Tower Bridge’s one-two-five (125th) anniversary is upon us and this post discusses the bridge’s ‘one thro’ five’ – a subject that’s never been written about! What’s that then? Its the furthest Tower Bridge can be seen from central London. Inevitably its a view straight down the the river through five main Thames crossings. The one seen through five other bridges if you like. Thus to see Tower Bridge from central London one has to see past those five other main crossings which are Blackfriars (road & rail), Southwark, Cannon Street and London bridges.
Let it be said at this point the Millenium bridge does not even have any sort of obstruction in terms of views towards Tower bridge, it hasn’t got a huge deck nor large piers in the river at regular intervals its just a blip on the river!
I am sure many would think the furthest sightline towards Tower Bridge would be that from Rotherhithe. It is indeed an important one, being about three quarters of a mile or 1.5 km. However there’s nothing else crossing the river in that stretch so the bridge retains its fullest splendour for almost the entire distance. See here and see here for the point at which Tower Bridge starts to disappear from view at Rotherhithe. Furthermore its not the longest sightline possible.
A fantastic night shot of Tower Bridge from Rotherhithe. Source: Twitter
There are other sightlines that are very long – those from London’s higher ground and hills but these are mainly from the south or south east, and of course there’s good views of Tower Bridge from The Shard, the Walkie Talkie, 20 Fenchurch Street, the Monument, Telecom Tower etc.
This post however is specifically about the landward views along the river but not those seen from a river cruise or the river waterbus.
The longest sightlines along the Thames towards Tower Bridge happen to be from central London. I’m certain that those in their offices at Somerset House or King’s College or similar buildings in that area can get a pretty good view of Tower Bridge because they are much higher up but what about us ordinary mortals who must make do with publicly accessible areas?
The absolute maximum from where one can easily see Tower Bridge with the naked eye (without going to any super elevated point, Kings College whatever) happens to be a point just outside Somerset House! That’s a distance of 1.85 miles (nearly 3km) and more than a mile further than the unobstructed view that can be seen from Rotherhithe!
You might be reading this and think, this is rubbish being that Tower bridge just cannot be seen from that far away because the river is on a bend. The river Thames is indeed on a bend but I assure you Tower bridge can be seen from the point I have just described. There’s also a surprise in a moment…
In terms of sightlines it should not be possible to see Tower bridge from a point by the lower entrance to Somerset House because if one draws a straight line from here to Tower Bridge the landward side of the river is in the way. But Tower Bridge is just tall enough to be discerned over the tops of the buildings that line the south side of the river.
This aerial picture of the Thames with a red line from Somerset House to Tower bridge’s topmost north-west tower does show there is indeed a kink in the river, but very fortunately the way the buildings at that point are designed, it does allow for a very slender sighting of the bridge from Somerset House. Other than say from the top of the New Zealand tower, this is indeed the furthest sightline at ground level. Picture adapted from a Twitter image.
It might be thought Tower Bridge can be seen from the Adelphi Terrace on the other side of Waterloo Bridge. It isn’t possible. Cannon Street station can be seen, and I think St Magnus church on the north side of London Bridge too, however this is about the limit one can see from the Adelphi. Similarly its the same from the terrace that leads to Lancaster House on the west side of Waterloo Bridge.
Can Tower Bridge be seen from the terrace of Somerset House? I dont think it can because of the trees. Only if one is at an upper floor office window but I would think the sighting is more likely at King’s College. I have checked my older pictures showing views from Somerset House (before the construction works currently on the terrace had begun) and in terms of views from the there the answer is nope.
But it can be seen from the pavement alongside the Embankment roadway right outside Somerset House!
Outside Somerset House where a line of sight to Tower Bridge can be seen – marked by the arrow.
The simple reason its easily seen from road level on the Embankment, where us mere mortals are allowed to walk, is because there are no trees – the damn trees are in the way higher up on the terraces!
Getting back to the exterior of Somerset House, one can just see Tower Bridge over the tops of the buildings/bridges but there’s another catch. Do it at times of medium to high tide and it wont be possible because the large ships on the north side of the Thames will be up high alongside the Embankment blocking any possible sightlines!
What this means is Tower Bridge is visible for just a few hours each day, and because this window of availability is not on a constant basis its rare that anyone gets to think about it.
Even I have never thought about it and it surprises me just how restricted this sightlines are. In fact one could say its one of the few sightlines of a famous building in London by which one needs to consult the tide timetable! Views of St. Paul’s are affected in part too by this but not so much because the cathedral is on a hill and the sightlines are considerably better anyway (in part by way of being protected.)
Tower Bridge can be seen from right inside the Somerset House arch!
