THE LADIES' BRIDGE a.K.A. WATERLOO BRIDGE

HISTORY OFTEN STARTS WITH A FIND, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU START WITH AN URBAN MYTH ?

Waterloo Bridge has long been referred to colloquially as ‘the ladies’ bridge’, based on the rumour that women worked on its construction during the war. For years, it was only the riverboat guides on the tourist boats on the Thames who have kept the story alive. Official history had written this story out as historian Dr Christine Wall discovered after years of trawling through archives. Dr Wall and Karen Livesey of Concrete History, researched for years, making a documentary of their search, The Ladies' Bridge, which galvanized signicant interest in the story, leading finally, to the unearthing of essential evidence in 2015 which gave this story its rightful place in history.

By the time war was declared in 1939 a substantial amount of work had been completed, however, the 500 men that were known to have been working on the bridge had been reduced to 50 by 1941 and heavy bombing between 1940 and 1941 further slowed progress. Despite these setbacks the bridge opened to two lanes of traffic in 1942, and following its completion an official opening ceremony was conducted on 10 December 1945. Morrison, no longer the Council leader, made the rousing speech: “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.”

Watch the story of our search for the ladies' who built the bridge

THE HISTORY Dr Wall reports that Peter Lind’s daughter, Betty LInd, recalls visiting her father at the bridge during its construction, and being unsurprised at the presence of women undertaking the labour, due to the wartime pulling-together. Records of compensation claims by contractors limited by the unsuitability of the labourers, both ‘physically and by experience’, further indicates that a proportion of the workforce was female. In 2015 new photographic evidence emerged of female welders working on the temporary bridge, dating from 1944. (see Betty's interview in The Ladies' Bridge documentary.)
The involvement of a female workforce, undertaking both skilled and unskilled labour, has now been proven, and Morrison’s omission of praise for them in his opening speech may be reflective of the general zeitgeist of the building trades at the time, reticent to admit women into their ranks and protective of their occupations and status. https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1275000

THE THREE PHOTOS THAT MADE HISTORY

Girl Acetylene Welders. Today, Good Friday, girl acetylene welders were at their job as usual, cutting the girders at the temporary Waterloo Bridge which is being dismantled. London, 1944. National Museum of Photography, Film & Television Film footage © Yorkshire Film Archive

A treasure trove of photographs found in the Imperial War Museum archives, showing some of the 25,000 women that worked in construction during the second world war.

copyright Imperial War Museum

LIGHT UP THE LADIES' BRIDGE , a three day celebration of women working on rebuilding of Waterloo Bridge, in the Totally Thames Festival, September 2016.

THE SEARCH GOES ON

www.theladiesbridge.co.uk

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