Waterloo Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge crossing the River Thames in London, England between Blackfriars Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. The name of the bridge is in memory of the British victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Thanks to its location at a strategic bend in the river, the views of London (Westminster, the South Bank and London Eye to the west, the City of London and Canary Wharf to the east) from the bridge are widely held to be the finest from any spot at ground level.
The first bridge on the site was designed in 1809-10 by John Rennie for the Strand Bridge Company and opened in 1817 as a toll bridge. The granite bridge had nine arches, each of 120 feet (36.6 m) span, separated by double Grecian-Doric stone columns and was 2,456 feet (748.6 m) long, including approaches. Before its opening it was known as ”Strand Bridge”. During the 1840s the bridge gained a reputation as a popular place for suicide attempts. In 1844 Thomas Hood wrote the poem The Bridge of Sighs about the suicide of a prostitute there.
The bridge was nationalised in 1878 and given to the Metropolitan Board of Works, who removed the toll from it. Serious problems were found in its construction and the new owners reinforced it. Paintings of the bridge were created by the French Impressionist Claude Monet and English Impressionist, John Constable.
By the 1920s, the problems had increased. London County Council decided to demolish it and replace it with a new structure designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The new span was partially opened in 1942 and completed in 1945. The new bridge was the only Thames bridge to have been damaged by German bombers during World War II. The building contractor was Peter Lind & Company Limited. It is frequently asserted that the work force was largely female and it is sometimes referred to as “the ladies’ bridge”. It is constructed in Portland stone from the South West of England; the stone cleans itself whenever it rains.
Granite stones from the original bridge were subsequently “presented to various parts of the British world to further historic links in the British Commonwealth of Nations”. Two of these stones are in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, sited between the parallel spans of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, one of two major crossings of Lake Burley Griffin in the heart of the city. Stones from the bridge were used to build a monument in Wellington, New Zealand, to Paddy the Wanderer, a dog that roamed the wharves from 1928 to 1939 and was befriended by seamen, watersiders, Harbour Board workers and taxi drivers. The monument includes a bronze likeness of Paddy and drinking bowls for dogs.
The south end of the bridge is the area known as The South Bank and includes the Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo station, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Royal National Theatre, and the National Film Theatre (directly beneath the bridge).
In the 1950s the National Film Theatre (a legacy from the Festival of Britain) was built directly underneath Waterloo Bridge. In the 1980s The award winning Museum of the Moving Image was also built directly underneath the bridge and became perhaps the only museum in the world to have stalactites (from water leaking through the Bridge) growing within it.
The north end passes above the Victoria Embankment where the road joins the Strand and Aldwych alongside Somerset House. The entire bridge was given Grade II* listed structure protection in 1981.
Georgi Markov was a Bulgarian dissident assassinated on Waterloo Bridge by agents of the Bulgarian secret police assisted by the KGB. On 7 September 1978, Markov crossed Waterloo Bridge to wait at a bus stop on the other side, when he was jabbed in the leg by a man holding an umbrella. The man apologized and walked away. Markov would later tell doctors that the man had spoken in a foreign accent.
On the evening of 7 September, Markov developed a high fever. He died in agony three days later. After his death, doctors found a small platinum pellet embedded in his calf. Further examination found that two small holes had been drilled in the bullet containing traces of the poison ricin.