Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1951.
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CHAPTER 3 - WATERLOO BRIDGE
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 (fn. 1) 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. (fn. 2) Although the enabling Act was exceptionally long and detailed, two more Acts were obtained (in 1813 and 1816) (fn. 3) 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. (fn. 2) 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. (fn. 4) 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. (fn. 4) The width between the parapets was 42 feet.
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. (fn. 2) Its cost was approximately £ 1,000,000.
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.