Portrait of Sir John Rennie Junior 1875
Sir John Rennie Junior in his Autobiography 1875

[ Introduction ]

[ This is an edited version of John Rennie Junior's account, in his autobiography, of the making of Vauxhall, Waterloo, Southwark, and London Bridges, together with his participation in the works of Ramsgate, and Sheerness Harbours.
It has been illustrated in 2020, by any relevant images from various sources.]


The . . . Autobiography was written by Sir John Rennie in 1867, shortly after he had retired from the active duties of his profession.
. . . It was composed wholly from memory.
London, September, 1875.


[1811: Lord Dundas representing the Prince Regent laid the first stone of what was to be called the Regent's Bridge.
It was planned to be a blue sandstone Bridge with seven arches designed by John Rennie senior.
John Rennie senior then proposed a new lighter design of eleven cast arches; this was rejected.
1813: The Duke of Brunswick laid the first stone of a nine arched bridge designed by Samuel Bentham; work on this was stopped with doubts about quality and the river flow.
Eventually James Walker built the granite faced cast-iron structure with eight piers.
1816: The bridge was opened.
1906: A replacement bridge was opened.]

Vauxhall Bridge, 1817 Vauxhall Bridge seen in 1817<

At this period Vauxhall Bridge was also in course of construction, and I was directed by my father [John Rennie Senior] to attend to this also, under Mr. Jones, the resident engineer; but they had scarcely finished the Middlesex abutment up to the springing of the first arch, and were preparing the caisson for founding the first pier, when the Company found that they had not sufficient funds to carry into effect Mr. Rennie's design, which was very beautiful.

The bridge was to be made entirely of the fine blue sandstone from Dundee, and was to consist of seven arches, segments of circles, the centre arch being 110 feet span, with a rise or versed sine of 19 feet, and depth of keystone 4 feet 6 inches; piers 18 feet 6 inches thick at the springing of the arch, the two arches next the centre being 105 feet span each, with a rise or versed sine of 17 feet, keystone 4 feet 5 inches, and springing stones 9 feet long, and the two piers 17 feet 6 inches thick each.
The two next arches were 100 feet span, with a rise or versed sine of 15 feet, keystones 4 feet 4 inches, and springers 9 feet, and piers 17 feet thick each; the two sub or shore arches 90 feet span each, with a rise or versed sine of 13 feet, keystones 4 feet, and springers 8 feet, abutments 21 feet thick at the springing, having a total width of waterway of 700 feet.
The arches were surmounted by a Roman Doric cornice and plain block and plinth parapet, and the projecting points of the piers were surmounted by solid square pilasters, with a niche in the centre.
The roadway was 34 feet wide between the parapets, and was formed by a very flat segment of a circle rising 1 in 53.
The piers were intended to be founded by caissons resting upon a platform supported by bearing and surrounded by sheeting piles.
This was upon the whole a very elegant, light, and chaste design.

Finding that the Company had not sufficient funds to carry into effect the stone design, Mr. Rennie proposed another wholly of iron, consisting of eleven arches, with a total waterway of 732 feet, supported upon cast-iron columns filled with masonry and resting upon a platform supported upon piles and surrounded by sheeting piles.
The centre arch was to be 86 feet span and 8 feet rise, and the others diminishing regularly to each end so as to enable the roadway to be formed into a graceful curve rising 1 foot in 60.
This also was an extremely light, elegant, and economical design.
The total cost of this elegant design was estimated at £100,000, and would have been executed first, but at that time even this amount was not forthcoming.
The works then stopped, and some time elapsed before the Company was resumed, and ultimately constructed the present [Vauxhall] bridge.


[1814: Work on Southwark Bridge started.
1819: Southwark Bridge opened.
1921: Replacement Southwark Bridge.]

Southwark Bridge, 1820
Southwark Bridge, 1820

In the year 1814-15 my father was appointed engineer-in-chief of the Southwark Bridge Company, and as this was proposed to be constructed in the narrowest part of the river between Blackfriars and the Old London Bridge, considerable opposition was made to the Act of Parliament for its construction by the Corporation of London and the Conservators of the river, on account of the obstruction which they said the bridge would offer to the navigation; this however was finally overcome, but it was decided by Parliament that the bridge should be constructed with as large arches as possible.
Accordingly Mr. Rennie submitted a design consisting of three cast-iron arches, the centre being 240 feet span, with a versed sine of 24 feet, and two side arches of 210 feet each, with a versed sine or rise of 18 feet 10 inches each, with piers of 24 feet wide each at the springing, thus giving a clear lineal waterway of 660 feet, which was a great deal more than that of the Old London Bridge at that time existing.
This design was approved of and ordered to be carried into effect.
By this time, with the experience of the Waterloo and Vauxhall bridges and my other studies, I had gained considerable knowledge in bridge building, and my father was anxious to give me as much encouragement as possible; although, therefore, he appointed a worthy and practical man, Mr. Meston, as nominally the resident engineer, yet he confided to me the arduous task of making out the working drawings under his own direction, and of carrying them into effect.
I therefore felt highly gratified with this great mark of confidence, and devoted my whole energies to the work night and day.
The ironwork was carried into effect by Messrs.
Walker, of Rotherham, under the able management of their experienced and able superintendent, Mr. Yeats, and the masonry and piling under the well-known contractors, Messrs.
Jolliffe and Banks; and Mr. Meston, the resident engineer, faithfully discharged his duties.
As these arches were the largest of the kind ever constructed, considerable doubts as to their stability occurred to many, and the subject was discussed amongst scientific men with considerable energy; and amongst others, the celebrated Dr.
Young undertook to investigate Mr. Rennie's calculations, and came to the conclusion that the bridge was well designed, and would be a perfectly safe and stable structure, and equal to the support of any weight or amount of traffic which could be brought over it.
But in order to fulfil these conditions, it was absolutely necessary that every detail of materials and workmanship should be worked out with the greatest skill and accuracy.

As the arches were of such great span with so small rise, the pressure upon the piers and abutments was chiefly lateral; it therefore became necessary to construct them in such a manner that they should offer the[9] most effectual resistance to this pressure.
In consequence, the foundations of the abutments were made on an incline, and the masonry from thence upwards to the springing of the arches was made to consist of a series of courses radiating upwards until they reached the angle of the springing courses; so that, in point of fact, the abutments formed, as it were, a continuation of the side arches to their base; and in order to connect the courses of masonry more solidly together, the courses were connected with each other from the top to the bottom by several series of vertical bond stones, thus forming one solid immovable mass.
These abutments were supported on a platform composed of piles, double sleepers, and planking, the piles being 20 feet long, 12 inches in diameter in the middle, and driven solidly into the ground at right angles to the inclination of the foundation.
As the pressure upon the piers was nearly equal on both sides, it was necessary that the foundations should be laid level.
These also rest upon a wooden platform of double sills and planking, lying upon piles of the same dimensions as those of the abutments, driven vertically into the ground below, and the courses of masonry, which were laid horizontally, were connected together in the vertical direction by a series of bond stones in a similar manner to those of the abutments.
The abutments and piers were founded many feet below low-water mark of spring tides, so as to be below the reach of any possible scour of the river.
Those parts of the piers from immediately below the springing of the arches to a point above the top of the main solid ribs of the arches were composed of large blocks of stone set nearly vertically, breaking bond laterally and vertically with each other, and in the centre of this part of the piers there was a set of keystones 12 feet long and 2 feet thick, tapering on each side, forming so many stone wedges.
These were very finely worked on all sides.
These wedge[10] stones broke bond laterally with the blocks in front of them, and were firmly driven into their places for a depth of 2 feet by means of heavy wooden rams.
The masonry of the pilasters and salient angles of the piers is of the same character as those of the interior of the pier before described, and worked into them in the same manner, so as to form one solid bond from one point of the pier to the other.
The whole of the exterior of this part of the piers, as well as of the abutments, is cased with granite from Scotland or Cornwall; and it was necessary that the blocks forming this casing should be of the largest kind, which hitherto was quite unusual, particularly for the facing of the abutments from whence the arches were to spring, which required blocks from 15 to 20 tons.
These were of such unusual magnitude, and nothing of the kind had hitherto been used in London, or even elsewhere in England, that the contractors made considerable objection to obtaining them, and even went so far as to say that it could not be done.
I was perfectly convinced that it could be done, and that it was merely a question of a little extra expense, and strongly recommended my father to insist upon it, as it was absolutely necessary for the security of the bridge; and he did so, and directed me to proceed to Aberdeen for the purpose of obtaining them.

