Waterloo Station is Steeped in History

Steeped in history, Waterloo Station is a fascinating place to visit. It was once the terminus of London’s daily funeral express to Brookwood Cemetery, where coffins would be carried on trains to be transported to their final resting place.

Look out for the sweeping staircases under the railway arches, where you’ll find tongue-in-cheek versions of classic paintings with a London Transport makeover.

The Victory Arch

As the station developed in a rather haphazard manner throughout the Victorian period, the LSWR decided to start again and forge it into a terminal fit for purpose. The building work started in 1911 and went on right through the First World War, culminating in the grand opening of the rebuilt Waterloo in 1922.

The main entrance to the new station is dominated by the Victory Arch. This was commissioned by the LSWR as a memorial to the company’s staff who died in the First World War. It features a sculpture of Britannia holding the torch of liberty. Underneath are the names of the major theatres of the Great War, engraved on a carved arc around the figure of Britannia. They are Belgium, the Dardanelles, France, Egypt, Mesopotamia and North Sea.

This is flanked by statues of the Roman goddesses Bellona – representing war – and Pax – who represented peace. Behind the arch is the LSWR’s booking hall and upstairs there is a dining room and bars.

There is also an impressive four sided clock which, though the area under it has been taken over by shops and fast food outlets, is worth seeing. Waterloo is the busiest railway station in the UK and although Eurostar formerly used to operate from it, they moved to St Pancras International Station in 2007.

The Waterloo Memorial

The Waterloo Memorial, also known as the Memorial 1815 is more than just a museum. This place of memory plunges you into the atmosphere of this historical confrontation, offering an original scenography and a magnificent multimedia show. It is the entry point to the other Waterloo attractions and is a must-see for any visitor.

The memorial is dedicated to the 24,000 Anglo-Allied and Prussian soldiers who lost their lives or went missing on that fateful day. It is a vast mound surmounted by a giant cast-iron lion symbolizing Allied victory and European peace. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts thousands of visitors each year.

A large terrace at the top of the Memorial offers a unique panoramic view of the battlefield and the railway station below. It was designed by James Robb Scott, architect of the refurbished Waterloo Station, and is a reminder of the station’s former glory as a major junction on the London and South Western Railway.

It is a bit of a mystery why the station was named after the Battle of Waterloo. The best guess seems to be that the station was located close to a new bridge over the River Strand which was opened shortly after the battle. The bridge was called ‘Waterloo Bridge’ and this led to the name of the station as well.

The Undercroft

One of the UK’s busiest stations, Waterloo is a massive transport hub moving 99m people in a normal year. It’s also a fascinating part of London history. In fact, it was once the world’s largest railway station but, in 1909, it had to be rebuilt to cope with its huge traffic load – and to be able to expand as trains became longer and more numerous.

Today, the main entrance into the station is known as the Victory Arch which has been designed by J R Scott as a memorial to the LSWR staff killed in the First World War. Its impressive main entrance is topped by the bronze figure of Britannia holding the torch of freedom. You can find permanent exhibitions on the history of the station including the First World War Galleries and Turning Points as well as an incredibly moving Holocaust exhibition.

There are several ways in and out of the station, but it’s a good idea to leave plenty of time for your journey. Seat reservations aren’t available on trains leaving from Waterloo and it is best to arrive on the platform (track) at least 15 minutes before departure. This will allow you to get on board with ease. The station is situated right by the vibrant Southbank Centre and is easily walkable from other parts of central London.

The London Necropolis Railway Station

The London Necropolis Railway Station was built in the 1850s to deal with a very real problem: urban cemeteries were rapidly filling up. The LNC was designed for one purpose and one purpose only – to take the departed out of the city center. The large enterance on 121 Westminster Bridge Road is now a beautiful office building known as Westminster Bridge House, and it would be difficult to guess that it was once home to a very different operation.

Although the LNC’s directors feared that people might avoid their services if they suspected they were being transported in carriages that had been used for funeral trains, they were able to come up with a workaround. The L&SWR’s shareholders agreed to separate the passenger cars lent to the LNC from their mainline stock, so that when passengers boarded a Necropolis train they could be sure they were in carriages dedicated solely to them.

Today, only the building and part of the trackside platform survive as the entrance to the former Necropolis Railway Station at Waterloo. The rest of the track, which ran to Brookwood Cemetery, disappeared during WWII and the last body was carried off in May 1941. Despite its morbid history, the London Necropolis Railway remains a popular subject for writers and has been featured in such novels as Basil Copper’s Necropolis and Andrew Martin’s murder mystery Death at the Crossroads.

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