Blog 2
Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge

Structural Information

Figure 1: Location of the Waterloo Bridge [4]

The first Waterloo Bridge also known as Strand Bridge was a masonry bridge in 1809. The Strand Company came up with the idea of building a toll bridge across the River Thames, hence the nickname Strand Bridge. When Parliament learned about this idea they funded The Strand Company with 500,00 pounds for the creation of a bridge that would connect north bank with SouthBank, Lambeth. The Strand Company appointed John Rennie with the honor of the chief engineer of this project. Rennie’s designed a nine-span masonry classical styled bridge. The structure measured 2890.4 feet in length with 27 feet of headroom above high tide. In the late 1800s Rennie’s bridge faced serious issues with its piers as a result of increase water flow in the River Thames and by the mid 1900s pier five failed and the entire bridge was closed for repairs. Just a little over ten years later, in June of 1934, the London County Council had enough and demolished Rennie’s bridge, but that was not the end of the Waterloo Bridge.

The second bridge was engineered by Ernest Buckton and John Cuerel of Rendel Palmer & Tritton and designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, with an approximate cost of 1.3 million pounds. Parliament did not fund this project until the approval of the London County Council Money Bill in 1936. The actual construction of the bridge was put on hold because of World War II and was partially completed a little less than ten years from its proposal. On August 11th, 1942 the bridge opened two lanes of road traffic, following with the opening of foot-paths in same year on December 21st. Two years later all six lanes of traffic were in full use. The official opening of the bridge wasn’t until December 10th, 1945, by the leader of the council Herbert Stanley Morrison.

Historical Significance

Until the beginning of the 19th century there was only one bridge, Blackfriars, that connected the north bank to the south bank of the River Thames. The construction of the Westminster Bridge soon followed, resulting in rapid development in Lambeth. This development stimulated the idea for a toll bridge that would connect Westminster to Lambeth. This bridge was the most expensive bridge built in Britain at the time. Therefore, Parliament believed that the toll from the bridge would pay itself back. This idea was a complete fail because the people of London just detoured the bridge to avoid paying the toll. As a result the toll was abolished in 1877.

Rennie’s design of the first Waterloo bridge was said to be a remarkable design, because if its eye-catching beauty and elegance. His bridge lasted longer than most bridges that crossed the River Thames at the time, but when the river began to rise the timber foundation platforms were exposed. During the late 1800’s efforts to save the bridge began, and more than 60,000 pounds were spent laying concrete slabs around the platforms to protect against erosion. After much blood, sweat, and tears were put into saving Old Waterloo the council finally deem these measures unsuccessful and closed the bridge to traffic in May of 1924.

Figure 2: First Waterloo Bridge [3]

Figure 3: Second Waterloo Bridge [4]

A temporary bridge was constructed and discussion over the fate of Old Waterloo was held for the next ten year. During these years, three alternatives were discussed. Alternative one, Rennie’s structure should be strengthened and repaired, alternative two, Rennie’s bridge should be rebuilt based on the old design, but lanes should be added to accommodate a greater volume of traffic, or alternative three, a new build should be built in place of Rennie’s bridge. After years of discussion, the London County Council finally made a decision and the demolition of the first Waterloo Bridge took place in 1934, along with a proposition of a new bridge with less span arches.

The second and current Waterloo Bridge is a five span bridge and was the first bridge made of reinforced concrete to cross the River Thames in London. The new bridge is almost twice the area of the old bridge but weighs about a third less than Old Waterloo, and crosses the River Thames with four piers instead of eight. Rennie’s original foundation forms a part of the embarkment wall on the north side of the new bridge as well as a memorial to Rennie composed of two columns and railing from Old Waterloo at the southern part of the new bridge. The elliptical arch faced with marvelous stone spanning Belvedere Road still remains, forming a part of the southern approach of the new bridge. I guess this was London’s way of thanking Rennie and showing they will never forget Old Waterloo.

Cultural Significance

Figure 4: Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo [5]

Although most of the towns people knew this bridge as the Strand Bridge, an act of Parliament officially named it the Waterloo Bridge as “a lasting Record of the brilliant and decisive Victory achieved by His Majesty’s Forces in conjunction with those of His Allies, on the Eighteenth Day of June One thousand eight hundred and fifteen” (Craig). Old Waterloo was opened on June 18th, 1817 by Prince Regents and the Duke of Wellington, in honor of the second anniversary of the battel of Waterloo. The Battle of Waterloo was fought in 1815, in present-day Belgium where a French army commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by a British army commanded by the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian army commanded by the Prince of Wahlstatt. The defeat of the French marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Rennie’s Waterloo Bridge was the only bridge to be damaged in World War II by the Germans and ironically in January of 2017, Waterloo was closed after an unexploded second world war bomb was found in the River Thames relatively close to the bridge. Luckily police force was able to remove the bomb and perform a safely controlled detonation.

The first bridge definitely resulted in a loss of money for Parliament, because the toll on the bridge was unsuccessful. Despite the loss of money, the bridge was delightful to look at and everyone seemed to love it. An Italian sculptor Canova said, “the noblest bridge in the world”…“it is worth going to England solely to see Rennie’s bridge” (Craig). Today the current Waterloo bridge still has a number of recycled features from Old Waterloo and is used as a road one of the busiest foot and traffic bridge crossing over River Thames.