Cutting and transporting the stones for Southwark Bridge

I accordingly started for Aberdeen; and when there, carefully examined all the quarries in the neighbourhood, which I found had only been opened up on a small scale, and were merely adapted for getting paving stones, the commerce of which with London was then upon a considerable scale; but the idea of obtaining blocks of the size required for the Southwark Bridge was considered to be entirely out of the question; or, even if they could be obtained, the price would be such that the contractors would not consent to pay.
In fact, so many difficulties and objections were made that I found nothing could be done in that quarter.
I therefore determined to proceed to Peterhead, 30 miles farther northward, where the red granite abounds in large masses near the coast, and where I was told that I should probably succeed; but still, they said, even there it would be very difficult to get them.
Upon arriving at Peterhead I immediately set to work exploring the adjacent country for several miles round, and soon found that blocks of the size required could readily be obtained, and even larger ones if necessary.
I accordingly selected, by way of experiment, a mass of solid rock about four miles to the south of Peterhead, lying within a quarter of a mile of the sea coast, and about 200 feet above the main turnpike road to Peterhead, which ran along the sea shore.
This block, weighing about 25 tons, was accordingly marked out, and was soon detached from the main mass of rock by means of wedges, and was 10 feet long and 5 feet square.
The workmen who executed this task were rewarded with ample wages and a good supply of whisky, and were extremely proud of their achievement.
Then came the important question, how they were to convey it to Peterhead.
To get it to the turnpike road was soon accomplished by means of a wooden inclined tramway formed of stout planks moved upon wooden rollers.
Good wages and whisky settled this, and the workmen considered it a further great triumph; but still the greater difficulty remained, how to get this vast block (as it was then considered) four miles to Peterhead.
I then went back to Peterhead, and after numerous inquiries, and as many failures and objections on all sides, at last found two large single bogies, each consisting of a pair of strong wheels 8 feet in diameter, connected by a strong axle shaft and a double pair of shafts in front.
These two pairs of wheels I joined together at the axle shafts by two strong beams, cased with wrought iron, and strengthened the wheels and axles in other respects as far as necessary.
I then took this carriage to the block of red granite already mentioned lying in the road, and slung the stone, by means of strong chains, to the two longitudinal bearers of the carriage.
Some twelve or fourteen horses were then attached to the carriage, and off we departed in great triumph for Peterhead.

The toll-keeper, never having seen such a mass of stone before, did not know what to charge.
However, having at length satisfied his demand, we proceeded onwards, and we had scarcely advanced a mile when we came to a soft piece of road, which yielded under the great weight of the stone, and the wheels stuck fast, buried about 9 inches in the ground.
This accident created general dismay amongst the attendant workmen, and they began to consider the task hopeless.
However, nothing daunted by this mischance, I soon rallied their courage, and with plenty of screw-jacks, wedges, and levers judiciously applied, we raised the wheels out of the ground, and placed strong wooden beams under them, forming a rough kind of railway, over which we dragged and pushed the carriage with its stone in safety, until we had passed the unsound part of the road.
This operation detained us about a day.
Everybody worked with the greatest ardour and goodwill, which was aided not a little by a plentiful supply of ale and whisky, and the men were determined, for the honour of Scotland, that they would not be beaten.
Having overcome this serious obstacle, we started again on our journey, and reached Peterhead about four hours afterwards, making the total length of the journey four miles - a day and a half.
The whole town of Peterhead, having never seen such a sight before, and having considered our task impracticable, turned out to see us, and welcomed us with the most enthusiastic acclamations.
The next thing to be done, having succeeded so far, was to get a vessel that would take this monstrous block of stone, as it was termed, to London; and although there were a considerable number of vessels in the harbour, I could not at first prevail upon any of the captains to take the charge.
All sorts of objections were made, and amongst the rest, it was impossible to get the stone on board, and if they did, it would make a hole in the bottom, and the vessel would founder with all on board.
At last, after a great deal of difficulty, I found a brig of about 200 tons burthen, the captain of which, after a good deal of persuasion, consented to take the block of stone to London, provided that I would put it on board at my own risk and expense, and indemnify him against all risk or loss on the voyage, which I accordingly agreed to do.

Then came the last important question, how was the block to be got on board? There was no crane in the port capable of lifting above 2 or 3 tons.
I immediately set to work to supply this deficiency by means of two sets of strong sheer-poles, capable of bearing 10 to 15 tons each.
The vessel engaged was accordingly brought alongside the quay where the 4-ton crane was fixed, so that it should nearly plumb the centre of the hatchway of the vessel, which it was necessary to enlarge and strengthen considerably before it could receive the stone.
I then secured the sheer-poles well at the top, and placed one set on each side of the crane, a short distance from the extremity of each end of the hatchway.
The legs of the sheer-poles were firmly fixed in the bed of the harbour, striding over the vessel, so that they were perfectly independent of the vessel, and the top of each pole was directly over the centre of the hatchway.
To the top of the sheer-poles I applied a pair of strong treble sheave-blocks, capable of receiving a thick rope; each block was worked by a double purchase crab or windlass manned by eight men each, besides four to work the crane, so that the block would be suspended at three points, the sheers taking the greatest weight.
After a good deal of trouble I got the whole of this apparatus as complete as circumstances would permit, which were not the most favourable.
From the quay a strong timber gangway was constructed over the hatchway, the outer end being supported, clear of the vessel, by piles driven into the bed of the harbour on each side, in order that the ship might be kept perfectly steady until the stone was placed within the hold, because otherwise the stone resting upon any part of the deck might have upset it.
Everything being ready, the stone was brought alongside the vessel and the tackle of the crane and of the two pairs of sheer-poles was made fast to three sets of strong chains fastened round the stone, which was transferred upon rollers over the centre of the hatchway of the vessel, the purchases of the crane and sheer-poles being kept sufficiently tight so as to prevent any undue pressure upon the platform.
The stone was then raised clear of the platform, when I heard a crack; in fact, one of the sheer-poles had bent and partially yielded; it was then blocked, and, the sheers having been first spliced with strong rope, the stone was again hoisted and swung clear of the platform, which was removed, and the stone was lowered into the hold of the vessel and properly secured without any further delay or accident.
The whole of these operations were witnessed with intense interest by many of the inhabitants of Peterhead, and when so successfully completed the quays resounded with cheers.

The gallant workmen who laboured so arduously and with such goodwill, and to whose exertions the success may be mainly attributed, were plenteously regaled, together with their friends, with all the good things which Peterhead afforded, in which the worthy inhabitants joined, and the remainder of the day was passed in mutual goodwill and festivity.
My readers will, I trust, excuse the detailed manner in which I have described these operations, which at the present day would be considered trifling to a degree, but, at the time above mentioned, more than half a century since, operations of this kind had not been attempted, and were entirely novel, and were considered extraordinary; they must, therefore, be viewed as the pioneer to the far greater operations of the kind which have followed.
For now such stones are considered mere trifles, and blocks of almost any reasonable size can be quarried, polished, and transported to their destination, however distant, at comparatively much less cost and with greater facility.
The cutting and polishing of granite at that time was accomplished at great expense, as it was done entirely by manual labour; now it is performed by means of machinery at greatly reduced cost, and polished granite of every kind is introduced into buildings, which was formerly considered impracticable; and thus the architect is provided with additional means of ornamenting his structures.

. . .
The difficulty of obtaining the large blocks of granite and other stone had been successfully overcome, and they arrived with great punctuality, and the masonry of the abutments and piers was successfully carried into effect as previously described.
Then came the important question of erecting the cast-iron arches; each arch consisted of eight main ribs, and each rib consisted of thirteen pieces, the lower or main part of which formed the chord or arch upon which the whole of the superstructure was to be supported.
These thirteen pieces were solid, 2½ inches thick in the mass and 3 inches thick at the bottom, and 2½ thick at the top, and formed so many radiating blocks, like arch-stones.
At the end of every block there was a transverse frame extending from one side to the other through the whole width of the bridge; against each side of these frames the main ribs abutted and were nicely fitted to them, and in order to prevent them from moving laterally there were projecting dovetailed cheeks cast on the frame, and between these cheeks and the ends of the main ribs solid cast-iron wedges the whole depth of the main rib were fitted, then drawn home against the ends of the rib; by this means the ribs were kept firmly within their places, and as an additional precaution strong diagonal braces, having a strong feathering rib on each side, were inserted diagonally between the ribs from one end of the arch to the other, and secured to the ribs by projecting dovetailed cheeks on them, and wedges and bolts, so that these cast-iron arches were constructed in the same manner as a stone arch, being almost as it were a solid mass depending upon the equilibrium of the different pieces for its stability.
The depth of the main rib of the centre arch at the crown is 6 feet and 8 feet at the piers, whilst the depth of the ribs of the side arches at the crown is 6 feet and 8 feet at the abutments.
As these ribs with their attendant transverse frames and diagonal braces formed the main part of the arches upon which the whole of the superstructure depended, it was necessary that they should be extremely well put together and properly united to the piers and abutments.
Contrary to the usual mode of constructing stone arches, they were commenced at the centre instead of the sides, a strong wooden centring supported upon tiers of piles having been previously constructed between the piers and abutments to support them whilst being put in their places.
Each piece of each rib was carefully placed upon the centre, resting upon nicely-adjusted strong wooden double wedges, and connected together as they proceeded by the transverse frames and diagonal braces before mentioned.
By this means the whole of the arches were constructed at the same time from the centre to the skewbacks or bearing parts of the piers and abutments; but in order to connect them properly with them it was necessary to devise a particular arrangement.
For this purpose a transverse frame, similar to those already described for connecting the rib pieces together, was accurately imbedded and fitted to the skewbacks or bearing places on piers and abutments, resting on a bed of sheet lead, and the joints were filled in with melted lead also; this formed a solid and to a certain extent elastic bearing, upon which the main ribs were ultimately to rest.
At the ends of the arched rib-plates next to the piers and abutments there was another transverse frame plate of the same kind as those previously described, and fixed there in a similar manner; this brought the ends of the arches within 6 inches of the abutting or bearing plates fixed in the skewbacks or springing places of the piers and abutments.

