Double Decker Bus Jumps Tower Bridge
Post Date: 
27th December 2013
Author: 
Matt Gedge

On 30th December 1952, an incident described as ‘1 in 150,000’ by the Daily Mail occurred when Tower Bridge began to open with a no.78 double decker bus on it. The bus in question was being driven from Shoreditch to Dulwich, and according to the driver Albert Gunter, it was travelling at about 12mph when suddenly the northern arm of the bridge began to lift.

Gunter realised that he had no option but to speed up otherwise the vehicle would have fallen into the River Thames. Luckily the south side was slower to lift which meant that the bus dropped the much more preferable several feet and miraculously remained upright.

The Daily Express of 31st December describes how within a few minutes of the incident the Bridge Master, Mr Leslie Priestly – who lived in a house on the south side – ‘put on his overcoat and bowler hat and was inspecting the bridge’.

Ambulances and fire engines were shortly in attendance, with the injured being carried from the bus on stretchers fashioned from seats which had been thrown from their frames in the drop.

Of the 20 passengers, 4 were treated for minor injuries on the bridge, and a further 10 were taken to Guy’s Hospital including the driver and the conductor. 11 year old Peter Dunn of Bermondsey suffered a fractured collarbone.

Although a ship had been scheduled to pass through the bridge, according to eye witnesses the traffic light had been green, signalling that it was safe for the bus to proceed. The superintendant engineer later admitted the men on duty in the north side control house had not noticed the bus and ‘a relief man was operating the bridge’.

Considering that Tower Bridge had been raised over 300,000 times before this incident, it is perhaps more amazing that this was the only time such an accident had occurred. Well, almost. In 1943 a van driver failed to see the warning light and crashed into a bascule.

The aftermath of the Tower Bridge incident saw Albert Gunter becoming something of a minor celebrity. He received £10 from London Transport and £35 from the City of London for his speed of thought that saved so many lives. Four months later, according to the Daily Express of 8th April 1953, Gunter, 46 from Islington ‘can’t understand what the fuss is all about’, going on to say that at Dalston Garage ‘the boys still take it out of me. They call me Parachute Gunter and Waterwings!’

As his fame grew, the West London Observer reports how Albert Gunter was chosen to judge a driving competition at an event called ‘Better Roadmanship’ on the Serpentine Road in Hyde Park on July 25th 1953…

However for me the most heartwarming story is how after seven months of being incapable of travelling on public transport alone due to the incident, a Miss May Walshaw finally conquered her fears by taking the same route with the same driver across the same bridge. And two weeks later she was married with Albert Gunter as her best man!

 

Illustrations and newspaper cuttings are from London Observer, July 24th 1953 (illustration of Tower Bridge), The Courier & Advertiser, Wednesday December 31st 1952 (incident report), and the West London Observer, Friday July 24th 1953 (Road Safety Show)