Long forgotten and ignored, recent discoveries into the history of Waterloo Bridge made by Dr Chris Wall and filmmaker Karen Livesey have traced an urban legend through to a concrete history…

An Unstable Past

By the end of the 1930s, the original Waterloo Bridge was heavily damaged by years of river flow and in need of rebuilding. However in 1939 the demand for labour found itself in direct competition with a rather more pressing matter – war. With most of the workforce conscripted into service, it fell to the women of London to fill the positions. Over the next five years, empty construction roles all over the UK were taken on by women and by 1944 there were 24,000 women working in the British construction industry.

With peace came the return of the status quo to British life and most women returned to traditional roles, with their great contribution to the home front quickly forgotten. When Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Morrison officially opened the new bridge in 1945, he thanked ‘The men who built Waterloo Bridge’, making no mention of the predominantly female workforce. With records lost and the women written out of history, evidence of their achievements were remembered only anecdotally as stories told by riverboat pilots who fondly coined the name the ‘Ladies Bridge’.

Building Bridges for the Future

New archival research has helped to resurface the true history of Waterloo Bridge, and will be celebrated at this year’s Totally Thames in two fantastic commissions.

From Thursday 22 – Saturday 24 September Light up the Ladies Bridge from Karen Livesey and Concrete History will tell the stories of the female bridge engineers through film, live performance and large scale photographic projections on the National Theatre’s fly tower and Waterloo Bridge.

The Singing Bridge is an exciting new musical journey from composer and sound artist Claudia Molitor that will run from Friday 9 - Sunday 25 September. The piece invites you to explore Waterloo Bridge and its neighbourhood in a new way, collect a headset from Somerset House to begin your musical journey filled with new compositions to encourage people to reconnect with their environment.