The surprise that I mentioned earlier? One can just make out Tower Bridge from inside the Somerset House arch. Its a very long shot because one needs to know where to stand to achieve this – however with a zoom lens its clear part of the bridge can be seen about 1.88 miles (or exactly 3km distant.
From well inside the arch one can just see Tower Bridge (marked with a red ring.)
One thing about this revelation is the fact quite a bit more of the bridge itself could be clearly from this very location (and even very easily from other spots as one goes eastwards) until perhaps the eighties or early nineties. The reason its just not possible now (except for that tiny bit) is because of all the new buildings that have popped up along the river.
Zooming into the distance looking for Tower bridge.
The bizarre thing is Waterloo bridge right next door isn’t even high enough to give any view of any sort of Tower Bridge (not even over the rooftops although it was clearly possible in the past) yet one can see Tower Bridge from this low down inside Somerset House!
There! The tip of the bridge’s north tower can just be seen from inside Somerset House!
Another result of the investigations I did was to my surprise London Bridge can be seen from the London Eye whilst Tower Bridge cannot. The Shard and another building are in the way! Its clear the famous lifting bridge could be seen from the London Eye in its earlier years (as in this huge panorama of 2009 from Wikipedia – taken before the Shard was built.) Sadly the Shard now prevents such views being seen.
Its obvious what’s given with one hand (great views of London from the top floor of a thousand foot building) is taken away with another (loss of essential sightlines.) It makes one wonder just how long these slivers of sightings of Tower Bridge from so far up the river will continue to be available. I say that because one of London’s major railway bridges has contributed an enormous amount of damage in terms of these views towards Tower Bridge (as well as giving a sort of two fingers to St. Paul’s) and its evident these views are progressively going to become more and more compromised.
Tower Bridge is becoming quite easy to see at this point by the Brunel memorial. (Its just over the top of Blackfriars railway station)
If one walks from Somerset House towards Temple tube station, when one reaches the Brunel memorial Tower Bridge becomes quite obvious even though its still a good way off. The distance is 1.75miles (2.85km.) Its just the one tower of the bridge so far however…
Temple Place – above the tube station.
At Temple tube station itself, a diversion to the roof garden there may produce results. It did for me. Despite it being high summer and the trees along the Embankment in full leaf, I managed to spot Tower Bridge and its upper walkway through a tiny gap in the trees!
Found a tiny gap through which to see the famous bridge!
Tower bridge’s southern tower and about half of its walkways can be seen from Temple Place. The building that helps ‘mark’ Tower Bridge is known as Benbow House – more on this later.
Clearly those who work in the taller office blocks around that part will have a good view towards the famous bridge but us ordinary mortals must make do with a compromised sightline because this is about using available public spaces.
New development at Temple – some lucky people will have great views of Tower Bridge from their elevated offices/palaces!
Progressing further east, by the time one reaches HMS Wellington/King George water gate near the boundary to the City of London, both spires of Tower Bridge can be easily seen.
Both towers of the bridge can be seen quite easily from this point. But there’s a catch! They’re also disappearing from view! The walkways which could be seen at Temple have vanished!
The tops of the towers are easily seen from HMS Wellington but the further one proceeds they disappear completely behind Blackfriars railway station.
As one inches forward from here something happens – the bridge disappears completely from view! Clearly it wasn’t always like this, its only since the new Blackfriars station has been built that the sightlines have been totally destroyed. Blackfriars station with its huge roof and glass structure is large enough to block Tower Bridge completely and its quite shocking that this has been allowed to happen, but then that’s a result of the need to modernise our transport systems!
The bridge’s towers have vanished (but can be partially seen through the station’s glass frontage if one looks carefully.)
This means from a point just past the City Dragons (forming the boundary to the City of London) onwards to Blackfriars Bridge itself its just not possible to see Tower Bridge – except for a small part of the bridge’s bascules through the arches of Blackfriars Bridge. (These are the bits of roadway that lift up in the air.) This is in fact the first point at which one can even begin to see anything other than the towers and elevated walkway.
Despite the ongoing works at Blackfriars, its clear Tower bridge’s bascules can be seen for the first time – only just!
The next substantial sighting happens to be from the railway bridge itself or from a point on the Thames walk where one can see through the road or railway arches directly towards Tower Bridge. Its a compromised view though and the best is clearly obtained by going up into the railway station itself and looking east to gain a pretty good view of the bridge. From here the best sighting so far is afforded with Tower Bridge just 1.25 miles distant (2 km.)
Going up the escalators to Blackfriars railway station.
At least one does not need any kind of transport ticket or pass to see Tower Bridge from Blackfriars railway station. The ticket barriers are part way across the river thus views of the famous bridge can be seen from here without having to enter the station platforms.
