Victorian London - Thames - Bridges - Waterloo Bridge

[taking tolls on Waterloo Bridge - note the turnstile, ed.]

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1842

Waterloo Bridge. - To the spirited exertions and unceasing perseverance of the late Mr. George Dodd, an active, enterprising, and skilful engineer, the public are indebted for the erection of this distinguished ornament of the metropolis which was commenced by him, but completed by Mr. Rennie. The first stone was laid on the 11th October, 1811, and the bridge was opened for passengers on the 18th of June 1817, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo; the Prince Regent, and the Duke of Wellington being present at the ceremony, which was of a splendid description. This is, perhaps, the most august structure of the kind in the world, and it differs from all the other bridges in having a completely level road-way. The general style of the architecture is plain but the uniform extent and wide span of its arches give it an appearance of uncommon grandeur. It consists of nine semi-elliptical arches of equal size and elevation, the spans of each being 120 feet, though the thickness of each pier is but twenty feet, a clear water-way is thus left of 1080 feet. Its length, within the abutments, is 1240 feet, and its width, within the balustrades, is 42 feet, seven of which, on each side, are appropriated to foot passengers. The whole is built of Cornish granite, except the balustrades, which are of Aberdeen granite. The views from this edifice are extensive and beautiful, and are much enlivened by the perpetual passage of steam boats and other vessels, that, in the summer season, considerably heighten the panoramic beauties of this delightful promenade.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844


    A penny, of the reign of VICTORIA, was discovered last week in the toll-box of the Waterloo Bridge. The toll-keeper is quite puzzled to explain how it could have got there, as he does not recollect ever seeing anything of the kind since he has had the exclusive possession of the Bridge. The supposition is, the penny must have been dropped into the toll-box by some charitable individual who had mistaken it for a poor-box. However, we congratulate the shareholders upon their sudden accession of property.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1845

WATERLOO BRIDGE. A bridge over the Thames, the noblest bridge in the world, built by a public company pursuant to an act passed in 1809. The first stone was laid Oct. 11th, 1811, and the bridge publicly opened on the second anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, June 18th, 1817. It is said to have cost above a million. The engineer was John Rennie, son of a farmer at Phantassie, in East Lothian-the engineer of many of our celebrated docks and of the breakwater at Plymouth. He died in 1821, and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral by the side of Wren. ... This celebrated bridge, "a colossal monument worthy of Sesostris and the Caesars,"  (M. Dupin), consists of nine elliptical arches of 120 feet span, and 35 feet high, supported on piers 20 feet wide at the springing of the arches. The entire length is 2456 feet, the bridge and abutments being 1 380 feet, the approach from the Strand 310 feet, and the causeway on the Surrey side, as far as supported by the land-arches, 766 feet. The bridge is therefore on a level with the Strand, and one uniform level throughout.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here

  Drip, dnp, drip from ledge and coping, splash from pipes and water-spouts, and by and by the houseless shadow would fall upon the stones that pave the way to Waterloo-bridge; it being in the houseless mind to have halfpenny worth of excuse for saying “Good night” to the toll-keeper, and catching a glimpse of his fire. A good fire and a good great-coat and a good woollen neck shawl were comfortable things to see in conjunction with the toll-keeper also;  his brisk wakefulness was excellent company when he rattled the change of halfpence down upon that metal table of his, like a man who defied the night, with all its sorrowful thoughts, and didn’t care for the coming of dawn. There was need of encouragement on the threshold of the bridge, for the bridge was dreary. The chopped-up murdered man, had not been lowered with a rope over the parapet when those nights were; he was alive, and slept then quietly enough most likely, and undisturbed by any dream of where he was to come. But the river had an awful look, the buildings on the banks were muffled in black shrouds, and the reflected lights seemed to originate deep in the water, as if the spectres of suicides were holding them to show where they went down. The wild moon and clouds were as restless as an evil conscience in a tumbled bed, and the very shadow of the immensity of London seemed to lie oppressively upon the river. 

