Bascule Chamber: A Hidden Gem underneath Tower Bridge
21 September 2018
Tower Bridge is one of London’s most popular landmarks. Its gold tipped spires and bright blue ironworks have served as a backdrop for countless films, postcards, and of course — quintessential tourist family photos. What most people don’t know about Tower Bridge however, is that it also holds one of London’s most unique spaces — the Bascule Chambers.
Underneath all that Cornish granite and Portland stone and hidden beneath its impressive Gothic Revival architecture, the Bascule Chambers was built mainly as an operational area to allow for the movement of the bridge’s gargantuan counterweights. This cavernous subterranean space is the hearthstone of Tower Bridge and houses the mechanisms that lift the mighty bascules, raising the bridge to river traffic. A massive feat of Victorian engineering that was built a hundred years before the first iPod was ever invented. And while this hidden gem is normally closed to the very same public that populate the bridge above it, the Bascule chambers is sometimes opened up for public use. Hosting some truly spectacular cultural and musical events, set underneath one of London’s most iconic landmarks
The venue itself is exposed to the elements, with the brick steps serving as theatre seats, and the cavernous brick walls serving as both stage and velvet curtain. Early this year, the Bascule Chambers hosted Blackout - an immersive video and sound projection installation from the Guildhall School of Music & Dance. Next weekend, as part of the month long Totally Thames Festival
, the Bascule Chambers will once agin be hosting another extraordinary event. Premiering English composer Iain Chamber’s latest composition, which is also called ‘Bascule Chambers’.
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A combination of brass and electronics, the Bascule Chambers repertoire will include performances from the Dockland Sinfonia, and a special performance from Mezzo-Soprano Catherine Carter. In this new composition, Iain Chambers cleverly plays with the actual acoustics of this historic landmark; by using bridge lift recordings from the London Sound Survey, allowing us to experience the Tower Bridge as an actual symphony. Turning the Tower Bridge into what we can safely assume to be, the world’s largest musical instrument. If you’ve never heard of the Bascule Chambers, don’t worry you are not alone. This only goes to show that no matter how long you’ve been a Londoner, this city will always find ways to surprise you.
Ahead of the performance, you can follow Iain’s creative process in his blog here www.iainchambers.com Iain Chambers’ Bascule Chambers will be at Tower Bridge from 26-27 September 2018.
Words by Hannah Tan-Gillies