Southwark Bridge detail 1832
Southwark Bridge Construction Detail
Illustrations of London Public Buildings, Britton, Pugin & Leeds, 1832

Between the frame plates fitted on the skewbacks or masonry of the piers and abutments, and those fitted on the ends of the rib plates of each arch, solid cast-iron wedges, 9 feet long and 6 inches thick at the back, and 2 inches thick at the bottom, 9 inches wide, three being behind each rib, were accurately fitted by chipping and filing, so that it would slide down to within 12 inches of the bottom; when these wedges were all accurately adjusted at the same temperature to the same depth, they were simultaneously driven home by wooden rams to their full depth, so as to reach about an inch below the bottom of each rib; by this means the whole of the three arches were gradually brought to their bearing without being raised wholly from their centres.
Matters were then allowed to remain in this state for a few days in order to give time for every part to come to its bearing and to ascertain whether there was any defect in any part.
After the minutest search in every part no defect could be discovered; the wedges between the centres and the under sides of the ribs were then gradually slackened until the whole of the arches came to their full bearing, and were removed entirely, leaving the arches perfectly free of support.
During the whole of these operations, from first to last, which occupied about a week, not the slightest accident or fracture occurred; the total subsidence of the main arch barely exceeded 2½ inches, whilst the subsidence of the two side arches barely exceeded 2 inches, which had been allowed for in the construction.
In order to ascertain the effects of expansion and contraction of the arches by the variation of the temperature of the atmosphere, I constructed steel, brass, and wooden gauges, accurately divided into decimal parts of an inch, and erected them upon different parts of the centres, where the effects were most likely to be apparent, and I kept the register for several weeks, during the height of summer, autumn, winter, and spring.
I found that the variation in the rise and fall of the crown of the arches, the abutments being fixed, was 1/10th of an inch for every 10°r; of temperature, so that, taking the extremes of temperature at London to be 10° below freezing point of Fahrenheit in winter, and 80° in summer; the utmost rise and fall of the arches may be taken at 7/10ths, or at most one inch; but as any variation in the temperature, unless continued for some time, has no sensible effect upon such a large mass of iron, so, in our variable climate, the rise and fall of the crowns of the arches may be taken upon the average somewhat below the amount above given.
After the arches had been brought to their bearing and had been relieved from the centres, the superstructural framework was carried up and firmly connected and bracketed together by diagonal ties and wedges; in doing this the ends of the superstructural frames were too tightly wedged to the masonry of the piers, without my knowledge, so that they would not allow the main ribs of the arches to play freely, and some of the masonry courses above the main ribs were slightly splintered and deranged; the wedges were then slackened, and some of them removed entirely, and thus the evil was immediately remedied; the whole structure has ever since remained in a perfect state.
The [Southwark] bridges and approaches were finally completed and opened to the public traffic in March, 1819, the ceremony being performed by Sir John Jackson, the chairman, the directors, and a few friends.


1811: Waterloo Bridge started; it was to have been called the Strand Bridge.
1817: Waterloo Bridge opened by the Prince Regent, with the Duke of Wellington, on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.]

Waterloo Bridge 1815
Works of the Strand Bridge (taken in the Year 1815).
Drawn by Edw. Blore. Engraved by George Cooke. Jan. 1, 1817

About this period, viz. the year 1813, having obtained a tolerable knowledge of the rudiments of my profession, both theoretical and practical, my father determined to place upon my shoulders a certain degree of responsibility, and put me under the direction of that late worthy and excellent man, Mr. James Hollingsworth, whom my father had appointed to be resident engineer of the Waterloo Bridge, which was then building.
I felt the responsibility of this office a good deal, and entered upon it with every determination and desire to meet my father's approbation; and during the inclement winter of 1813-14, when the frost lasted about two months, and the Thames above London Bridge was frozen over for several weeks, I was obliged to attend the piling of the foundations of the first and second piers on the Surrey side of the river night and day for three days each week, which severely tried my constitution.

Section of Arch of Waterloo Bridge Rennie 1821
Section of one of the Arches of the Waterloo Bridge with the Centring under it.
Drawn by the late John Rennie Novr. 1, 1821.

. . .
The first, second, and third arches of the Waterloo Bridge being completed, Mr. Rennie determined to slacken the centres of the first arch, which was on the Surrey shore, where the bridge commenced.
This was when the arches were entirely relieved from the centres, and the total subsiding of this arch was 2½ inches, which is nearly half an inch less than had been allowed; the centres were then removed from the first arch to the fourth arch, only three centres being employed.
Each centre consisted of eight ribs, upon the truss principle, resting upon a compound system of wedges, supported upon struts placed upon the offsets of the piers and abutments; all the ribs were well connected together by transverse and diagonal ties, as well as the planking upon which the arch-stones rested.
The trestles or bearers of the centre ribs, together with the wedges, having been first fixed in their places upon the offsets of the pier and abutment where the centre was to be fixed, four ribs of the centre were transferred, and fixed upon them in the following manner.
The ribs of the centre having been constructed upon a platform upon the shore near the bridge, a large barge or floating stage, capable of carrying four complete ribs, which weighed 40 tons each, was built to receive them.
This floating stage was extremely strong, and transversely across the centre of it there were four strong stages at the same distance from each other as the ribs of the centre were intended to be when fixed in their position, to support the arches whilst building.
These stages were supported by double transverse beams, resting upon powerful screws 15 inches diameter, in boxes resting upon the bottom of the vessel.
Above each of these stages, yet securely attached to them, was a framework, to which the ribs of the centres were lashed whilst being transported to their places.
When the centre ribs were finished and all was ready, the floating stage, at high water, was brought alongside the platform, upon which the ribs of the centre had been constructed, and were lying ready to be transferred to their places.
Each rib was then raised by means of powerful sheer-poles, to which were double-purchase crabs, treble blocks, with all the necessary ropes, chains, and other tackle, by which means each rib of the centre was readily raised from the platform where it was built and transferred to its proper stage in the floating barge, and there secured in an upright position, when the ribs had been fixed in their places.
The barge was then floated into the opening where the arch was to be constructed, which was generally done about half an hour before high water, so as to allow ample time to adjust and fix the ribs over the corresponding pair of wedges and trestles upon which it was ultimately to rest, which was done as the tide fell, and adjusted to the greatest nicety by the screws before mentioned; when the rib had been fixed in its place, the barge returned to bring another, which was served in the same manner as the first, and thus the fixing of one centre occupied only six days.
This system answered most effectually, and was subsequently adopted by Mr. Robert Stephenson for fixing the great tubes for the Menai and Conway bridges.

Elevation of Waterloo Bridge Arch, Rennie 1819
Elevation of one of the Arches of the Waterloo Bridge. 1819
Drawn by the late John Rennie Esqr., Engineer and Architect.

The Waterloo Bridge, as well known, consists of nine equal semi-elliptical arches, 120 feet span each, with a rise of 34 feet 6 inches, the keystones at the crown being 4 feet 6 inches deep and 10 feet at the spring, and 18 inches thick at the soffit; inverted arches on each pier between the main arches 4 feet 6 inches deep.
The piers were 20 feet wide, each having projecting buttresses, supported by two three-quarter Doric columnar pilasters, over each pier, the whole being surmounted by a Doric block cornice and balustrade parapet, level from end to end, the same as the roadway.
The roadway above the piers was supported by six brick walls, 2 ft.
3 in.
thick, covered with corbel stones.
The shores being low on both sides of the river, the approaches are constructed so as to form an inclined plane rising 1 in 30 on the Surrey side, and nearly level on the north, or Middlesex side, with the Strand, upon a series of brick arches 16 feet wide each.
These arches serve for storehouses.
The roadway was formed by a layer of well-puddled clay 15 inches thick, then a layer of lime and of fine gravel 3 inches thick, then a layer of equally broken granite, in pieces 2 inches in diameter, 1 foot thick.
Through the centre of the masonry of each pier a hole 18 inches in diameter was cut, entering the river on one side of the pier at low water, and from the top of this hole inside the pier cast-iron branch pipes of the same diameter were carried to side drains on each side of the roadway, so that all rain and surface water was effectually carried off into the river, thus preventing leakage.
The piers and abutments were founded in the solid bed of the river, which is strong gravel; they rest upon a wooden platform, supported upon piles 12 inches in diameter driven 20 feet into the bed of the river.

Waterloo Bridge 1814
The Strand Bridge, New erecting by J. Rennie Esqr.
Drawn by E. Blore. Engraved by George Cooke. March 31, 1814.

