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The LCC had to get Parliament's approval and the provision of a grant from the Road Fund, but this was not forthcoming. When the Government offered to provide 60 percent of the cost of reconditioning the old bridge, the LCC reluctantly agreed, and during 1933 tenders were invited for the work to be carried out. A few months later, with Herbert Morrison the newly elected Leader, the Council decided that the debate had been going on long enough and decisive action was required. Morrison had been pushing for a new bridge since 1924, saying that what London needed was a bridge, not a monument, and he was now determined to get his way. The bridge had been a political football for too long and so, when Parliament again refused to support the Council's plans financially, it decided to go it alone, with the cost, about 1 295 000 pounds coming from the rates.

On 20 June 1934, more than ten years after the controversy began, the bridge's demolition began with a brief ceremony, in which Herbert Morrison helped to remove the first stone from the old bridge. Two days later, the bridge was closed to all traffic, and demolition of the balustrades began. The demolition was a complicated procedure, especially of the arches, and the job took three years to complete.

Waterloo bridge (part five)

A postcard of Waterloo Bridge from the 1930s, showing the temporary iron bridge alongside while the bridge's future was decided.

Public affection for the old bridge was enormous, and parts of the structure were offered for sale. The 1 300 granite balusters were sold off at 1 pound each; one of them is known to have been re-used as a sundial in a garden in Dorking. A short selection of the balustrade was given to the London Museum (now the Museum of London). Parts of the bridge found their way to different parts of the Commonwealth, including lamp standards to Rhodesia, four stones to Australia to be used in a new bridge, and a 2 and a half-ton block of granite to New Zealand, where it was incorporated into the new Parliament building in Wellington, 10 tons of the granite were taken to Australia as ballast and were used in a town hall built in the 1960s. The LCC even used some of the granite in an extension to County Hall.
The elm piles, well-seasoned from spending over a hundred years in the Thames mud, were particularly popular. A coach of the “Coronation Scot”, a new express train, was panelled with it, and it was also used to furnish the captain's room of the ocean-going liner Queen Elizabeth. Rooms in Toynbee Hall and the new Times building were panelled with it, and the bookshelves in the library of Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire were made from it, which is particularly apt, as a version of Constable's The Opening of Waterloo Bridge now hangs there. Smaller souvenirs were also available, including cigarette boxes from Fortnum & Mason and a tea table from a shop in Wigmore Street, whose sales pitch included the line: “Its pleasing colour is due to its 60 years' [sic] immersion in Thames mud”.

In 1936, by which time most of the bridge had been demolished, it was suggested that part of the bridge should be used as a memorial to Rennie in his native Scotland. The remaining stone was not suitable, but a member of the public, who had bought two balusters, donated one of them for the monument, which now stands on a site overlooking Phantassie Farm in East Linton, where he was born. The memorial takes the form of a seat made from local stone, inlaid with a bronze medallion of the engineer. In the centre is the baluster, with a sundial on top. Two of the bridge's lamp standards were given to Kelso in the Scottish Borders and still stand at one end of the bridge Rennie built there in 1803.

While the bridge was being demolished, the Council continued to press the Government for a contribution towards the new bridge, and in late 1937 it finally relented, offering to provide 60 percent of the cost from the Road Fund. Meanwhile the design of the bridge was being fine-tuned, and a number of changes were made to Scott's original ideas. It was to be 80 feet wide, nearly twice as wide as Rennie's bridge, so it could take six lanes of traffic. It would have five arches of 238 feet each, almost twice the size of Rennie's, with the first one on the north bank spanning the Embankment. It would be made of reinforced concrete, with the piers faced with granite and the superstructure with Portland stone, to blend in with neighbouring buildings such as Somerset House.

Work started in early 1938, and it was estimated that the bridge would be finished some time in 1940. On 4 May 1939 a new foundation stone, cut from the old one, was laid without ceremony in the north abutment. With the outbreak of war, work on the bridge was much delayed, because of a shortage of materials and manpower. As so many men were away fighting the war, many of the workers were women, and for this reason the bridge earned the nickname of the “Ladies' Bridge”. During the war the bridge was hit about twenty times by enemy bombs, which caused further delays. The bridge was partially opened to traffic on 11 August 1942, with one lane only in each direction. Pedestrians had to continue using the temporary bridge until December. The bridge opened fully on 21 November 1944 and was officially declared open by Herbert Morrison in a low-key ceremony on 10 December 1945.

In order to deal with the expected increase in traffic, it had been planned to build a large roundabout at the junction with the Strand, and the Lyceum Theatre was bought up by the LCC. It was forced to close in 1939 so it could be demolished, but the scheme was dropped and the theatre was able to reopen in 1940. Another project that never reached fruition was for the installation of sculptures at the four corners of the bridge, and plinths were provided for them. Charles Wheeler was asked to make sculptures of the Four Winds? But the offer was later withdrawn. In 1947 the Council held a competition, and Barbara Hepworth, Frank Dobson and Eric Kennington submitted designs. None of them was considered suitable, so Waterloo Bridge still has its four “empty plinths” above the staircases at each end. For a few months in 2007 the bridge did host a pair of statues in the form of Antony Gormley's bronze casts of his naked body, installed there during an exhibition of his work at the Hayward Gallery.)

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