What Happened To Old Waterloo Bridge?

By M@ Last edited 19 months ago
What Happened To Old Waterloo Bridge?

Everyone knows that the previous London Bridge ended up in America. But what happened to the old Waterloo Bridge?

John Rennie's Waterloo Bridge.
John Rennie's Waterloo Bridge

The current Waterloo Bridge was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It was built during the second world war, largely by women.

Scott's bridge replaced the original early 19th century version by John Rennie (the same architect whose London Bridge now stands in Arizona). Its demolition in the 1930s freed up hundreds of thousands of tons of stone. But where did it all go?

Bridges to the world

The break up of Rennie's bridge began in 1934. Almost immediately, heavy blocks of stone were sent overseas, "presented to various parts of the British world to further historic links in the British Commonwealth of Nations".

According to the Aberdeen Press and Journal (22 Aug 1934), "Orders for balusters and other stonework have already been received from the United States, South Africa and New Zealand, as well as from many parts of Great Britain".

A less buoyant analysis was given by Dundee Evening Telegraph a year later. "Canada didn't want any. New Zealand was willing to have one block of granite, and Australia took a few more. Two lamp standards have gone to Rhodesia, and Limbe Town Council, Nyasaland, asked for two balusters."

Paddy the Wanderer memorial.
Memorial to Paddy the Wanderer, in Wellington, New Zealand. Image by Kiwichris under Creative Commons licence.

New Zealand might have only taken a single piece, but it put it to exemplary use. This memorial to 'Paddy the Wanderer', a much-loved dog who lived in Wellington in the 1930s, is made out of stone from the bridge. It provides a pair of water bowls for four-legged Wellingtonians to this day.

Australia hid its stones underneath the Commonwealth Avenue bridge in Canberra. Their romantic situation can be seen on Street View. There's something of the sacrificial alter about this scene.

Only a tiny fraction of the stones were sent overseas as gifts. The greatest bulk was stored out in Harmondsworth (now in Hillingdon), where some blocks still remain. This stockpile finally found a use in 1945, when it was shipped over to the Netherlands to help repair bridges destroyed by the Nazis.

Closer to home

Some of the leftovers found reuse in the London region. Hundreds of stones were delivered to St Mary Cray (now in Bromley) for construction of a cemetery wall. One of the cornerstones, meanwhile, travelled to Wanstead. It supports the metallic, fat-necked noggin of Winston Churchill. Or visit the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster and you can still see the keystone to Rennie's bridge smartening up a wall recess.

The cemetery wall at St Mary Cray was built from smashed up blocks of Waterloo Bridge. Via Google Street View.

Bye-bye balusters

Even the bridge's ornamental elements were recycled. The balusters — those upright stone barriers that look like chess pieces — were particularly sought-after. Anyone could turn up at the construction site and take one home for £1, with the money going to London County Council. As the supply dwindled, stone merchants would sell on their relics for up to £10.

Workers remove balusters from Old Waterloo Bridge. Image (c) DC Thompson. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board.

Hundreds of balusters were recirculated in this way. They no doubt still survive in obscurity, hidden in private gardens, supporting birdbaths and sundials. One was sent to Aberdeen Town Hall, as a thank you for supplying all that granite in the first place.

A few balusters can be seen in public spaces. We photographed the one below in Antrim Park (in Belsize Park), where it shares a lawn with a fragment of the old House of Commons.

Balustrade from Old Waterloo Bridge.
A baluster from Old Waterloo Bridge in Antrim Park, Belsize Park.

Surviving remnants under Waterloo Bridge

As with Old London Bridge, some of the material from Rennie's original was left in place to help form the foundations and approach roads for the modern span. One section can still be seen on the north bank, directly under the carriageway. Here, a row of recycled granite blocks and balusters form part of the Embankment wall. The structure gives a small flavour of how the 19th century bridge might have appeared.

Part of the old bridge (under arch), and balustrades that may also date from that structure.

And the rest of it?

Middlesex Chronicle, 15 April 1939. Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board.

Not all the stone could be reused in block form. The supposed granite structure turned out to be partly sandstone underneath. Much was broken down and sold on as rubble or, as shown in the advert above, 'crazy paving' materials.

The rest, according to one press account, "Will be made into kerbs and gravestones". Who know, perhaps your own street or driveway is paved with the relics of Old Waterloo Bridge.

Reader sightings of Waterloo Bridge

Further chunks of the bridge have come to light since this article's original publication. We'll add them into this section, whenever someone gets in touch.

Mike Wicksteed sends news of another fragment in New Zealand. Head up Mount Victoria in Wellington, and you may chance across this viewing platform. The granite wall is a relic of the old bridge.

Viewing platform in Wellington, NZ. Image by Mike Wicksteed.

Tim Childs discovered another one of the balusters lurking in the gardens of Alfriston Clergy House near Seaford. The stone support is now used for a sundial.

Image by Tim Childs.

Yet more pieces in New Zealand have been brought to our attention by Austin Gee. He highlights a memorial to former Prime Minister Gordon Coates at Brynderwyn, north of Auckland, which uses stones from a bridge pier, and the pedestal of a sundial in Oriental Bay, Wellington.

Spotted a piece of Old Waterloo Bridge? Do leave a comment below, or email matt@londonist.com with details.

Last Updated 10 February 2020