Tower Bridge viewed from the public area at Blackfriars railway station.
From Blackfriars station: A zoom towards Tower Bridge past Millennium, Southwark, Cannon St and London bridges. Tower Bridge is 1.25 miles (2km) distant.
If one looks at Tower Bridge from the river walkway below Blackfriars railway bridge, this is the first point at which the piers (the stone bases) of Tower Bridge come into view (though much of the bridge is still obscured.) The stone piers and bascules are something that cannot be seen from Blackfriars railway station.
Despite the presence of three other bridges (Southwark, Cannon Street and London Bridge, as well as HMS Belfast) both stone piers belonging to Tower bridge can now be seen in part from a point just east of Blackfriars railway bridge. More of the bascules can too be seen.
The Millennium Bridge itself is right across the sightline towards Tower bridge but its not something that cuts out the available sightlines to any extent because the fullness of Tower bridge’s shape actually depends on Southwark, Cannon Street and London Bridges.
From Millenium bridge progressing towards Queenhithe, the famous lifting roadways can be seen in their entirety for the first time.
From the Millennium Bridge and indeed from up on it is the point where anyone can appreciate most of the iconic structure that is Tower Bridge. Its just that bits here and there are obstructed depending on where one stands. Just past the Millennium Bridge the famous blue bascules can be seen in their entirety for the first time.
At Hanseatic wharf (east side of Cannon Street rail bridge) the full bottom part of the bridge can be seen for the first time.
One might wonder when does Tower Bridge actually come into full view? The spot this happens is a point just west of London Bridge. You wont get this on the south side because the river is still on a curve and there are many obstructions as well as HMS Belfast to contend with. On the north side however there is a point where the bridge itself can be fully viewed through the arches of London bridge. Its about 0.60 of a mile or 961 metres.
The point at which Tower Bridge becomes fully visible for the first time just past Swan Lane, a bit more than half a mile distant. Its the wide angle lens making Tower Bridge look further than that!
Almost the same exact view from Swan Lane through the arches of London Bridge! I just moved a little as I wanted to centre the sailing vessel with the opening bascules of Tower Bridge.
Lovely view of sailing vessel Ardwin about to go through the raised roadways of Tower Bridge!
Amazingly one can see the 1910 built octagonal water tower on the east side of Shooter’s Hill, this is 7.25 miles distant (11.25km) thus people on the higher levels hereabouts (including Severndroog Castle) are getting pretty good views of Tower Bridge! Its possible this is the longest unobstructed sightline towards Tower Bridge, beating those from Gypsy Hill, Honor Oak or Crystal Palace.
By moving my position a little, the 1910 built water tower on Shooter’s Hill, 7.25 miles distant, can be seen past Tower Bridge.
Although London’s skyline can be excellently seen from Rainham or Ingrebourne Hill (12.25miles/19.69km) Tower Bridge is just too small to be see! That’s why I think the sightline from Shooter’s Hill would be the furthest possible (unless anyone knows better) because one is at least seeing over the tops of the many smaller buildings that would obstruct the view from lower down.
There’s one other thing I should mention. The building known as Benbow House which sorts of filters part of Tower Bridge so it can be seen at Somerset House is that pictured below. When one actually stands here and looks in the direction of Somerset House and in the direction of Tower Bridge, one thinks, ‘there’s just no way a sighing can be gained.’ Tower Bridge looks so small from here and Somerset House looks too impossibly low down for anyone to even see Tower Bridge nearly two miles distant.
The topmost portion of Tower Bridge is ‘filtered’ through the topmost portion of Benbow House in Southwark.
The thing is, perceptions play tricks. What we see isn’t necessarily how it actually is. If one moves westwards (on the north side of the river) Tower Bridge still seems impossibly too low down for it to be seen across the distance in question. Yet by the time we have got past Blackfriars Tower Bridge has grown in relation to the other buildings.
If we look at Benbow House from a reasonable perspective, as in the above view, its easy to assume ‘gosh Tower bridge looks so small – how the hell anyone could see the bridge from Somerset House through the top of that building beats me.’
I suppose its the same as mountains when approaching a range they always seem to recede into the distance yet if we move back they grow. Its because distances become compressed (much like taking pictures through a telephoto lens) which has the effect of making things look bigger.
Consequently when one approaches either towers or mountains the visible distance from us to them becomes more vast so they look smaller. Thus when we are standing by Benbow House, it looks huge, yet Tower bridge looks small in comparison and this is why its difficult to see how there could even be a sightline from Somerset House!
Here’s to another 125 years of Tower Bridge!