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Waterloo bridge (part three)
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In 1878 electric street lighting was tested on Victoria Embankment, and in the following year the experiment was extended to Waterloo Bridge, where ten lights were installed, the power being supplied by a French company, the Société Générale d'Electricité. These were among the first London thoroughfares to be lit by electricity, and the experiment was considered to be a success, so the system used proved to be rather expensive, and the scheme was abandoned. Electric lighting was permanently installed on the bridge in 1897, but the replacement of the original lamp standards, said to have been made from captured French cannon, caused an outcry in some quarters.

An engineer's report to the MBW in 1880 noted that the foundations of the bridge needed to be deepened to make it more secure. Ironically, it was Rennie's new London Bridge, which had opened in 1831, which caused the problem, allowing the river to flow faster, with the increased scouring exposing the foundations. Between 1882 and 1884 62 000 pounds was spent inputting a wall of steel piles round each pier and filling in the space with concrete.


Waterloo bridge (part three)

The Freeing of Waterloo Bridge. The tolls on London's bridges were very unpopular, so vast crowds turned up to see them freed from toll and to be the first to cross them.



Trams had been operating in London since the 1870s, but only in the outer areas. Not until 1908 were the networks north and south of the river able to link up, with the building of the Kingsway subway extension, which tunnelled under Aldwych and the Strand, passed through the brick arches underneath Rennie's approach road to Waterloo Bridge, and emerged from a tunnel on to the Embankment. From here the trams travelled along the Embankment, crossing the Thames by Blackfriars and Westminster Bridges. At first the subway could take only single-decker trams, but in 1930 the tunnel was rebuilt to take double-deckers.

When one considers all the plaudits heaped on the bridge, in praise of its classical looks, it seems odd that so few artists of note chose to depict it during its heyday. Constable, as we had seen, celebrated its opening, and in 1896 Whistler produced a number of fine lithographs of it from his room at the Savoy Hotel. Between 1899 and 1901, Monet made three visits to London, also staying at the Savoy. Monet was particularly attracted to London because of its fog and one of the aims of his visits was to “paint some effects of fog on the Thames”. From his window he painted about forty pictures of Waterloo Bridge, at different times of day and in different lights. He also portrayed the heavy industry on the south bank of the river, whose smoking chimneys contributed to the “smog” he so enjoyed painting.

In December 1923 one of the piers near the centre of the bridge showed signs of subsidence, which was serious enough for the London County Council to consider rebuilding it, and so began a ten-year battle between those who wished to save the bridge and those intent on replacing it. Proposals to widen the bridge, because of the growth in traffic, prompted the first of many letters to The Times from well-known architects, artists and writers, complaining that it would cause “lasting disfigurement” to the bridge. There were also complaints from the Port of London Authority, which pointed out that, as the bridge was on a bend, it was already difficult to navigate the narrow arches, and that widening the bridge would make it more dangerous for river traffic. George Bernard Shaw, however, claimed that “The wave of enthusiasm for the inviolable beauty of Waterloo Bridge has not carried me away. The bridge is not only too narrow for the traffic ... but for its length and dignity. It will be enormously improved aesthetically by being widened”.



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