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.
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.