Waterloo Bridge 70th Year Anniversary

Waterloo Bridge 70th Year Anniversary
Celebrating 70 years of women’s ingenuity

On 10 December 1945, Waterloo Bridge was officially opened by Herbert Morrison with the words “The men who built Waterloo Bridge are fortunate men. They know that, although their names may be forgotten, their work will be a pride and use to London for many generations to come. To the hundreds of workers in stone, in steel, in timber, in concrete the new bridge is a monument to their skill and craftsmanship.”

But 70 years later it is not so much the men who are remembered for having built Waterloo Bridge, but the women, as Dawn Bonfield, of the Women’s Engineering Society explains, “Waterloo Bridge was built by women, who stepped in whilst the men were away fighting, to construct what is now often referred to as the ‘The Ladies Bridge’.  This year we celebrate the bridge’s 70th anniversary, in memory of those many women construction workers.”

Earlier this year to celebrate National Women in Engineering Day, the bridge was relisted by Historic England to recognise its historical significance, as a result of further photographic evidence that has come to light.  This depicts the role of women construction workers, which has been passed down anecdotally and in particular by the riverboat men, who take visitors up and down the Thames, for the past 70 years.

The Association of Women in Property holds an annual school event with Lilian Baylis Technology School in Lambeth, when 100+ Year Seven students visit ‘The Ladies Bridge’, to see and hear about the challenges of building a bridge across the Thames, from volunteers from the construction and property sector who give an insight into working in engineering, architecture and transport.

Next year, as part of the Women of the World festival in March plans are afoot to project the three recently discovered photographs of women acetylene welders onto the South Bank arch of the bridge. This high-profile projection will add momentum and weight to the campaign for a blue plaque from English Heritage to further celebrate the women’s contribution to the construction of the bridge.

Another exciting prospect is the potential re-use of some of the Barbara Hepworth designs from the original competition which took place in 1947 to create sculptures for the plinths on either end of the bridge, and erect them as a tribute to these women workers - a project which was never completed at the time due to the committee's inability to choose a winner. The designs and maquettes can now be seen at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives.

Plans are also afoot to create an audio-work including interviews and archive recordings for people to listen to, whilst walking across the bridge, potentially with installations at Somerset House and the National Theatre - based at either end of the bridge - which will be ready for the Totally Thames festival in September 2016.

The story of the bridge continues to capture the imagination of its users and 70 years after its opening has become an icon to commemorate the wartime work of women in these engineering and construction roles.

Notes for Editors

  • Women's Engineering Society is a charity which represents the work of women engineers in the UK. www.wes.org.uk
  • Image of navvies from the New York Times 29/9/42       
  • The Ladies Bridge film has been edited to include the newly discovered photographs of women acetylene welders working on the bridge. http://www.theladiesbridge.co.uk/
  • Historic England's relisting of Waterloo Bridge to include the historical significance of its employment of female construction workers can be seen here. https://www.historicengland.org.uk/news-and-features/news/england-built-by-women
  • An application has been made to English Heritage for a blue plaque to commemorate the role of women workers on the bridge.
  • National Women in Engineering Day takes place annually on 23 June to celebrate the achievements of women in engineering and to promote engineering as a career choice for women. It is co-ordinated by the Women's Engineering Society. www.nwed.org.uk
  • The Women of the World Festival (WOW) takes place at the Southbank Centre in London in March 2016. http://wow.southbankcentre.co.uk/
  • Models and the history of the Barbara Hepworth sculptures for Waterloo Bridge can be seen here. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hepworth-project-for-waterloo-bridge-the-valleys-t13823/text-catalogue-entry. For further details contact WES Fellow Sandi Rhys Jones OBE.
  • The Ladies Bridge Roadshow at Lilian Baylis Technology School is  organised annually by Women in Property, visit  http://www.womeninproperty.org.uk/branches/south-east/events/2014/roadshow-with-lilian-baylis-technology-school/review.aspx
  • The Totally Thames Festival takes place in September 2016. http://totallythames.org/

Further details can be obtained from:

  • Dawn Bonfield CEO of the Women’s Engineering Society: office@wes.org.uk Tel. 01438 765506
  • The History of Waterloo Bridge, Christine Wall, C.Wall@westminster.ac.uk
  • The Ladies Bridge Film, Projections onto Waterloo Bridge and the WOW Festival: Karen Livesey, info@theladiesbridge.co.uk
  • Totally Thames Festival Audioproject: Claudia Molitor, info@claudiamolitor.org
  • Barbara Hepworth Designs and Schools Outreach Projects: Sandi Rhys Jones, sandi@rhysjones.com
  • Relisting of Waterloo Bridge by Historic England: Rosie Ryder, Rosie.Ryder@HistoricEngland.org.uk
  • The Blue Plaque Campaign Application for Waterloo Bridge: Jen Lexmond, jen.lexmond@googlemail.com