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Waterloo bridge (part one)
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Built on a wide bend in the river, Waterloo Bridge is the longest bridge in London. It also has some of the finest views in London, with splendid vistas in each direction, upstream towards the Gothic towers of the Houses of Parliament and downstream to the baroque dome of St Paul's Cathedral surrounded by the many skyscrapers of the modern City.

The first bridge was built by the Strand Bridge Company, which was formed in 1809 to build a new crossing from a site just west of Somerset House to the Lambeth shore. An Act of Parliament allowed them to raise 500 000 pounds in shares and to borrow 300 000 pounds more, a huge amount of money to invest in such a project. The decision to build a level bridge rather than the traditional humped variety meant that they had to build long approach roads on both sides of the river, which added greatly to the costs. The company commissioned a design from George Dodd, a young but able engineer, and for many years it was thought that his design was the one that was built. It would seem, however, that the commissioners had doubts about the design and asked the more experienced John Rennie to take a look at it, and he was then asked to put forward a design of his own. Rennie offered two designs, one of seven spans and another of nine, and the directors accepted the cheaper second option. The design is very similar to that of a much shorter bridge Rennie had built in 1803 at Kelso in Scotland, and which still spans the Tweed today. Dodd was kept on and worked on the bridge as Rennie's assistant. The work was carried out by the contractors Jolliffe & Banks, who had already worked with Rennie on other projects and were later to work with him on Southwark Bridge and London Bridge.


Waterloo bridge (part one)

The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, Whitehall Stairs by John Constable. In the foreground, the Prince Regent boards the royal barge at Whitehall to be taken to the bridge for the ceremony.



The first pile was driven in on 1 March 1811 and the foundation stone was laid on 11 October by the company's chairman, Henry Swann MP. Work on the bridge went well, but the acquisition of land to build the approaches proved costly and time-consuming. The bridge had nine elliptical spans of 120 feet and it was 42 feet wide, with a footpath 7 feet wide on each side. The whole bridge was faced with Cornish granite and the balustrades were of granite from Aberdeen. On each pier was a pair of Doric columns, and above them was an alcove that offered refuge to pedestrians. The four tollhouses were also in Doric style, and they housed a novelty, turnstiles, which allowed the tollkeepers to control the passage of pedestrians, while at the same time recording the number of people passing through.

In 1816 the company asked Parliament for permission to rename the bridge in honour of Wellington's victory against Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The bridge was opened by the Prince Regent in a magnificent ceremony on 18 June 1817, the second anniversary of the battle. The riverbanks were lined with vast crowds, the river was full of ceremonial barges and there were flags everywhere. The Prince left Whitehall in a state barge, followed by the Lord mayor's barge and various others. To the sound of gun salutes, the barge went through the central arch of the bridge and moored at the Surrey end of it. Accompanied by the Duke of York and the Duke of Wellington, the Prince then processed across the bridge, which was lined with Waterloo veterans, before returning to Whitehall by barge. After the opening, the Prince Regent offered a knighthood to Rennie, which he turned down.

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