The whole of the arches and exterior face of the bridge are built of Cornish granite, from the vicinity of Penryn, and the balustrade is made of fine grey Aberdeen granite.
The contract for the Cornish granite was taken by a very worthy man of the name of Gray, and the price was such as on so large a quantity ought to have enabled him to realize a very handsome profit; but he had no system or machinery adequate for the purpose, and instead of opening quarries properly upon an enlarged scale in the solid rock, by which he would have saved a great deal, he chiefly confined his operations to the loose outlying blocks, which reduced his profits considerably, and in the end it is very doubtful whether he did more than cover his expenses.
As the dressing of granite for masonry was entirely new at that time, nothing having been built of this material in London, it was extremely difficult to find masons who would undertake it, even at such enormous prices as 1s. 9d. to 2s. per cube foot, so that the contractors, Messrs. Jolliffe and Banks, could not afford to pay it.
Workmen were therefore obtained from Aberdeen, and the price was ultimately reduced from 2s. to 1s.; notwithstanding, however, the prime cost of the stone, the freight, dressing, mortar, and setting complete in the bridge cost about 7s. 2d. to 7s. 3d., so that the total cost was near 7s. 6d.
It should be observed, however, that at that time there was a duty of threepence per cubic foot (or ton?) on stone, which has since been taken off.
The interior stone consisted of hard sandstone from Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

The Opening of the Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge Opening
Opening of Waterloo Bridge on the 18th of June 1817
as seen from the Corner of Cecil Street in the Strand.
Drawn by R.R.Reinagle, A.R.A. Engraved by George Cooke. Augst 1, 1822.

The bridge and approaches were completed and opened with great ceremony by George IV.
, then Prince Regent, on the 15th of June, 1817, in commemoration of the battle of Waterloo, after which it was especially named.
Twenty-five pieces of artillery were placed on the centre of the bridge, which fired a salute as His Royal Highness, the directors of the Company, and a brilliant suite walked over in procession, when he christened it Waterloo Bridge, and declared it open to the public.
His Royal Highness came by water in his state barge, accompanied by the Admiralty and other barges, in which were the ministers and suite; he landed at the stairs on the south-east side of the bridge, and walked over it from south to north; he embarked again on the north-east side, and returned to Whitehall and Carlton House.
The sight was very brilliant, the weather magnificent, and everybody seemed to be satisfied.

The total cost of the bridge was £565,000, which was £10,000 more than estimated by Mr. Rennie; the approaches, besides the land and buildings, cost a further sum of £112,000; so that the total cost of the bridge and approaches was £677,000, and the land and buildings and contingencies £373,000, making a total of £1,050,000.
This is certainly a very large sum for a bridge and its approaches; but when its extent is considered, the bridge alone being a quarter of a mile long, and the approaches nearly three-quarters of a mile more, also the great cost of materials and labour of every kind, the stone-cutting costing from 4s.
to 6s.
a cubic foot in the rough state, timber from £7 to £14 per load, and labour in the same proportion (which is more than double the present price), we cannot be surprised at the total cost.

1856: 1823 London Bridge tidal scour
1856: Showing changes to the river at Waterloo Bridge caused by the new London Bridge


Amongst the other legacies which my dear father had left to me, was that of building London Bridge.
He had shown, to the satisfaction of the Committee of the House of Commons, the impracticability of keeping up the old bridge by any amount of repair or alteration; that it could not be rendered fit for the improvement of the river Thames, nor for the continually increasing traffic which must pass over it, at any reasonable expense, and that therefore an entirely new bridge would be by far the most satisfactory.
The House of Commons was so fully convinced by his arguments that it unanimously condemned the old bridge, and refused to comply with the recommendation of the City of London that it should be altered, but resolved that a new bridge should be built according to the design made by my father.
An Act of Parliament was accordingly passed to this effect, the late talented and energetic Mr. Holme Sumner being the leading member of the Committee.
The Corporation demurred to this, saying that there were other engineers equal to Mr. Rennie, and demanding a public competition.
The advertisement for designs was accordingly issued, and a great number were sent in and referred to the Committee of the House of Commons and the Government, according to the previous Act.
After considering the various rival plans, it was finally decided that that of my father was the only one which complied with all the required conditions, and it was therefore adopted.
At this resolution great discontent was manifested by the different competitors.
The Corporation of London also objected to this decision, as they considered that they ought to have been the sole judges.
But finding that the Government adhered to its decision, they submitted, at the same time urging that they, who were to pay the expense of the new bridge, ought to select the engineer that was to execute the work.
The Government agreed to this, subject to their approval; and finally the Committee appointed by the Corporation to carry into effect my father's design, fixed upon me as the engineer-in-chief; Mr. Richard Lambert Jones was appointed the chairman of the executive committee of the Corporation.
A very able and efficient chairman he was, and conducted the whole to a conclusion, to the great satisfaction of the Corporation and of the Government.
The design, as I have already observed, was made by my father, but no detailed working drawings, specification, or estimate, had been prepared by him; it fell to my lot, therefore, to do this.
As I had acted under my father during the construction of the Waterloo and Southwark bridges, I had become so thoroughly acquainted with his system, that I had no very great difficulty about it.

London Bridge Design

The design consisted of five semi-elliptical arches, the centre being 150 feet span, the two next arches 140 feet span each, the two side or land arches 130 feet span each; the two centre piers were 24 feet thick at the springing, and the two side piers 22 feet each; the whole was to be built of the best grey granite.
The width of the roadway was originally designed to be 48 feet, but was afterwards increased to 54 feet wide, at an extra cost of £46,000.
It was intended by my father that the new bridge should be built on the site of the old one, which was to be pulled down in the first instance, and a temporary wooden one was to be built above it to accommodate the traffic whilst the new bridge was building.
It was considered that as soon as the fall of 5 feet occasioned by the old bridge should be removed, the river would be restored to its natural state, and there would then be less difficulty and expense in making the cofferdams and founding the piers and abutments; the old approaches to the bridge would then be preserved, and thus a less quantity of valuable property would be required.
The wish, however, of the Corporation to preserve the old bridge during the construction of the new one was so strong, that there was no possibility of resisting it.

New Bridge built beside Old London Bridge

Greenwood's map of 1827

I therefore yielded to their desire, and agreed to build the new bridge immediately above the old one, and as near as practicable to it; notwithstanding, I felt at the time that there would be considerable difficulty, risk, and extra expense in so doing, on account of the great depth of water in which the piers must be founded, namely, 28 feet at low water of spring tides, and the strong current and fall through the old bridge both during the flood and ebb, particularly during the latter.
It should be observed that the old bridge stood as it were upon a hill, the foundations of the piers being from 28 to 30 feet above the bottom of the river immediately above and below it, occasioned by the great fall and scour produced by the contracted waterway; thus it was necessary to secure the piers by large projecting starlings, and to throw considerable quantities of stone continually round them, in order to prevent the old bridge from being carried away.
However, there was no alternative but to build the new bridge above the old one, and I accordingly set about taking every possible precaution in order to prevent accident.
As the loose stone thrown round the piers of the old bridge was continually washed into the holes immediately above and below, it was in vain to attempt driving the piles for the cofferdams of the piers until this stone was removed, which was done by dredging.
The cofferdams for the piers were elliptical in form, this shape being the best adapted for resisting the strong current in which they were placed; they consisted of two main rows of piles each 14 inches square, each pile being properly hooped and shod with wrought iron, and driven 25 feet into the bed of the river.

London Bridge 1820s
Old London Bridge with piling work for the new bridge.

These piles were connected together in the horizontal direction by three rows of braces 15 inches square, namely, one at the level of the lowest tides, another at the level of half tide, and the third at the level of high water.
At every 10 feet the two rows of piles were fastened together with wrought-iron bolts 2½ inches diameter, which passed through the horizontal braces or walings, as they are technically termed, and were secured outside and inside with additional wooden cleats 15 inches square and 8 feet long, so as to cover the joints where the main horizontal braces met; outside of these were large iron plates, and as the bolts were screwed at each end, they could be tightened up to the full bearing without crushing the timber.
On the outside of these two main rows of piles was a third row of the same dimensions, and driven the same depth into the bed of the river at a distance of 6 feet in the clear from the two main rows, and connected together with a tier of horizontal braces, and to the two main rows of piles with bolts, cleats, and plates of the same dimensions as those already described.
When the piles had been driven to their proper depth, and had been properly secured to each other as above described, the joints between every pile, which had been previously fitted to each other, were well caulked with oakum, and the outside joints were covered with melted pitch, so as to render them water-tight; the spaces between the three rows of piles were then filled with strong well-puddled clay.

In addition to the above three rows of piles, there was a fourth row on the inside, driven down in the form of a parallelogram, corresponding with the exact size of the foundation of the piers, and to the same depth as the outer piles.
Every tenth pile, and those at the corners or angles, extended up to the level of low water.
Upon the heads of these piles longitudinal and transverse braces were fixed across the inside of the dam, at the level of low water, half tide, and high water; so that the dam was braced internally and externally in every direction to resist the pressure of the water, like a well-made cask.
There was a powerful steam engine, with the requisite pumps, attached to each dam, to remove any water which might either rise from the foundation or from the outside.
Each dam was provided with a trunk secured by a valve 3 feet diameter, laid at the level of low water, so that in the event of any unusual pressure of water coming against the dam, these valves were opened, and the dam was then filled with water, and all mischief was prevented.
The first pier cofferdam on the Southwark side was completed, the water pumped out, and the earth was excavated to the depth of 30 feet, going below low-water mark of spring tides; the bottom consisted of the stiff London clay.
Piles, consisting of Baltic fir, elm, and beech, 22 feet long, and 12 inches diameter in the middle, properly hooped and shod with wrought iron, were then driven 20 feet into the solid ground, or until, with a weight of 12 cwt.
falling 18 to 20 feet, they would not move above an inch at a blow.
These piles were driven 3 feet 6 inches from centre to centre, both in the longitudinal and transverse direction.
After having driven them, their heads were cut off and accurately levelled.
The loose earth between their heads was then removed, to the depth of 12 inches, and the spaces filled in with stone bedded in concrete; all the rows of piles were then connected together in the transverse direction by Baltic fir sills or beams 14 inches square, well fitted to each pile head by jagged wrought-iron spikes 20 inches long and three quarters of an inch square, driven through the sills into the pile heads below; the spaces between the sills were well filled in with stone and brickwork; another row of sills was then laid in the transverse direction above the pile heads and spiked down to the lower sills in the same manner; the spaces between the upper sills were then filled in with stone and brickwork.
The whole surface of the foundation was covered with elm plank 6 inches thick, closely jointed together and bedded in mortar, and well spiked down to the sills below with jagged spikes 10 inches long and half an inch square.
Upon this platform the masonry was built, each course diminishing in length and width by a series of offsets 12 inches wide, until they reached the shaft of the pier, when it was carried up solid to the springing of the arches.