Charles Dickens, Night Walks (article from All the Year Round), 1860

WATERLOO BRIDGE was designed by Sir John Rennie, and is a monument to his fame, perennius aere. M. Dupin styled it "a colossal monument worthy of Sesostris and the Caesars;" and its simple grandeur cannot fail to excite the stranger's admiration. It was commenced in 1811, and opened on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1817.
    Its total length is 2466 ft. ; but this includes the raised approaches - 16 arches on the Strand side, and 40 on the Surrey side. The river portion is 1326 ft. long, and spanned by nine elliptical arches, each 120 ft. span, and 35 ft. high. Toll for foot passengers, ½d.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

WATERLOO BRIDGE has been dignified by Canova as "the noblest bridge in the world," and by Baron Dupin as "a colossal monument worthy of Sesostris and the Caesars." It was partly projected by George Dodd, the engineer, and designed for him by John Linnell Bond, architect, who died in 1837 but the bridge was eventually built for a public Company by John Rennie, F.R.S. It crosses the Thames from the Strand, between Somerset Place and the site of the Savoy, to Lainbeth, at the centre of the site of Cuper's Gardens, where the first stone was laid October 11, 1811.
    This Bridge consists of nine semi-elliptical arches, each 120 feet span and 35 feet high, supported on piers 20 feet wide at the springing of the arches; with "useless and inappropriate Grecian-Done columns between the piers, surmounted by the anomalous decoration of a balustrade upon a Doric entablature"- (Elmes) The width of the Thames at this part is 1326 feet at high water; the entire length of the bridge is 2456 feet - the bridge and abutments being 1880 feet, the approach from the Strand 310 feet, and the land-arch causeway on the Surrey side 766 feet. The roadway upon the summit of the arches is carried upon brick arches to the level of the Strand; and by a gentle declivity upon a series of brick arches over the roadway upon the Surrey bank of the river to the level of the roads near the Obelisk by the Surrey Theatre. This district, until the building of the Bridge, was known as Lambeth Marsh, was low-lying and swampy, with thinly scattered dwellings; but in a few years it became covered with streets of houses.
    The Bridge is built of granite, "in a style of solidity and magnificence hitherto unknown. There elliptical arches, with inverted arches between them to counteract tlse lateral pressure, were carried to a greater extent than in former bridges; and isolated coffer-dams upon a great scale in a tidal river, with steam-engines for pumping out the water, were, it is believed, for the first time employed in this country; the level line of roadway, which adds so much to the beauty as well as the convenience of the structure, was there adopted." -(Sir John Rennie, F.R.S.) The Bridge was opened by a procession of the Prince Regent and the Dukes of York and Wellington, and a grand military cavalcade, on June 18, 1817, the second anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, whence it is named. ·The Bridge itself cost about 400,000l., which, by the expense of the approaches, was increased to above a million of money-a larger sum than the cost of building St. Paul's, the Monument, and seven of our finest metropolitan churches. It has been a ruinous speculation to the Company, the tolls amounting to little more than 20,000l. per annum.
    Formerly, the average number of suicides annually committed from Waterloo Bridge was 40 in September, 1841, there were nine attempts made, within a few days, to commit suicide from Blackfriars Bridge.

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867

see also James Greenwood in Low-Life Deeps - click here

Waterloo Bridge, the earliest of John Rennie’s three, and beyond measure the cheapest, is also commonly considered the finest. As to this there may perhaps be a question, some critics preferring London Bridge, or even Southwark, as grander if less ornate. The perfect level, too, of the roadway in the case of Waterloo, whilst the first of all merits from a practical point of view, somewhat narrows its artistic opportunities; whilst the uniformity of the arches is considered by some to give it too much the air of “a length out of a viaduct.” In all other respects it is the handsomest bridge across the Thames; consisting of nine elliptical arches 120 ft. in span and 35ft. in height, supported on piers 20 ft. wide at the spring of the arches, and surmounted by an open balustrade. It is not so wide as London Bridge by 11 ft., but is very nearly half as long again— 1,380 ft.—without the approaches, which are on the Middlesex side 370 ft, and on the Surrey side 766 ft. in length. It was opened in great state on the second anniversary of Waterloo, 18th June, 1817. NEAREST Railway Station, Temple; Omnibus Route, Strand; Cab Rank, Wellington-street.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

WATERLOO BRIDGE is considered the finest stone bridge in the world. It was built by John Rennie, 1811-17, and was to have been called Strand Bridge, but the battle of Waterloo happening just as the bridge was finished it was called Waterloo, and opened on the second anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. It cost the original company who owned it one million, but was sold to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1878 for £475,000, when tolls were no longer charged. It consists of nine arches, each 120 feet across and 35 feet high, and is 460 yards long and 42 yards broad. From the bridge is a capital view of the Thames Embankment and Somerset House.

George Birch, The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896

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Two Hundred and Fifty Views London, [no date - probably 1900s]