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Waterloo bridge (part four)
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In April 1924 the LCC took the decision to rebuild and widen the bridge, and plans were made to erect a temporary bridge alongside it. They hoped to keep the bridge open until this was installed, but in May further subsidence forced the LCC to close the bridge to carry out emergency repairs. This involved taking up part of the roadway to reduce the load on the sinking pier, and building supports for the arches on either side of it. On 30 June the bridge was reopened for pedestrians only. On 14 July the bridge was reopened to vehicular traffic, including buses, but with a weight limit of 10 tons, and a speed limit of 3 mph over the site of the subsidence, where the roadway had been replaced with a timber surface. A temporary bridge was now begun on the downstream side of the ailing bridge, and as close as possible to it, so as to make use of the approach roads. To make it easier for river traffic to pass through, the central span of the temporary bridge was the width of two of the bridge spans. The steel spans were built on the old bridge and lowered into place by crane at night. During May and June 1925 the old bridge was closed to vehicles to allow the 500-ton central span to be constructed on it and lifted into position. In August the public witnessed a curious spectacle as thirty buses, each one filled with 6 tons of sandbags to represent a full load of passengers, were used to test the temporary bridge prior to its opening. When it opened on 12 August it carried all the southbound traffic, with all northbound vehicles using the old bridge.


Waterloo bridge (part four)

One of Monet's many paintings of Waterloo Bridge, depicting its many moods at different times of day. This one, painted in 1900, is called Waterloo Bridge, Cloudy Day. The south side of the river was still very industrial.



In February 1925 the LCC recommended the construction of a completely new bridge, with no more than five spans, and wide enough for six lanes of traffic. This decision caused a huge outcry from the usual quarters and yet more letters to The Times. One letter of protest came, somewhat ironically, as we shall see, from the architect, Giles Gilbert Scott, who said that “The proposed destruction of Waterloo Bridge fills one with dismay and calls for the strongest possible protest”. Such criticism clearly had its effect, at least in the short term, as the LCC now commissioned a report from the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens about the artistic effect of widening the existing bridge to take for lanes of traffic. He looked at a number of options but was unable to come up with any design that did not seriously damage the appearance of the bridge. The Council also looked again at the possibility of underpinning the old bridge, but they decided against it, and in early 1926 announced a competition for the design of a new bridge. By now another two piers were showing signs of settlement.

Throughout all these disputes and arguments there were many earnest letters on the subject to The Times from architects and engineers, but there were also some lighter moments. One letter tells the story of a friend saying to an engineer “How sad it is to see one of Wren's masterpieces being ruthlessly torn down”, to which the engineer replies, unwilling to expose his friend's ignorance: “Yes, but we engineers, in our affectionate way, call him Rennie”. George Bernard Shaw again played devil's advocate in a letter to The Times of 3 May 1928. He described Waterloo Bridge as “a causeway with holes in it, blocking the view of the river hopelessly... For 30 years I have lived with Waterloo Bridge under my study windows; and my hatred of its incurable ugliness and fundamental wrongness increased during all the time.... All that is needed for Waterloo Bridge is sufficiency of dynamite, followed by a law making it a capital offence to make perforated causeways across the Thames”. Rennie must have been turning in his grave.

The survival of Rennie's bridge ultimately depended on the result of the ongoing “Battle of the Bridges” about the provision of new bridges over the Thames to cope with the increase in London's traffic. The key to the problem lay in the plans for a road bridge to replace the Charing Cross Railway Bridge, which would take pressure off Waterloo Bridge. In 1926 the Government set up a Royal Commission on Cross-River Traffic to look at all the issues, and the LCC put off their rebuilding plans until it reported its findings. Its recommendation was for a new road bridge at Charing Cross, and for Waterloo Bridge to be retained, with its foundations strengthened by underpinning and its roadway widened. The problem for the LCC was that, while the Government had offered to provide 75 percent of the cost of rebuilding Waterloo Bridge, there was no such financial commitment for the new Charing Cross Bridge. In 1929 a government grant for the Charing Cross Bridge was offered, but this was withdrawn in 1931, and the LCC voted again to demolish the old Waterloo Bridge and replace it with a new one, choosing Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who had earlier defended Rennie's bridge, to design it. But even this was still not the end of the matter.



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