The whole of the exterior masonry was of the best whitish-grey granite, and the interior stone was of the best hard Yorkshire grit stone from the quarries of Bramley Fall.
The abutments were constructed upon piles and masonry of the same character as the piers.
The first stone was laid with considerable ceremony on the first pier cofferdam from the Surrey shore by His Royal Highness the late Duke of York.
The dam was fitted up with great taste like an amphitheatre, with seats all round, the whole being covered at top with a handsome coloured canvas awning adorned with numerous flags of all nations.
The Lord Mayor, assisted by the Aldermen, Common Councilmen, and Committee, with Mr. Jones, the Chairman, attended in great state, and everything went off well.

After this pier had advanced nearly to the level of high water, one day whilst examining it, standing upon one of the cross beams, my foot slipped, and I fell headlong into the dam upon the top of the masonry; fortunately, my left foot caught in a nail in the beam, and I hung by it for a few seconds.
This somewhat broke and changed the direction of my fall, and I pitched upon an inclined plank, upon which I slid until I struck my head against a stone; my hat deadened the blow; as it was, however, I was cut about the forehead and half stunned.
The after effects of this fall were very serious; my whole system got such a severe shaking, that I did not recover thoroughly until nearly ten years afterwards, and I carried on my large professional business with the greatest difficulty.

The works made satisfactory progress, and the centres for the first and second arches from the Surrey shore were soon fixed.
Each centre was composed of eight ribs, framed upon the truss principle, resting upon a continued series of wedges in one piece, laid horizontally and resting upon tressels or legs formed by the piles of the cofferdams, which had been cut off and levelled for that purpose.
The mode of setting and fixing the ribs was the same as that adopted at the Waterloo and Southwark bridges.
A large lighter was constructed especially for this purpose.
In the centre was placed a strong framing, which rested upon eight screws, four in each row, working in a strong cast-iron box, to which levers were attached, by means of which the screws and framing above them could be gradually raised and lowered at pleasure; at one end of the framing there was an upright scaffold.
The centres, I have already said, consisted of eight main ribs framed together separately.

As there was no room to frame these centres near the bridge, a special workshop and wharf were provided by the contractors at Millwall, in the Isle of Dogs; when ready they were launched in one piece, from a properly-prepared platform, into the river, and towed to the Southwark end of the bridge, where the lighter, with its apparatus of powerful sheers, crabs, and tackle, was in readiness to receive them; by these means they were gradually hauled up an inclined plane, and then raised upright upon the platform, supported by the frame and screws beneath, and firmly braced to the scaffolding in the lighter; two centre frames were thus placed upon it at one time, and adjusted by the screws to an extra height of 2 feet, so as to allow for any deficiency in the rise of the tide.
Two ribs having been placed upon the framing, the lighter was hauled off from the shore and placed in front of the opening in which the centre was to be, the lighter being moored 100 yards from it, about half an hour before high water; upon the turning of the tide it was gradually allowed to float down with the ebb current to its place.
By the time that the lighter with the centre ribs arrived in its exact position there was always 2 feet to spare, in order to allow for any deficiency of the tide; as the tide fell the two ribs were securely deposited in their places upon the framing and wedges below them.
It should be observed, that upon the wedges there was an additional framing so as to reduce the weight of the main ribs of the centring.
When the main ribs had been deposited upon the framing wedges, they were securely braced together until the whole number of ribs required for each centre was fixed, when they were all braced firmly together longitudinally, transversely, and diagonally.
This mode of fixing centres for arches of any span was most successful and economical, and I believe that my father was the inventor of it, if it may be termed an invention.
My excellent and talented friend, the late Robert Stephenson, adopted the same method for fixing the tubes of the Conway and Menai Straits bridges.
He told me that he was not aware that my father had proposed it before him; but in the ‘History of the Britannia and Conway Bridges,' edited, I believe, by the present Mr. Edwin Clarke, who was employed under Mr. Stephenson at the Conway Bridge, it is expressly mentioned that my father had previously employed the same plan.

London Bridge 1827
London Bridge, 1827
with the Lord Mayor's Procession passing under the unfinished Arches.

The works necessitated alterations to the old bridge

The works proceeded successfully; the fifth or last arch on the City side was completed in 1829.
The centres of the first, second, and centre arches having been removed, it was found that they had subsided only 3 inches each, which was the exact distance that had been allowed for, with an extra half inch for the centre arch.
Upon examining the arches and piers after it was supposed that they had subsided, it was found that there had been an unequal sinking, that the two centre piers had subsided on the east side slightly more than on the west side.
I was much puzzled at this, and could not for some time account for the difference.
Three or four of the quoin arch-stones of the second arch from the City shore had been fractured for about 8 or 9 inches; this, however, was of no consequence, for it is always difficult in such large arches to get the workmen to bed the quoins accurately.
The same thing had occurred in the Waterloo and other bridges; I was therefore led to investigate the subject more thoroughly during the construction of the new bridge.
It was found that the cofferdams for the piers in several instances were made in front of the openings or arches of the old bridge, which could not be avoided.
These dams necessarily still further obstructed the waterway through the old bridge; I therefore felt that it was absolutely essential to find relief for the ebbing and flowing tides, detained both by the old bridge and the cofferdams of the new bridge, and accordingly recommended that, on the south side of the main arch of the old bridge, which was only 80 feet wide, two arches should be thrown into one, and that the intermediate pier should be removed, by which means a single wide opening would be made facing the space between the cofferdams of the arch and the centre on the Surrey side of the new bridge, but the difficulty of doing this arose from the fact that the traffic over the old bridge could not be interrupted for a moment.
I soon, however, found an expedient; I ordered that the requisite number of logs of the best Baltic fir timber 15 inches square should be prepared sufficiently long to extend over the two arches and piers of the old bridge which I proposed to remove.
Having got these ready, I stopped up one half of the roadway, leaving the other half open for the traffic, and working night and day, I laid these whole timbers spanning the two arches to the adjoining piers close together, bolted them to each other, and secured them to a longitudinal bearer of the same dimensions imbedded in the masonry of the adjoining piers, so that the timbers which were to form the increased opening rested firmly upon them.

Old and New London Bridges 1827
Old and New London Bridges in 1827

Having done this, I removed the masonry of the intermediate arch by degrees from beneath the timber girders, placing a strong diagonal strut or support under each girder as I proceeded, at the same time connecting together all these diagonal struts.
Having completed one half of the temporary arch or opening, the traffic was diverted over it, and the other half was completed in the same manner; the whole operation was accomplished within ten days, and the traffic was not stopped for one hour.
The intermediate pier of the old arch was then removed entirely.
As the work advanced to the fourth pier on the City side another similar opening was made.
These alterations relieved the river materially, and enabled the works to be carried on much more securely, and greatly diminished the fall through the old bridge at low water.
Nevertheless, there was increased scour against the dams where the openings were made, which occasioned the slight unequal subsidence before mentioned.
The last or fifth arch was completed on the City side, January, 1829.

Plan of Old and New London Bridges
Plan of Old and New London Bridges
See what a narrow gap there was between the starlings

Political Support

It has been mentioned that Lord Liverpool's Government had always taken the greatest interest in the construction of new London Bridge, and gave the Corporation of London every support in their power, not only for the accommodation of the great traffic across it, but for the improvement of the Thames, which the removal of the old bridge would effect; and amongst the men most zealous in Lord Liverpool's Government were the late Marquis of Salisbury, then Lord Cranbourne, and the late Earl of Lonsdale, then Lord Lowther; both these noblemen had considerable talent, and, fully alive to the advancing ideas of the day, were mainly instrumental in forwarding this great work.
That amiable, able, and conscientious nobleman, the Earl of Liverpool, had succumbed to the effects of a paralytic stroke, and the Duke of Wellington was now Premier; he took the greatest interest in the promotion of London Bridge and everything connected with it; so that the Corporation of London, who had hitherto been radically inclined, or had rather been opposed to the Tory Government, turned rather Conservative than otherwise, and the Duke became most popular with them; he invariably, whenever he could, accepted their invitations to Guildhall and the Mansion House, and was always received by them with the greatest respect and attention.
Richard Lambert Jones, the Chairman of the London Bridge Committee, was his particular favourite, and he always shook Jones by the hand, a favour which he did not accord to everyone.

