Built between 1813 and 1817, the first Waterloo Bridge was designed by Scottish civil engineer John Rennie and featured nine elliptical arches, pairs of Doric columns at the piers and a flat roadway.
Originally known as The Strand Bridge, the name was changed by an Act of Parliament in 1816 and commemorated the victory over Napoleon Boneparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
It was opened by the Prince Regent, accompanied by the Duke of Wellington, on 18th June, 1817 – the second anniversary of the battle.
The bridge originally featured toll booths – the toll was removed in 1877.
In the early 20th century, piers from the bridge settled into the riverbed and created a dip, possibly due to the increasing traffic using it. A temporary steel bridge was placed alongside it and, despite opposition, it was eventually demolished in 1936.
The current bridge, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was built over the years 1937 to 1942 (although it wasn’t fully completed until 1945).
Old Waterloo Bridge was famously depicted in a series of works by Claude Monet painted between 1900 and 1904 while he stayed at the Savoy Hotel and by John Constable who created a famous painting of its opening (it’s actually his largest work). The bridge also lends its name to the 1940 American film, Waterloo Bridge, which was adapted from a 1930 play.
Interestingly, granite blocks from the original bridge were sent to Australia and New Zealand while timbers from the bridge were used for shelves and wall panels in the library at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire (where the famous Constable painting hangs). Some of the original blocks were also incorporated into the foundations and approaches of the new bridge.
The keystone from the original bridge, recovered when it was demolished, is located at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Great George Street.