Wednesday, 31 August 2011

It's a London Thing No.44: Old Men & Tower Bridge

It’s a London Thing is our Wednesday series in which we turn the spotlight on a unique aspect of London – perhaps a curious shop, sometimes an eccentric restaurant, a hidden place, book or oddity. The subject matter will be different every week. The running theme, however, will remain constant: you have to come to London to enjoy it. It’s A London Thing.

London’s most famous bridge is undoubtedly Tower Bridge. Indeed Tower Bridge is so famous that many first time visitors (and perhaps even some Londoners) still think that it is called London Bridge. An easy mistake to make, I suppose.

(London Good Deed: If a visitor should approach you asking for directions to London Bridge, don’t just blithely send ‘em off to the plain Jane that links The City with The Borough. Ask them first to describe the bridge in question. Eight times out of ten they’ll be looking for Tower Bridge.)

This is not to do London Bridge a disservice. London Bridge is the best vantage point from which to witness one of the truly great London Things.

Tower Bridge opens around 1000 times a year to allow river traffic to pass underneath on the way upstream. Twenty-four hours notice is required if you are bringing your vessel through this famous London gateway. And watching it open is most certainly A London Thing. But there’s more.

Standing on London Bridge watching the people who are watching Tower Bridge raise its famous bascule mechanism is an event in itself. Everyone stops to watch, women, men, boys, girls. And they all enjoy the spectacle.

But keep a particular eye on gentlemen of, ‘ow you say, a certain age.

They’re not just making the decision to stop: they are compelled to do so. Some atavistic impulse has rooted them to the spot; something lost deep in childhood, something about the noble calling of engineering, something about Empire, about a Golden Age. There’s a misty eyed feeling about them as they watch. And there’s a singular joy in watching someone glory in a simple pleasure.

Watching Blameless Middle-Aged/Older/Old Men As They Watch Tower Bridge Open. It’s a London Thing.


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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