London Bridge Approaches

At this time the bridge had made considerable progress towards completion, and the important question arose, what was the best plan for the approaches? It was originally intended, in order to save expense, that the old line of Fish Street Hill, on the City side, should be adopted, pulling down such of the houses on this line as might be necessary to make the incline not steeper than 1 in 30; but inasmuch as the great traffic of Upper and Lower Thames Street interposed materially with the main body of the traffic coming north and south, it became most important to consider how this might be avoided, and the old idea of making an arch over Thames Street was revived, and was favourably received by the London Bridge Committee; the question was accordingly referred by them to me.
I had always felt that the old approach by Fish Street Hill was a very great difficulty; but, restricted as I was to the old line of approach, I felt that I could not get out of it without some pressing necessity; I was therefore glad to have the opportunity of reconsidering the subject, particularly when proposed by the Committee.
It was quite clear, that in any case an arch over Thames Street to separate the great cart traffic of that quarter from the main coach and passenger traffic coming from the City, Southwark, and the northern and southern parts of the town, was absolutely necessary, and I should have proposed it myself in the first instance, if there had at that time been any chance of its adoption, and I am quite sure that my father would have done the same.
But if it had been proposed to divert the traffic from the old line of Fish Street Hill at the first, it is most probable that it would never have been carried; I was obliged, therefore, to confine myself to the old approaches, leaving the future to develop itself.
The Committee, however, having taken up the idea of an arch over Thames Street, I was only too happy to fall in with it; but as nothing could be done without the sanction of the Government, it was determined by the Committee to bring the subject before them at once; the more so, as it would require a much larger sum than originally calculated to make the approaches, for which the Committee had no funds, and a new Act of Parliament would be required.
Plans and estimates were accordingly prepared for the new approaches, and submitted to His Majesty's Government.
The Duke of Wellington took the greatest interest in the subject, and investigated it to the fullest extent; he visited the place himself, he interrogated the Chairman of the Committee and myself most closely, and at length, being fully convinced that it was necessary, gave the consent of the Government, provided that the funds could be found.
In order to meet this difficulty, the Committee proposed to increase the coal tax, which, with the necessary sinking fund, would pay off the whole sum necessary to make the new approaches, which were estimated at £1,400,000, in a given number of years.
The Government consented to this, and the requisite notices, plans, &c.
, were given and deposited in the month of November, 1828.

Battles in Parliament

Early in 1829 the Bill was brought into Parliament, and was most strongly opposed by the great northern coal-owners, Lord Durham, Lord Londonderry, Lord Lauderdale, and others, as well as by a considerable body of Londoners, and after a hard fight the Bill passed the House of Commons and got into the Lords; but here the opposition was more violent and powerful than ever.
The Duke of Wellington, however, having been thoroughly convinced of the necessity and justice of the measure, determined that it should be carried if possible, whilst the Opposition were equally determined to throw it out.
The Committee accordingly met in the Painted Chamber of the House of Lords, and the extraordinary number of forty peers, including seven cabinet ministers, assembled, the Duke of Wellington being in the chair.
The Opposition comprised, amongst others, Earl Grey, his son-in-law the Earl of Durham, the Marquis of Londonderry, the Earl of Lauderdale, &c.
Such a committee upon a private Bill has never since been seen in the Lords, and perhaps never will be again.
The brunt of the battle fell upon me; I was the leading witness, and had to establish the whole case.
I never felt more nervous in my life; I was to be prepared upon all points to defend everybody else's errors as well as my own.
I knew there were several weak points, and though I had an excellent case upon the whole, I still felt the greatest difficulty about it; I knew also perfectly well, that if I broke down, my career as an engineer was ruined for ever, for the Government had pinned their faith upon me; I therefore had made myself thoroughly master of the subject, and determined to sink or swim with it.
Mr. W.
Montague, then surveyor to the City, was a very sensible, practical man, and of great experience in the valuation of property, and possessed considerable influence with the Corporation; but whether it was jealousy at my being so much younger than himself, or whether he thought the post of honour should have been given to him, I cannot say, but he did not act cordially with me.
That very remarkable man, Richard Lambert Jones, the Chairman of the Bridge, with his usual tact and sagacity, at once saw this, and thought that if he was examined there might be some discrepancy which our enemies would take advantage of; he therefore, with the concurrence of his Committee, determined that I alone should fight the battle of the estimates, upon which the whole fate of the Bill depended.

It was well, both for Montague and myself, that this course was taken; for Montague, when the first Bill of 1821 was carried, had made the surveys of the property to be taken for the approaches on both sides of the bridge, which was confined to 180 feet above the old bridge.
This limit ought to have been taken in a direct line, at right angles to the old bridge; but unfortunately it was taken according to the line of the shore, which near the old bridge receded considerably, whilst the old Fishmongers' Hall projected beyond it, making the direct line, if taken, as it ought to have been, at right angles to the old bridge, 20 feet longer than if measured according to the line of the shore.
This difference of 20 feet rendered it necessary that old Fishmongers' Hall should be removed, and negotiations immediately commenced between the London Bridge Committee and the Fishmongers' Company with respect to the purchase of this piece of land.
The Fishmongers' Company behaved very fairly; they said that they did not wish to build a new hall, as the existing structure answered their purpose very well; but if they were compelled to part with this 20 feet of ground, they must build a new hall, which they did not want to do.
However, as they had no wish to impede the construction of the bridge and approaches, they were willing to sell the strip of land on which part of their hall stood, namely, 20 feet in width, for £20,000, £1000 per foot at first sight appeared a very large sum, although at present it would be considered remarkably cheap.
The Committee of the bridge, looking at the matter fairly, resolved to pay the Fishmongers' Company the required sum in full compensation for everything, and the Fishmongers' Company might, if they thought fit, build a new hall at their own expense.
This agreement was then settled, provided that the Bill for making the new approaches by an arch across Thames Street should pass the legislature.
Knowing this fact, I was very anxious that this error of Mr. Montague's should not come out before the Committee of the House of Lords, as it was no doubt a great mistake, and if it had transpired, it might materially have injured our case.
I determined, therefore, during my examination, to keep it out of view as far as possible; at the same time, if it was fairly put to me, of course I felt myself bound to give every honest explanation.
Perhaps Mr. Montague was not anxious to be examined; anyhow, he was not, and the whole burthen fell upon me.

The opposition in the Lords' Committee was headed by the Earl of Durham, a very able and intelligent man; he would have made an excellent lawyer if Providence had so designed it, and in this instance he conducted his case admirably.
I got through the examination in chief very well, and the opposing counsel commenced his cross-examination, and made nothing of it.
Then Lord Durham got up and for three days I underwent as severe a cross-examination as I ever experienced, either before or since.
He seemed to be aware of all the facts, and omitted nothing to render his case triumphant.
I always feared that he was coming to the mistake about Fishmongers' Hall, but he never did, and I had to lead him away from it as far as possible; at last he got to the frontages in the different streets of the respective parishes which were proposed to be taken, and the new frontages of the new streets which were to be erected.
Here I showed very clearly that the lineal frontage according to the proposed new streets would be greater than the frontages taken away.
This, however, did not satisfy his Lordship, for he contended that some of the parishes would lose a great deal more frontage than they would obtain.
I had some idea that this would be the case, and therefore did not think it necessary to take the individual frontage gained and lost by each parish.
I thought it was quite sufficient to know that upon the whole a greater line of frontage would be given by the new approaches, than taken away from the old.
The parishes which had petitioned against the Bill on this account, argued that in some of them the rates would be greatly diminished, and that in others they would be greatly increased, which would cause an unequal and unjust distribution.
I still kept to my point, and said upon the whole, without going into detail, the parishes would be the gainers, and it was for them to adjust the rates amongst themselves.
Lord Durham was very indignant at my obstinacy in maintaining this point, and tried in every way to make me confess that I had made a mistake; I nevertheless stuck to it, and said that if I had tried to equalize all the frontages, my survey might have extended to the Tower, and there would have been no end of the expense.
By this time he was losing his temper, and said that if I was not very careful I might go to the Tower still.
At this the Committee smiled, and his Lordship, being fairly baffled, sat down, and I, having been told that they had no further questions, left the witness-box with the greatest alacrity.

It was considered that I had made out the case for the Bill so completely, both as regards the estimates and the absolute necessity, in a public point of view, of carrying the new approaches into effect, that no other professional witness was put into the box, except the present able chamberlain, Mr. Scott, then chamberlain's chief assistant, who gave such clear and straightforward evidence with regard to the funds which were disposable by the Corporation, and the way in which they were administered, that the Committee of the Lords passed the Bill for the London Bridge Approaches with but few dissentient voices.
The Duke of Wellington, and five or six Cabinet Ministers with him, attended every day, and in fact kept Parliament sitting to pass the Bill.
It was curious to observe that he never for a moment interrupted the opponents of the measure; he gave them full scope, and never said a word until they had had their say, then he put the question, and carried it without difficulty.

