CHAPTER 3 - WATERLOO BRIDGE
[See plates 4 and 5]
Until the beginning of the 19th century there was only one bridge,
Blackfriars, between Westminster and London Bridges. The erection of
Westminster Bridge had given a stimulus to building development in
Lambeth and in 1809 prospects were sufficiently good to encourage a commercial company to obtain an Act of Parliament (ref. 55)
toll bridge, to be called the Strand Bridge, from Westminster to Lambeth.
The position chosen was the point at which the river bends sharply eastward,
and provision was made for an approach road on the south side from the
Obelisk at the junction of Westminster Bridge Road and Blackfriars Road.
Mr. John Rennie was appointed engineer and the first stone of the
bridge was laid on 11th October, 1811. (ref. 56) Although the enabling Act was
exceptionally long and detailed, two more Acts were obtained (in 1813 and
1816) (ref. 57) before the bridge was completed. The second of these enacted that
the name should be changed to Waterloo Bridge as “a lasting Record of the
brilliant and decisive Victory achieved by His Majesty's Forces in conjunction
with those of His Allies, on the Eighteenth Day of June One thousand
eight hundred and fifteen.” The bridge was opened by the Prince Regent
in 1817, on the second anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. The cost of
the structure was £618,000 and the total cost of the bridge and approaches
was £937,391 11s 6d. (ref. 56) As a commercial speculation the undertaking was far from
being a success since, in order to avoid payment of tolls, many people who
would otherwise have used the bridge made a detour to cross the river by
Blackfriars or Westminster Bridges, which were free. (ref. 58) Under the provisions
of the Metropolitan Toll Bridges Act, 1877, the bridge was acquired by the
Metropolitan Board of Works at a cost of £474,200 and freed from toll.
The bridge was of grey Cornish granite of nine elliptical arches of
120 feet span, the total length between the abutments being 1,240 feet. (ref. 58)
The width between the parapets was 42 feet.
The approaches, built on brick arches, extended almost level as far
as the Strand to the north and sloped down to the level of York Road on the
The continuity of the balustrading and entablatures each side of the
bridge was broken by projecting rectangular embrasures (Plate 5a). The
embrasures had solid parapets and stood on coupled Greek Doric columns
above the cutwaters.
The simple austere style of the bridge harmonised with that of
Somerset House and formed a fitting foreground for the view of the dome of
St. Paul's. The Italian sculptor, Canova, described it as “the finest bridge
in all Europe.”
In 1882–4 works were undertaken to protect the foundations which
were becoming exposed by the scour of the river. Waterloo Bridge had a
longer life than most Thames bridges but in 1923 a settlement in the pier
on the Lambeth side of the central arch and subsidences in the parapet and
carriageway gave warning that the structure was in a dangerous condition.
Remedial measures were taken but proved unsuccessful, and the bridge was
closed to traffic on 11th May, 1924. A temporary bridge was constructed
and for the next ten years controversy raged as to the fate of the old bridge.
There were three serious alternatives: (1) that the old bridge should be
strengthened and repaired and a modern bridge built at Charing Cross;
(2) that the bridge should be rebuilt to the old design but made wider to
take a greater volume of traffic; or (3) that a modern bridge should be built
in place of the old. Finally, in 1934, the London County Council decided
to go ahead with the erection of a modern bridge, but it was not until 1936
that Parliament at last gave the Council authority to borrow money for the
purpose. The new bridge was partially opened to traffic in 1942, but was not
formally opened until December, 1945. (ref. 56) Its cost was approximately
The engineers responsible for the demolition of the old bridge and
the design and construction of the new one were Messrs. Rendel, Palmer &
Tritton in association with the Council's Chief Engineer, Sir Peirson Frank.
The collaborating architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
The new Waterloo Bridge is simple in outline and without ornamentation. It is constructed of reinforced concrete with facings of Portland stone
and grey Cornish granite, the granite being recut from the masonry of the
old bridge. It has five shallow spans each of about 250 feet with a beamed
deck supported by two lines of arches. Each line of arches is in effect a
continuous beam of varying depth. Above the reeded cornice bands on each
of the plain outer surfaces at road level are simple railings and lighting
standards. The bridge has a 58 feet carriageway for six lines of traffic with
footpaths of 11 feet each side.
Of Rennie's work the foundations forming part of the embankment
wall on the north side still remain, and there is a memorial to Rennie consisting
of two Doric columns and balustrading from the old bridge at the southern
abutment which can be seen from the river walk. The stone-faced elliptical
arch spanning Belvedere Road is also still standing and forms part of the
southern approach, the approaches being re-used when the new bridge was
built. Both old and new bridges were designed with staircases at each end
giving access to the river.