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Waterloo Bridge (1945)
River Thames, Waterloo, London, UK
Waterloo Bridge (1945)
associated engineer
Rendel, Palmer & Tritton
date  October 1837 - November 1944, in use Nov 1942, formal opening Dec 1945
era  Modern  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  TQ306805
ICE reference number  HEW 262
photo  Jane Joyce
The present Waterloo Bridge is the first reinforced concrete bridge to cross the Thames in central London. Austere in design, its architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) and engineer Rendel, Palmer & Tritton. The whole length of the bridge's five-span structural 'skeleton' is visible from below, and it is faced in Portland stone. Waterloo Bridge is Grade II* listed.
The original bridge on this site was a nine-arch masonry bridge [ Waterloo Bridge (1817) ] designed by John Rennie (1761-1821). It had suffered from subsidence as a consequence of river scour around its pier foundations, and was judged unable to cope with increased traffic loading. It closed in June 1934, and was demolished. A replacement was needed urgently to fulfil London County Council’s plans to provide better traffic facilities and improve navigation on the River Thames.
The council — the bridge's owner — had to gain Parliamentary approval to borrow money for capital works through annual London County Council (Money) bills, and approval was not granted until 1936. In the meantime, preparatory works and demolition of Rennie's bridge were undertaken using revenue from council rates. Rendel, Palmer & Tritton designed the demolition scheme.
In 1937, tenders for the bridge proper were sought, and work commenced in October the same year. The winning tender was for £647,922, submitted by contractor Peter Lind & Co. In 1938, Minister of Transport Edward Leslie Burgin (1887-1945) agreed a Road Fund grant of 60 percent of the construction cost.
The bridge's structural design was by Rendel, Palmer & Tritton engineers Ernest James Buckton and John Cueral. The appointment by the council was in association with its own chief engineer Thomas Peirson Frank (1881-1951, knighted 1942). The resident engineer was Mr H.F. Nolans. As mentioned above, the architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, designer of the red telephone box.
In striking contrast to its masonry predecessor, the new Waterloo Bridge is almost twice the area in plan but only about three-quarters of its weight — and crosses the river using four slim piers, as opposed to eight.
Waterloo Bridge is 378.7m long between abutments. It has five spans, three of 77m in the middle and one of 73.8m at each end — an average clear span of about 72.3m, with 9.1m headroom above high water. The deck is 24.4m wide parapet to parapet, with a roadway of 17.7m flanked by footpaths of 3.35m.
The footways are carried on twin reinforced multi-celled concrete box girder beams, 7.6m wide and of varying depth, continuous over the four piers and shaped to look like a series of arches. The roadway rests on narrow transverse beams connected to the box girders.
Although the structure appears straightforward, it was complicated to implement, and advice was sought from reinforced concrete pioneer and expert Oscar Faber (1886-1956).
Close collaboration between engineers, architect and contractor was necessary to ensure that Scott’s design concept was realised, as well as optimising its structural performance. This teamwork was notable at the time, though is now fundamental to the success of major schemes. The new Waterloo Bridge was held to be "an example of effective and friendly co-operation", and all were to be congratulated "on the way in which they had set about the work and faced the difficulties that had arisen”.
Construction began with the erection of a 12.2m wide gantry platform across the river on the upstream side of the bridge site. This was fitted with a light railway and seven large derrick cranes. Around 1,200 temporary timber piles were driven to support the gantry plus the centring for the spans. Interlocking steel sheet pile cofferdams were driven to 3m below foundation level for the construction of the abutments and piers. These were cut off at low level later.
The foundation stone was laid on 4th May 1939, by politician Francis Campbell Ross Douglas (1889-1980, later Lord Douglas of Barloch). The ceremony included placing part of the first stone from the old bridge and a copper cylinder containing current newspapers, coins and postage stamps.