After the fifth arch, the first on the Surrey side, was keyed, the sinking was observed to be 4 inches, or about 1 inch more than the others.
I could not very well account for this.
I also observed that two of the quoins on the south-east end of the fourth arch from the Surrey shore had splintered off at the soffit, but no crack could be observed in the spandril walls; but upon levelling the piers, it was found that the east end had subsided from 10 to 14 inches more than the upper or west end.
This I could account for in no other way but that there had been a greater scour here than at the upper end, and that the piles had to some extent been laid bare.
I levelled the arches and piers constantly after this for several months from a fixed standard gauge, but could find no alteration; I therefore felt satisfied that the whole of the pier abutments had come to their final bearing, and the works were continued as fast as possible towards completion.

London Bridge Opening Day

The grand opening of London Bridge by William IV and Queen Adelaide
on 1st August 1831

In 1830 the Duke's Government retired, and he himself became as unpopular as he before had been popular; yet he never deserted London Bridge, and was more frequent in his visits than ever.
I often used to attend him at five and six in the summer mornings; he generally came on horseback, and remained from half an hour to an hour, and sometimes more if necessary.
At length the whole bridge and the approaches were completed, and His Majesty, King William, at the special request of the Corporation of London, condescended to fix a day on which he would open the bridge in person.
Earl Grey, who had strongly opposed the Bill for the improved approaches two years before, now, as Premier, accompanied His Majesty to inaugurate the opening of the same.
Perhaps, as a spectacle of the kind, it was the most brilliant of any that had taken place for fully a century; and the whole Corporation, including the Bridge Committee, did everything in their power, for the honour of the City of London, to render the pageant as splendid as possible.
The whole of the space at the north or City end of the bridge was covered with a magnificent tent, several hundred feet long, decorated in the greatest taste with the flags of all nations, and with ancient and modern arms grouped round the standards forming the supports of the tent, under which were arranged tables for 1400 guests, for whom a splendid collation was provided.
His Majesty, King William, came in the royal barge in state, accompanied by all his ministers, and upon his arrival was greeted with a salute of twenty-one guns from the Tower.
All the piers and arches were decorated with lofty standards displaying the national emblems; the whole of these, as well as the great tent and decorations, were under the direction of Mr. Stacey, of the Ordnance department of the Tower, and the greatest credit is due to him for the admirable taste which he displayed.
The ceremony consisted in King William walking over the bridge, accompanied by his ministers, the Lord Mayor and Corporation, and the Bridge Committee.
When His Majesty arrived at the Southwark end a balloon ascended, carrying Mr. Richard Crawshay; the Tower guns then sent forth another salute, and King William and his cortege returned to the tent at the City end of the bridge, where they partook of lunch with the usual ceremonies, and returned by water as they came, with another royal salute from the Tower.
The day was remarkably fine, the river was covered with boats filled with gaily-dressed people; the wharves, warehouses, and bridges were thronged with spectators; in fact, it was a great metropolitan holiday; everything went off well, and all appeared to be satisfied; I was particularly so.
I had been very hard worked, I may say almost night and day, for some time past, to get things ready, and was of course rather tried; nevertheless, the success which attended the whole rendered me completely unmindful of myself, and I forgot all my fatigues, for I was amply rewarded for all my troubles and anxieties.

A few days after the opening of London Bridge, Jeffreys, the cheesemonger of Ludgate Hill, presented a petition to Parliament through the well-known Henry Hunt, stating that the new bridge was coming down.
Jeffreys was very much annoyed because he had received no recompense for his repeated proposals with regard to the new approaches, though he was never regularly employed; but he was one of those active, intelligent persons, who are always interfering in matters which do not concern them.
If he had devoted himself to his own business he might have done well; but, unfortunately, he neglected this, and fancied himself a great engineer, a post for which he was absurdly incompetent.
He mistook his vocation, and in attempting to do that for which he was wholly unfit, he neglected the business of a tradesman, for which he was thoroughly suited.
The petition ended in its being referred to a Commission, consisting of J.
Walker, Telford, and Tierney Clark, who examined the bridge carefully and made their report, which was colourless and came to nothing, as the subsidence spoken of had taken place two years and a half before, and had not increased, nor has it done so up to the present day.

Removal of the old London Bridge

Old London Bridge demolition 1832
Old London Bridge during its demolition Feb 1832

In all works of great magnitude, and particularly in such a difficult situation as that in which London Bridge is built, it is impossible to be certain of attaining absolute perfection, but the Committee, being perfectly satisfied of the stability of the new bridge, determined to remove the old one forthwith, and I received orders accordingly.
The removal was contracted for by Messrs.
Jolliffe and Banks, for the sum of £10,000, they having the benefit of the old materials, except in so far that they were to fill up the holes in the river below both bridges, to the extent of 14 feet below low water of spring tides, which was rather more than the average depth of the river in the vicinity; they were also bound to remove the whole of the foundations of the piers, starlings, &c.
, of the old bridge, to the same depth.
The whole of these operations were completed in the year 1834, when the river, after a lapse of 658 years, was restored to its natural state.

London Bridge with ruins of previous bridge,Tombleson 1832
London Bridge with ruins of previous bridge,Tombleson 1832

The history of old London Bridge is replete with interest, and forms a very curious epoch in the annals of bridge building before the embankment of the river Thames by the Romans.
The Southwark side, which is in many places considerably below the level of high water of spring tides, was frequently flooded, and numerous creeks were formed in it, so that the river must have been very unequal in its depth, and filled with numerous shoals, and fordable at low water in several places near London; and there was evidently an appearance of a ford at the site of old London Bridge, as in many cases the piers were founded on the original ground, which must have been dry, or nearly so, at low water; these piers were in many instances wider than the adjoining arches, so that they offered considerable obstruction to the free flow of the tidal and fresh waters through the bridge.
These obstructions necessarily increased the velocity and scour of the current, and threatened to carry away the old bridge.
Great starlings, or timber casings of piles, were erected round the bridge piers, and the spaces between them were filled in with chalk.
These starlings still further narrowed the openings of the arches, so that at low water some of them were little more than 8 or 10 feet wide, and the obstructions became so great, that the fall at low water increased to 5 feet perpendicular.
Five openings on the south end and one in the north end were occupied by water-wheels for pumping water for the City.
The obstruction caused by these works was so great that the celebrated Smeaton was employed by the Corporation of London to take down the two arches near the centre, and replace them by a single one of 80 feet span.
The original bridge is said to have been built in the year 1176; but between that time and the period of its removal in 1834, it underwent so many alterations and changes that it may almost be said to have been rebuilt several times.
It was originally covered with houses, as everyone knows, leaving a narrow passage between for the traffic.
To describe the numerous alterations would require a large volume, and the reader is therefore referred to an interesting account of this curious old structure called "The Chronicles of Old London Bridge".

Tidal Changes

1856: 1823 London Bridge tidal scour
1856: The changes caused by the new London Bridge

Numerous speculations were made by scientific men, engineers and others, on the effect the removal of the old bridge would have upon the river.
My father pointed out the probable results in a very simple manner; he said that the river was in an artificial state in consequence of the old bridge acting as a dam to the free passage of the waters upwards and downwards, both tidal and fresh; and the consequence was, that the river above had to a certain extent accommodated itself to circumstances.
By the removal of this obstruction the river would soon be reduced to its natural level; the fall of 4 to 5 feet through the bridge would be removed, consequently the tide would rise so much higher and fall so much lower above bridge, and so much more tidal water would be admitted above the old bridge throughout the whole length of the tidal flow as far as Teddington Lock; and this increased quantity of tidal water passing up and down twice each way during the twenty-four hours would scour the bed of the river, and thus remove the great quantity of mud deposited along the shores.
And further, that the drainage of the metropolis, and in fact the whole valley of the Thames, at least as far as Teddington, would be greatly improved; and the water, being constantly changed, would be clearer and fresher.
He further said, that the actual level of high water would scarcely be materially affected, perhaps not exceeding 5 or 6 inches; and lastly, that the process would be gradual, and that it would take several years before the river would attain its final and natural state.
Such has proved to be the result.

1834: Fourth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Edinburgh

The River Frontages of London

As the works of new London Bridge proceeded attention was drawn to the irregular outline of the wharves, which were not only unsightly but extremely injurious to the regular passage of the waters.
At this time also, people having visited Paris and other great continental cities, were struck with the architectural beauties which they had seen, and became much disgusted with the mean, shabby-looking appearance of London; and well they might, for there were no great leading thoroughfares worthy of the name.
Cockspur Street, leading from the Strand to Pall Mall, was scarcely 20 feet wide; the Royal Mews occupied Trafalgar Square; the Haymarket was encumbered by haycarts; Cross's Menagerie and Exeter Change blocked up the Strand near Waterloo Bridge; the connection between Holborn and Oxford Street was round by old St.
Giles', and Farringdon Street was filled with a market, and surrounded by undertakers.
Regent Street had been commenced under the direction of that clever architect Nash, which, from his novel mode of grouping shops into distinct masses of different styles, excited considerable attention, and was totally different to anything we had hitherto seen in the metropolis.
This great and really magnificent street was, I am told, entirely his own idea, and according to the opinion of the late Sir Robert Smirke, was a Herculean task, on account of the great variety of interests to be dealt with, and he told me that nobody but the indefatigable Nash could have carried it through.
He built a house there for himself, now the Gallery of Illustration, opposite to the Club Chambers near Waterloo Place, where George IV.
honoured him with a visit.
In fact, just about this time there was a perfect mania for architectural improvements.

