Named after the Battle of Waterloo, did you know that there have actually been two Waterloo Bridges? There are 33 bridges in total which cross the Thames within the limits of London.
The first Waterloo Bridge was built in 1817 and was designed by John Rennie for the Strand Bridge Company and was made from granite.
The second Waterloo Bridge was built in 1938 and was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott for Rendel Palmer & Tritton. Made from Portland Stone, limestone which can date its origins to 145 million years ago, it is also capable of self cleaning in rainfall - pretty impressive stuff!
Before it’s opening, the bridge was originally named the Strand Bridge, but in Parliament it was decided that the bridge should be named to commemorate the victory of the Battle of Waterloo in June of 1815. The bridge was to be opened 2 years after the victory 15th June 1817. It seems pretty appropriate with the victory still so fresh in the public mind.
"The bridge was opened on the 2 year anniversary of the victory of the Battle of Waterloo."
The first Waterloo Bridge was considered an economic nightmare. The rough estimate in “today’s money” is that the bridge cost around £ 573,064,965.46 to build. The Strand Bridge Company hoped to recoup their losses by adding a toll to the structure. What they didn’t foresee is that those who needed to cross the river could simply use one of the bridges on either side of the Waterloo Bridge. Pretty embarrassing and financially devastating to the company.
The bridge was bought in 1877 by the Metropolitan Board of Works for £474,200. Still a huge loss for the Strand Bridge Company. With this acquisition the Metropolitan Board of Works took the toll from the bridge.
Despite the economic disaster of the build, it was a bridge loved by many. With architects and artists across the world celebrating it for its majestic appearance. Canova, an Italian sculptor, described it as the most noble bridge in the world. He also declared "it is worth going to England solely to see Rennie's bridge" - that’s quite the honour, don’t you think?
"Italian sculptor Canova described it as the most noble bridge in the world."
It was a high maintenance project from the start and as time went on, the structural integrity of the bridge was starting to create problems. In 1925, a steel framework was temporarily erected above the bridge to take on the south bound traffic to alleviate the stress on the original bridge.
Introducing Waterloo Bridge 2.
In the mid 30s, it was decided that the bridge was no longer valuable to the city and needed replacing with something safer and more modern.
Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott for Rendel Palmer & Tritton. The new bridge got rid of the iconic Cornish granite and moved to Portland Stone in a box girder style.
Box girder style bridges were developed in the early 1900s. Originally for military purposes, they entered the civil engineering world more commonly after WWII. The framework of a box girder bridge allows for the accommodation of utility pipes and wires such as gas and electricity as we as a high structural efficiency minimising the potential for bending and improve torsional strength.
The use of Portland Stone is interesting. As stated above, this ancient limestone is self cleaning in rainfall. The rain activates cleansing chemicals from the stone itself - pretty impressive quality to have in a bridge. Reduces costs for aesthetic reasons.
"Portland Stone is a form of limestone, which, when interacting with rain fall, produces self cleaning chemicals."
Another interesting fact about the second Waterloo Bridge is its nickname, The Ladies’ Bridge. This was due to the bridge’s construction being, on the whole, done by women. At the start there were around 500 men working on the build, but with the war effort picking up, by the 1940s only around 50 were left to help. During WWII construction was halted, it was tricky making progress with bombs dropping on the capital. Equally as interesting, it was actually the only bridge to be damaged by German bombing during the war.
"The second Waterloo Bridge gained its nickname due to the amount of women who worked on it whilst men were conscripted to the war effort."
At 366m long, this unassuming historic structure has a fascinating backstory. So, next time you’re in our beautiful capital, take a second to think about the story that brought Waterloo Bridge to fruition. And, as the city continues to develop, consider how much the view from this piece of London history has changed over 200 years.