POSTCARDS FROM OLD LONDON
OLD WATERLOO BRIDGE
An unusual artistic postcard view of the Old Waterloo Bridge viewed from the south side of the river near to where the National Theatre now stands. The view is upriver to the west and is from the early 1900’s. This was during the heyday of the picture postcard, which was a few years after its introduction.
The soaring spires of the National Liberal Club are seen on the right. The Houses of Parliament are seen in the distance on the river’s North Bank, but because of the bends in the river, they appear to be on the South Bank. Initially, the South Bank was to London’s fleshpots once they were outlawed from the City and West End. Later, the South Bank became an industrial site, as indicated by the barges beneath the bridge. Although the river’s barges are now gone, both the National Liberal Club and the Houses of Parliament remain.
The tower in front of the Houses of Parliament is one of many shot towers that were once on the South Bank. From the top of the tower liquid lead was dropped into water, forming perfectly spherical lead shot for guns. This shot tower survived the clearance of this area for the temporary installation of the building housing the Festival of Britain in 1951. During the Festival, a radio antenna was mounted atop to broadcast programmes. It was demolished once the Royal Festival Hall, the only permanent building from the Festival, was completed.
If one looks closely beneath the clock face of Big Ben, one can see the silhouette of an animal. This was the reflection of the stone lion present above the Red Lion Brewery, which was present on the South Bank at the time. The Lion was cast in nearby Lambeth from Coade stone. This stone was an artificial stone created by Mrs. Eleanor Coade in about 1770. The stone was used widely and is usage may be seen at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton and the Royal Navel College, Greenwich. Coade Stone became obsolete once Portland cement was produced in 1842.
The Lion was also removed in 1949 in preparation for the Festival of Britain. It was first moved to Waterloo Station, but was then stored. Apparently, there was some doubt about its future, but eventually it was cleaned of its red paint and installed the south side of Westminster Bridge close to County Hall. The Lion has in fact traveled only about half-a-mile from its original position.
Old Waterloo Bridge was built by the engineer John Rennie and was completed in 1817. The bridge was of nine granite arches and was greatly admired. By 1884, problems with the bridge’s foundations had developed. These problems stemmed from the increase in river flow caused by the removal of Old London Bridge in 1831. In 1924 the bridge was closed for several months until a bailey bridge was erected across it. Although London County Council agreed to the construction of a new bridge, its construction was held up as money was tight in the depressed 1930’s.
There were many proposals to replace the old Waterloo bridge, but it was not until 1934 that demolition finally began. The new bridge was planned to be complete by 1940, but this was delayed by the war and the new bridge did not open for traffic until 1942 with the bailey bridge being removed in 1943 after nineteen years of service. According to HP Clunn in his book, The Face of London, published in 1951, parts of the bailey bridge were stored and after D Day transported to the continent where they were available for use when the last bridge across the Rhine (at Remagen) failed.
The new Waterloo Bridge was completed in 1945 and incidently was the only London bridge to be damaged during the Second World War. It is believed that this bridge was built mainly by women and for this reason it is sometimes referred to as The Ladies’ Bridge.
Waterloo Bridge is the title of a play by Robert E. Sherwood written in 1930 and has been filmed three times in 1931, 1940 and 1956. The most successful and perhaps the most romantic of which was the version produced in 1940 starring Vivian Leigh and Robert Taylor. It is also the setting of a poem by Wendy Cape, which was set to music by Jools Holland & Louise Marshall. Ray Davies, with The Kinks, wrote about it, along with Terry & Julie, in his song, Waterloo Sunset.