SCHOOLS COMPETITION TO DESIGN SCULPTURES FOR LONDON BRIDGE PLINTHS
During World War Two hundreds of women were involved in the rebuilding of Waterloo Bridge, but their contribution was not publicly recognised for over half a century.
Now the campaigners who secured that recognition are taking the story into London’s schools by revitalising a decades old competition.
London Assembly member Tom Copley, who hosted a City Hall event ahead of International Women in Engineering Day, said he hoped the event would “encourage a new generation of female engineers”.
During the Second World War women played a key role in the construction of Waterloo Bridge.
While official history had written this story out – indeed, the former leader of London County Council explicitly thanked “men” for their contribution – Thames riverboat pilots had kept the story alive by telling stories of the Ladies’ Bridge.
In 2005, film-maker Karen Livesey made a documentary which explored the story of the bridge builders and 25,000 other female construction workers.
Following a campaign to try and track down evidence of the women who worked on the Bridge, photographs were discovered proving the women’s contribution.
As part of the Totally Thames festival in 2015, the images were projected on the Southbank.
The fact that many Londoners remain unaware of the history of Waterloo Bridge, and that just nine per cent of engineering workforce in the UK is female which is the lowest is Europe, has led to the Ladies’ Bridge organisation to revisit a project first launched in 1947.
London County Council challenged prominent artists to complete the bridge by providing sculptural designs for its four plinths. Despite designs being produced by Barbara Hepworth, Charles Wheeler, Frank Dobson and Eric Kennington, none were chosen, and the plinths remain empty to this day.
Project Sculpture will be open to schools across the capital and will culminate in an exhibition during the Thames Festival in 2018.
Although no agreement has been reached regarding the current empty plinths, it is hoped something more permanent to commemorate women’s contribution to Waterloo Bridge (and the work of women during the two World Wars in general) will be commissioned.
The 1947 Waterloo Bridge Plinth Design competition details can be found at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hepworth-model-for-project-for-waterloo-bridge-the-river-t07941;
Two maquettes designed by Barbara Hepworth are held at the Tate Gallery in Cornwall and the National Galleries Scotland.
(Details of who to contact at Project Sculpture will be available at a later date – Ed.)
Tom Copley is a Labour Londonwide Assembly Member. (Source: GLA Labour party press release)
Further reading: www.theladiesbridge.co.uk