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Waterloo bridge (part six)
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By the early 1950s trams were being phased out, and the Kingsway subway became obsolete after the last tram passed through it in 1952. It was later converted into an underpass by extending it on to Waterloo Bridge to allow northbound traffic to avoid the busy Strand intersection, opening in 1964. The exit from the tunnel where the trams emerged on to the Embankment has now been converted into a bar and restaurant.

After the Second World War it was decided to hold an event that, it was hoped, would revive the nation's spirits. The site chosen was the area between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges on the south bank of the Thames, which had once been industrial but was now largely derelict. The Festival of Britain was held there in 1951, with its focus being the Royal Festival Hall. The hall remained as a permanent feature and was the catalyst for the development of the area into what is now known as the South Bank. In 1957 the National Film Theatre (now renamed BFI Southbank) opened underneath the southern end of Waterloo Bridge, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery were added in the 1960s. To the east of the bridge is the Royal National Theatre, which opened in 1976. The space under the southern arch of the bridge is now occupied by a second-hand book market, which is yet another attraction in what is becoming a very lively part of London.



Waterloo bridge (part six)

The present Waterloo Bridge, with Somerset House in the background.




In September 1978 an extraordinary event that could have some straight out of a James Bond novel took place on the bridge. Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian exile for the BBC Overseas Service, was waiting at a bus stop at the south end of the bridge when a passing stranger stabbed him in the thigh with an umbrella, got into a taxi and sped off. That night Markov had a high fever and was taken to hospital, and four days later he was dead. Before he died, he mentioned the incident to his wife, and later investigation discovered a tiny metal ball, no bigger than a pinhead, in his thigh. There were two holes in it, which had been filled with the deadly poison ricin. Markov was a journalist who had been openly critical of the Bulgarian regime, and he had been warned to stop broadcasting or he would be poisoned, but the method used to silence him was highly unusual. For years the Bulgarian authorities denied any involvement, but it is now accepted that the attack was carried out by a Bulgarian secret agent, Franchesco Guillino, using a KGB-created weapon.

Many of London's bridges have featured in films, but Waterloo is the only bridge to have given its name to a film. Based on Robert Sherwood's sentimental play of the same name, the first Waterloo Bridge, directed by James Whale,was filmed entirely in Hollywood and opened in 1932. A second version, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, was filmed in London in 1940, and claims have been made that some of it was actually filmed on the bridge, but this is unlikely, as it was still under construction. The story tells of a young ballet dancer, Myra, who meets a young army officer called Roy on the bridge during the First World War. They fall in love and decide to marry, but he is sent to the front and is later reported killed in action. She loses her job and works as a prostitute, only to meet Roy when he returns at the end of the war. They arranged to marry, but Myra feels so ashamed about her recent past that she returns to Waterloo Bridge, where she commits suicide by jumping under an army truck.

When the new bridge was being built, two of the columns and a piece of the balustrade from Rennie's bridge were incorporated into the south abutment of the new bridge, but these disappeared when the South Bank was redeveloped. However, part of the old bridge can still be seen, though it is easily overlooked. Under the northern arch, on the riverside of the Embankment, is a platform that was built on top of one of the original piers, and the bases of the Doric columns can be seen on both sides. Standing on the Platform gives one a very good idea of just how narrow the old bridge was compared to the new one.


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