50 sepia photos were discarded.
"Stripped down as you've never seen her: Pictures of Tower Bridge during construction found dumped in a skip "
November 29th, 2011
The discarded pictures, which were retrieved by a caretaker who was looking after a building being turned into flats in 2006, have spent the last five years in a carrier bag underneath his bed.
The 59-year-old, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that after the occupants of the Westminster office building moved out, the album and a number of documents were thrown into a skip outside.
He said: ‘I took the ledgers to the Tower Bridge Museum because I thought they might have some historical value. They included records of the materials and used in the bridge's construction and what they cost. I told the man at the museum that I had also found some photos but he told me they already had plenty of those. I didn't know what to do with them so I wrapped them in some brown paper and put them in a bag under the bed.’ It wasn't until earlier this month, when the owner of the photos mentioned them to his neighbour, City of Westminster tour guide Peter Berthoud that the significance of the find fully emerged.
Mr Berthoud, an expert in the history of London who gives guided tours around famous landmarks including Tower Bridge, said he was gobsmacked by the haul.
And contrary to popular misconception, the images reveal the bridge is a sturdy steel frame beneath the instantly recognisable stone-cladding.
Mr Berthoud said: ‘When my neighbour gave me a disk with the images on I just couldn't believe it. I spent hours going through my books to see if these pictures were already around, but I couldn't see them anywhere - they are totally unique. Quite simply London Bridge is the world's most iconic bridge, and it's the only bridge over the Thames which has never needed to be replaced at some point. It combines elements of a suspension bridge, a high level bridge and a bascule which allows it to open for ships to pass. Nothing had ever been made like it before, and nothing since. People are always surprised when I tell them Tower Bridge is a steel bridge, as the stone cladding is so recognisable.’
According to the tour guide, the bridge's original architect, Horace Jones, wanted to clad the bridge in brick, however, following his death he was succeeded as architect by John Wolfe-Barry who decreed the bridge should be clad in stone.
Although many of the century-old pictures are in a state of disrepair, around 20 are in good condition.
Many of the 12 by 10 snaps are dated and clearly show how the bridge was put together over a space of eight years.
Memorable scenes include turn-of-the-century labourers taking orders from a site foreman in a bowler hat, and a shot if the bridge's original steam-powered engine room, which could open the bridge in less than a minute.
In one poignant picture flags decorate the body of the bridge and a hand-written pencil note reads: ‘Note, flags denote Mr Hunter's wedding day’.
Mr Berthoud said: ‘My favourite pictures of the simple, humble guys building the bridge, unaware that what they are making will be so historic. People are so used to seeing images of the Empire State Building being built, but this is part of British history being created 50 years earlier.’
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