The bridge's piers are founded in hard London clay some 10.7m below Ordnance Datum, or about 6.1m below the river bed at the deepest point, which allows for future dredging of the navigation channel. Each pier’s mass concrete foundation is 35.7m long, 8.2m wide and 1.8m deep. Above this is a centrally placed reinforced concrete bearing wall, 25.3m long and 686mm thick, connected rigidly to the foundation. Each wall is surrounded by a boat-shaped reinforced concrete shell, 32.3m long and 4.3m wide that protects against shipping damage. Apparently, the piers are equipped with jacks to level the bridge in case of subsidence caused by scour.
The twin reinforced concrete box girder beams that form the five arches are continuous over the four outer spans. A 28.65m long suspended section in the middle of the central span is carried on cantilevers. Short cantilevers at the landward ends of the bridge extend to meet the approach slabs (the approaches date from Rennie’s original bridge).
During construction timber centring supported most of the spans. Steel girders over the navigation channel provided two 39.6m openings for vessels, and an arrangement of steel supports at Victoria Embankment maintained the necessary clearance for trams and other traffic. Once completed, the weight of the spans was transferred to the piers by hydraulic jacks recessed in the bearing walls. The entrance to the Kingsway tramway subway was diverted 73m to align with the carriageway on the bridge.
The curved soffits of the box beams connect to the bearing walls without rollers or other type of joint, so the bearing walls are flexible and act like articulated supports. Horizontal movements are controlled by substantial stops at each end of the bridge and subsidiary stops at the tops of the pier shells. Sliding plate expansion joints to accommodate thermal movement are located at the ends of the bridge and at the suspended span.
A ribbed Portland stone cornice runs along each side of the bridge deck, with steel handrails. The spandrels are faced in Portland stone, which is considered self-cleaning as it doesn't stain where open to the weather. The piers are also clad in Portland stone, except between high and low water levels where Cornish granite recovered from the old bridge has been used. Four access staircases are provided at the projecting quadrants of the abutments. One pair at the north end connects by pedestrian subway to Victoria Embankment.
The bridge's concrete had to be heavily reinforced to achieve the slenderness and visual lightness required. To maximise the space available and minimise the overall weight, all the main reinforcement junctions were made using electric arc welding instead of the lapping or splicing of bars. The bridge contains a total of 1,486,000 welds — 54,000 butt welds, 222,000 junction welds, 100,000 spreader link welds and 1,110,000 spot welds where bars cross. The high strength concrete was mixed at a batching plant on the south bank and conveyed via the gantry.
Air raids in 1940-1 caused damage to the permanent works and the temporary bridge. Waterloo was the only Thames bridge to be damaged in this way.
By 1941, the initial workforce of 500 men had been reduced to just 50. As men were called up to join the armed forces during World War II (1939-45), women took over to keep British industries operating. Waterloo Bridge was no different, and much of it was completed by a female workforce undertaking skilled and unskilled labour, earning it the nickname "the Ladies' bridge".
On 11th August 1942, the bridge opened to two lanes of road traffic. On 21st December the same year the footpaths were opened and the temporary bridge closed. The temporary structure was dismantled and removed in 1943. By November 1944, all six traffic lines were in use.
The leader of the council Herbert Stanley Morrison (1888-1965, later Lord Morrison of Lambeth) carried out the bridge’s formal opening on 10th December 1945, declaring that "the men who built Waterloo Bridge are fortunate men. They know that, although their names may be forgotten, their work will be a pride and use to London for many generations to come. To the hundreds of workers in stone, in steel, in timber, in concrete the new bridge is a monument to their skill and craftsmanship". The women who had worked on it were not mentioned.
In January 1981, the Waterloo Bridge was Grade II* listed, with the citation amended in June 2015. It was listed for its engineering innovation, and historical and architectural interest and its "sleek, robust and elegant design" is noted.
Architect: Giles Gilbert Scott
Resident engineer: H.F. Nolans
Contractor: Peter Lind & Co Ltd
Research: ECPK
"Waterloo Bridge" by Brian Cookson, London Historians, August 2011
"Opening of Waterloo Bridge" official booklet, London County Council, Monday 10th December 1945
"Discussion. The New Waterloo Bridge" by E.J. Buckton et al, Journal of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol.20, Issue 7, pp.178-201, London, June 1943
reference sources   CEH Lond

Waterloo Bridge (1945)