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Waterloo Bridge

Building  From 18/6/1817 

Categories: Transport

The first bridge at this site was built by John Rennie and named following British victory at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. The 1831 demolition of the old medieval London Bridge caused changes in the river flow which started to damage Waterloo Bridge.  In 1924 a temporary Bailey bridge was built alongside to tide one over (good pun?) until the bridge could be rebuilt.

Spitalfields Life have a number of photos of Waterloo bridges including one captioned 'Waterloo Bridge, c. 1910. The increased river flow created by the demolition of old London Bridge required temporary reinforcements to Waterloo Bridge from 1884.' And another 'Traffic from Covent Garden Market crosses Waterloo Bridge, c. 1924.'  A London Inheritance has a postcard showing the Bailey bridge alongside the Rennie bridge.

This was built during WW2, and it is said that much of the labour was provided by women. The design, reinforced concrete clad in Portland stone, is by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and that is the bridge we have today. Its construction was managed by Sir Peirson Frank. Opened in 1945.

From the 1945 booklet, The Opening of Waterloo Bridge we learn that it was fully open in 1944 and that there was no opening ceremony.  Also "There were over twenty air-raid " incidents " on the bridge, causing damage to permanent work and to the temporary bridge, and destroying some of the contractor's plant and material. The worst incident occurred at the north end when a large H.E. bomb penetrated the north cantilever and exploded over the tramway subway. The cumulative effect of war conditions, the shortage of labour." But there is no mention of a female workforce.

Grey granite stones from the old Rennie bridge were presented to various Commonwealth countries but some remained here: some actually still part of the bridge, and elsewhere around London. The ones we've found, we've treated as memorials to the bridge.

Our picture shows the first bridge and comes from Dave Hill's excellent Stories of London, where there are other pictures of the bridge.

The 1940 film 'Waterloo Bridge' is centred on a meeting that takes place on the bridge during WW1. It was made during the period of the Bailey bridge but correctly shows (a studio version of) the old bridge. Hollywood got it right.

2016: Londonist published 2 great posts: one celebrating The Ladies Bridge with a link to a 30 minute film, and a few months later "13 Secrets of Waterloo Bridge".

2018: Reading 'No Voice from the Hall' by John Harris we learn (p53-55) that c.1947 the author went fishing at the long canal at Richings Park where there was "a vast mountain of stones dumped in a nearby field from the demolition of John Rennie's Waterloo Bridge in 1934. They were like a giant's building-blocks, the piled masonry towering to make a stepped cubic composition more than fifty feet high. For us village boys it was our private Stonehenge, until the local bobby chased us away." Richings is now occupied by a golf course immediately to the north-west of the M25/M4 junction. This is very close to the 'Giant's Teeth' site which is to the south-east of that junction, and note the repeated use of the reference to a giant.

2019: the Historic England blog tells that the keystone from Rennie's bridge was recovered by engineers Rendel Palmer and Tritton and is now on show in the headquarters of the Institution of Civil Engineers at 1 Great George Street.

2019: Londonist investigated where Waterloo Bridge went and found pieces scattered not just in London but across Britain and the Commonwealth. The information in the rest of this page comes from that post and the comments it elicited.

On the north bank where the Victoria Embankment passes under the new bridge there are some granite walls and balusters (on the southern boundary of Somerset House, on the terrace and at road level) which are thought to be left over from the old bridge. However, the balusters are of a different style to the one in Belsize Park. The provenance of that one is confirmed by its style being identical to those in a Londonist photo, showing the balusters being removed from the bridge and laid out ready for anyone to take away in exchange for £1 to the LCC.

Londonist has found two more locations around London where the stones were reused: in Bromley at St Mary Cray’s cemetery wall; in Wanstead for the plinth holding the bust of Churchill. Further afield, near Eastbourne the Alfriston Clergy House garden has a baluster supporting a sundial. And in Scotland, Aberdeen Town Hall received a baluster, appropriately since that’s where the granite came from in the first place.

Britain sent parts of the bridge to Commonwealth countries. New Zealand used its granite to create a memorial in Wellington to a dog ‘Paddy the Wanderer’, in the form of a drinking fountain with bowls for 4-legged thirsts. Also in Wellington, at Mount Victoria, the granite wall around a viewing platform is formed of stones from the bridge. Australia placed its stones in Canberra under the Commonwealth Avenue bridge. Rhodesia (as was) accepted two lamp standards. Nyasaland asked for two balusters for Limbe Town Council. Canada declined the offer. In 1945 a large quantity of stones were used to repair bridges in the Netherlands following the damage caused in WW2.

But the majority of the stones were stored and remained in Harmondsworth, where we found the Giant’s Teeth.

Londonist found an advert for a company, Morgan and Son, who were selling off the stones. We found a Rootschat giving a few addresses for this firm around West London, one being Granite Works, The Pitts, Bluffs Field, Harmondsworth, listed in phone books in the 1930s and 1941. The address does not seem to mean anything nowadays but we bet it’s the site of the Giant’s Teeth.

2021: We learnt about the 4 empty plinths on the bridge, one at each corner, as it were. These are designed into the structure of the bridge and it was always intended to place modern sculptures on them. From Tate: “in the late 1940s the LCC Town Planning Committee proposed that ‘designs for the figure groups .. should be chosen on the basis of a competition between sculptors of high repute’”.

Six sculptors were selected including Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein, Frank Dobson and Barbara Hepworth. The sculptures were to be in Portland stone, and to have “a simple and compact outline with a low horizontal sculptural treatment.” But in 1947 or shortly afterwards “a decision was taken by the competition’s assessors to abandon the project as none of the proposed designs was regarded as suitable for the intended site.” The Barbara Hepworth Gallery holds the maquette of her design and we would love to see it on one of the plinths.

We've just watched A Window in London, aka Lady in Distress, the 1939 movie featuring Michael Redgrave as a worker on the construction site of Waterloo Bridge. There are a number of shots of the actual site and the only workers we could see were male. But perhaps the women took over later on, when the men had left for the war.

See other memorials in this area

This section lists the memorials where the subject on this page is commemorated:
Waterloo Bridge

Information Commemorated at

Giant's Teeth

Describing the dedication of the memorial for the crash the website Their Las...

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Waterloo Bridge

In our photo you can see how distressed the lettering is, and that it was onc...

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