Structural Art

I believe that the Waterloo Bridge demonstrates structural art and I think Billington would agree with this. The bridge seems to give equal weight to the three E’s of structural art: efficiency, economy, and elegance. The current bridge is composed of reinforced concrete, which was a new practice at the time. This method is economic in such a way that the current bridge is stronger, stiffer, and offers more stability, than Old Waterloo resulting in a longer lasting bridge. Likewise, the strength, stiffness, and stability of reinforced concrete allowed the engineers to use less material across a greater area resulting in a efficient design, because although the current bridge is around twice the size of Old Waterloo, less material was used and the weight of the bridge remains less than Old Waterloo.

As for elegance the bridge showcases this one hundred percent. The entire length of the five span bridge showcases a skeletal structure that is visible from below. The five shallow span skeleton structure allows the bridge to look light and airy, while being aesthetically pleasing. The skeletal structure also allow the engineering techniques of the bridge to be showcased.

Differently, the face of the bridge is cased in granite and Portland stone which cleans itself whenever it rains, and London is a rainy city, so you can image how clean the face of the bridge looks. The granite on the bridge is used from Old Waterloo, which I believe meets all the E’s of structural art. It’s economical and efficient because materials were recycled and elegant because remains of the noble Old Waterloo are still showcased on the current bridge.

Figure 5: Lightness of the current Waterloo Bridge

Structural Analysis

Figure 6: Underside skeletal structure view of bridge

The current Waterloo Bridge design was composed of a shallow five-span structure, made of reinforced concrete, Portland Stone, and granite. The use of reinforced concrete was pretty new at the time, and the bridge was designed by an architect with little engineering background. As a result, during its construction, advice was sought from reinforced concrete expert Oscar Faber. The current Waterloo Bridge design put the bridge at almost twice the area of the Old Waterloo and three times less the weight of Old Waterloo. It is designed to accommodate a total of six lanes of traffic, with a 58-foot multipurpose lane, and 11 feet, footpath on each side.

The bridge is comprised of twin multi-cell reinforced-concrete framework with connecting diagonal slabs, supported by a watertight, pressurized box. The five shallow spans are an average of about 250 feet each with a deck supported by two lines of arches.

The center suspended span is supported by hinge joints, comprised of pre-stressed concrete. A detail analysis to determine the ultimate stress of the bridge allowed a better understanding of bridge performance resulting in the future maintenance planning. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott employed the structural system of repeating arches throughout the Waterloo Bridge with buttresses at either ends of the bridge.

Load Path

Figure 7: Overall load path of arches

Figure 8: Load path at the meeting point of arches

The dead and live loads from the bridge are transferred to its arches. The arches then take this load and transfer it to the abutments of the bridge. The abutments absorb the overall load of the bridge and transfer it into the ground.


Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 11 shows how I calculated the analysis for the arches of my bridge. I used google maps the approximate the depth of the arch as seen in figure 9. I knew the measurement of the span from research, so I used the ratio between the span of the arch and depth of the arch to approximate both the height and thickness of the bridge. I used these calculations and the weight of reinforced concrete to calculate the dead load on the bridge seen in figure 10. Next I researched the average lane load on London Bridge’s and through my research I calculated the approximate live load on the bridge. I then incorporated the dead and live loads on the bridge into my calculations for the vertical, horizontal, and Fmax force on my bridge for the arches that have a span of 232.20 feet. There are two arches with this span on the ends of the bridge.

Figure 11: Calculations of forces on arch

Figure 12: Forces applies on arch


Figure 14: Calculations of forces on arch

Figure 15: Forces applies on arch

I repeated the process above for the arches that had a span of 252.63 feet seen in figure 12. There are three arches with this span. These arches are located in the middle of the bridge.

The stakeholders of the current Waterloo Bridge would be London’s Parliament. They had to see and agree on a design that would be efficient, economical, and elegant in the central city of London. The previous bridge had many short comings so when the current design was presented, I designers and engineers had to showcase the issues they had resolved from Old Waterloo. They did this by implimenting shallow arches that look light and airy and cost less money than Old Waterloo but would also be long lasting and efficient.

Personal Response

The Waterloo Bridge is nicknamed the Ladies’ Bridge so of course that caught my attention. It is said to be built by a largely female workforce during the World War II as a result of their husbands going to war. This was a myth for a long time because of course people could not believe women were accountable for such a marvelous bridge. Well guess what, in the words of Betty Hutton, “Anything you can do I can do better! Eventually the myth was turned into a fact when documentaries and interviews proved it to be true. I never realized how much history such a structure can have. I have heard of this bridge and actually got to see it from a unique point view at the top of the London Eye, but I can say I was never fully interested until I started to research the bridge. The Waterloo Bridge made me appreciate simple elegance and years of history. I realized that a structure does not have to look complicated to have extravagant beauty.

Figure 16: Dorothy, a female welder at Waterloo Bridge [1]


[1] Craig, Z. (2017) “13 Secrets of Waterloo Bridge”. <

of-waterloo-bridge> (May. 25, 2018).

[2] Roberts, H. Godfrey, W. (1951) “’Waterloo Road’, in Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth:

South Bank and Vauxhall”. <> (May. 25, 2018).

[3] “Waterloo Bridge (1945) <> (May. 25, 2018).

[4] “Waterloo Bridge (1945) <> (May. 25, 2018).




  1. rclayton30 says

    I know it is name after Duke of Wellington from his victory “The Battle of Waterloo”, but mainly of women built bridge. Do you think the bridge name should ultimately be changed to the “Ladies Bridge” or an influential woman in London?

    • So the bridge is actually named after the battle of Waterloo, in honor of Duke Wellington. You know the British love defeating the French. Personally I would love for the bridge to honor the ladies who worked on it, so yes I do think it should ultimately be named the “Ladies Bridge.”