and the Old Royal Naval College the full splendour of which can be seen from the River.

Just beyond the Isle of Dogs, the River flows past a large promontory on which sits one of the most controversial buildings in Britain – the Millennium Dome. A large fibre glass structure that was erected to commemorate the arrival of the second millennium. The structure caused lots of problems both on construction and the facilities provided. After the millennium celebrations the structure fell into disrepair and was subsequently sold at a knock down price and re-emerged as one of Country's leading events venues and is now known as the O2.

As the River flows further towards the sea, just north of Woolwich there is the Thames Barrier. This is a flood control structure on the River which was constructed between 1974 and 1982 at Woolwich Reach. It is the world's second largest movable flood barrier. Its purpose is to prevent London from being flooded by an exceptionally high tide moving up from the sea, often exacerbated by a storm surge. It only needs to be raised for the duration of the high tide, at ebb tide it can be lowered to release upstream water that backs up behind it.

Beyond the Thames Barrier the River continues its progress passing a number of the outskirts of East London boroughs until it arrives a Dartmouth which is just outside the boundary limits of London, where under the river is a dual tunnel – the Dartmouth Tunnel and over the river is the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. This is a 137 metre high cable-stayed bridge.

Our journey along the river is contained in the following parts:

Part 1 Introduction
Part 2 Hampton Court Bridge to Richmond Bridge
Part 3 Richmond Bridge to Battersea Bridge
Part 4 Albert Bridge to Lambeth Bridge
Part 5 Westminster Bridge to Hungerford Bridge
Part 6 Waterloo Bridge to London Bridge
Part 7 London Bridge to Queen Elizabeth II Bridge