An initial proposal to make Embankments

About this time [1835?] Sir F. Trench, who moved in the most fashionable circles and was a great amateur in architecture and fine arts, was seized and enraptured with the idea of constructing quays along the banks of the Thames, between Whitehall and Blackfriars Bridge, and converting the space so recovered from the shore of the Thames into a handsome carriage-drive and promenade ornamented with gardens and fountains.
He applied to the late Mr. Philip Wyatt and myself to assist him in preparing the designs and in obtaining an Act of Parliament to carry it into effect.
At the request of the London Bridge Committee I had previously, in company with the late Mr. W.
Mylne, prepared a general plan for this object, but it went no farther on account of the difficulty of raising the funds.
Trench, however, overlooked this, and said he had no doubt that sufficient money would be obtained.
He accordingly, with his great influence and indefatigable activity, formed a committee of the highest class; neither were the ladies excluded; amongst others, the beautiful Duchess of Rutland took the greatest interest in the undertaking, and at the first meeting, which took place at Her Grace's house, she was unanimously voted to the chair, and conducted everything in the most business-like manner.
Lord Palmerston, then Secretary for War, took a leading part, and it is singular that many years later his Lordship, then Premier, should have proposed a similar measure, and the continuation of the coal duties for carrying it into effect, which was adopted; but when we proposed the undertaking and the mode of raising the funds, notwithstanding our powerful committee, the idea was considered as chimerical.
Trench, however, was so confident that the means would be found, that he went to considerable expense in preparing a book ornamented with numerous beautiful engravings showing the effect which would be produced by the undertaking, to which Wyatt and myself contributed our share.
A solicitor, named Leech, was appointed, notices for going to Parliament were duly given, and the necessary plans and estimates were deposited; but when the question as to the means of raising the funds came before the Managing Committee, everybody was at a loss.
To form a company appeared impossible, as it did not appear that sufficient revenue would be derived from the undertaking; and as to raising funds by increasing and extending the coal tax, the Government was decidedly opposed to it; they said they had done as much in this way as possible for London Bridge, and that the public would not submit to any further tax of the kind.
Thus, after a considerable deal of useless trouble and expense, Trench, Wyatt, and myself were obliged to abandon this great undertaking, which has since been carried into effect nearly upon the same principles as we recommended.

Architecture in London Bridge Approaches

As to the architecture of the approaches to London Bridge, I referred the subject to my brother-in-law, Cockerell, a very accomplished and competent authority, and I exhibited his designs to the Committee as well as some of my own.
They, however, considered them to be too ornamental and costly, although they were as plain and simple as these important approaches rendered necessary.
The Committee, having rejected them, referred the subject to the late Sir Robert Smirke, then one of the Crown architects, and he designed the present buildings on both sides of the bridge, as far as King William Street on the north, and the old townhall of Southwark on the south; and certainly, with all due respect to my late friend Sir Robert Smirke, a more unworthy set of buildings was never designed.
Thus not only has a rare opportunity of making handsome and appropriate buildings to one of the greatest thoroughfares in the world been lost, but the buildings are so low and badly built, that the advantages of the ground, which it must have been foreseen were capable of almost unlimited development as regards rental, have been in a great measure thrown away.


[John Rennie junior] succeeded [his] father as engineer-in-chief to Ramsgate Harbour.
This harbour was established by special Act of Parliament for the purpose of affording shelter to vessels of 300 tons lying in the Downs during south-west gales.
When these winds prevail that anchorage is crowded with all classes of vessels, and the smaller ones, not being so well found with ground tackle as the larger, are liable to be driven from their moorings and fall foul of the larger vessels, causing them to go adrift also, and thus creating considerable confusion and damage; but by having Ramsgate under their lee, the small vessels can always get under way, run for it at the commencement of the flood, and reach it in safety long before high water, at which time the Goodwin Sands are covered, and a heavy sea rolls into the Downs.
In fact, Ramsgate Harbour was made for clearing the Downs of small vessels, so that the large ones may ride in safety, and so far has effectually answered its object.
There were a certain number of trustees appointed under the Act, who were selected from the principal merchants and shipowners of London, and the Deputy Master and three or four Elder Brethren of the Trinity were members of the Board of Trustees ex officio.
At the time I was appointed engineer, the celebrated Sir William Curtis, Bart.
, member for the City of London, was chairman, and the worthy Deputy Master of the Trinity House, Sir John Woolmore, represented that Corporation with three others of the Elder Brethren.
As this was one of the oldest and most important harbour trusts in the kingdom, I felt great honour in being appointed their chief engineer, the more so as the celebrated Smeaton and my father had previously occupied that position.
It was here that Smeaton followed out the idea that had been originally proposed at Dundee, of establishing an inner basin with sluices for the purpose of scouring away the mud which continually accumulated in the outer harbour, owing to the great quantity of alluvial matter brought in from the adjacent coast and waters, which otherwise in a very short time would have filled it up and rendered it useless.
Ramsgate Harbour was also celebrated for being the first place of the kind where the diving bell was introduced by Smeaton for the purpose of laying down moorings and removing obstacles under water.
The diving bell was afterwards, in 1813, much improved, and rendered, for the first time, applicable to building masonry under water with as much security and accuracy as building upon dry land.
In such an exposed situation it was more economical and expeditious than the old cofferdams; it was in this manner Mr. Rennie rebuilt the east pier-head in 17 feet at low-water spring tides, which was originally made by Smeaton, and which failed.
I also succeeded my father at Sunderland, Donaghadee, Port Patrick, and Kingstown harbours, the West India Docks, besides other places soon afterwards, so that I had a large business, and was daily getting more.


The most difficult and anxious work, however, at that time was the new dockyard at Sheerness, designed and partly carried into effect by my father.
He originally, in the year 1807, recommended that the old dockyard, which was composed only of some old wooden slips imbedded in the mud, a few storehouses, a wretched basin, lined with wooden walls, and some timber jetties, should be abolished.
He said that it was on the lee or wrong side of the harbour, that the foundation for new works was of mud and quicksand, that the space, on account of the buildings in the old town, was very confined, and, therefore, that to make a good dockyard there would be very expensive, and he thought it would be far better to make a new complete establishment at Northfleet, just above Gravesend, and to get rid of Woolwich, Deptford, and Sheerness altogether.
Mr. Pitt, then Prime Minister, decided that it should be done; but when he died the matter fell to the ground, as I have before said, although the land was bought for the purpose.
However, after the great war [Napoleonic War] had terminated, in 1815, the nation was naturally anxious to reduce the expenditure as much as possible, so that the House of Commons would not listen to the idea of expending any large sums upon great new works either for the navy or the army; and it was only after considerable difficulty that the House of Commons would grant money for the repairs of Sheerness Dockyard, and, like most extensive repairs, it was found, when too late, that it would have been far better to have abandoned Sheerness altogether.
Nevertheless it was absolutely necessary to do something to the Thames and Medway dockyards, to keep in repair the large fleet of vessels which was there laid up in ordinary.
The total number of pennants flying at the close of the war was about 1000, and the last vote for seamen in 1815 included 127,000 sailors and marines.
As there was greater depth of water at Sheerness than at any of the dockyards, and as the harbour immediately contiguous was capable of accommodating with ease any number of large vessels, Sheerness was decided upon as the place where the greatest repairs and improvements should be made, and it ended in an entirely new dockyard being built.

The works accordingly commenced in 1815, and the late Lord Melville laid the first stone at the north end that year.
It ended in expending nearly £3,000,000, £1,700,000 of which went to the engineering department, and the remainder in the purchase of ground, buildings in the town of Sheerness, in storehouses, mast and timber ponds, smithery, admiral's and officers' houses.
The engineering works were of the most difficult kind; the foundations were composed of nothing but soft mud and loose quicksands to an almost interminable depth, so that my father was obliged to invent an entirely new system of hollow walls faced with granite in front and brick behind.
This system of walls, which was entirely new, by giving a greater superficial area of bearing surface with the same weight of materials, rendered them thoroughly secure.
He had adopted this kind of construction with perfect success at the docks at Great Grimsby, in Lincolnshire, and they succeeded equally well at Sheerness, although exposed to much greater difficulties.
The dockyard as completed consists of one basin of nearly 3 acres, at the east end of which are three docks for first-rate vessels of war, with a depth of 9 feet at low water of spring tides, the basin being of the same depth, so that with a rise of tide of 18 feet at spring tides the largest vessels can always be docked at those times.
There is also another tidal basin of about the same size, together with large storehouses, smithery, mast ponds, boathouses, admiral's and officers' houses, chapel, &c.
, and ample space for timber and other materials.
This dockyard, therefore, as was the intention, is well adapted for keeping in repair the numerous vessels lying up in ordinary in the adjacent harbour, or for executing any repairs which vessels on the northern stations may require; it never was intended to be a building yard, and it answers its original purpose well.
It should be mentioned, that here Mr. Rennie first introduced cast-iron gates for the dry docks; these fitted to the granite quoins so nicely by polishing the two surfaces, iron and stone, with emery, that they worked together perfectly, and were completely water-tight; and although they have now been in use forty-five years, they are as good as on the day when they were made.
At the time that these works were proceeding, it was decided to make a new large granite dry dock at Chatham, similar to those at Sheerness; and some improvements in the line of river wall, which partly interfered with the free circulation of the tide there, were being constructed when I was appointed, and I finished them.