Picture the City: Waterloo Bridge

How did London become a city of tourism?

By Bank of England Museum

The Thames from Waterloo Bridge (1860) by Edmund John Niemann (attributed)Bank of England Museum

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From this spot on Waterloo Bridge, you have an expansive view of London. 

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Somerset House

This large building is Somerset House, built in the late 1700s on the site of a historic royal palace.

The Royal Academy of Arts became the building’s first occupants, beginning a longstanding connection between Somerset House and the arts.  

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Somerset House later became host to a variety of public offices, such as the Navy Board, which dealt with Royal Navy administration; the Stamp Office, which was responsible for taxing newspapers and documents; and Inland Revenue, the office that managed taxes in the UK.

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In the 1860s, a few years after this painting was made, the Embankment was built to create a road along the north side of the river. It also incorporated a new underground railway and a sewer system that was vital to maintaining public health. 

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Somerset House no longer touched the Thames, but Victorian people could promenade along the Embankment. This boosted the local economy and began the area’s reputation as a site for tourism.

Clay Pipe (Mid-17th Century)Bank of England Museum

A Victorian gentleman strolling along the Embankment might have smoked from pre-filled, single-use clay pipes like this one. Though fragile and hundreds of years old, the soft mud of the Thames has protected these pipes well. Even today, clay pipes can be found on its shores.

The Thames from Waterloo Bridge (1860) by Edmund John Niemann (attributed)Bank of England Museum

Waterloo Bridge (2020) by Justin PipergerBank of England Museum

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The area surrounding Waterloo Bridge has become one of the most important sites for tourism in London. Somerset House and the Embankment are on the north bank of the Thames, while the South Bank is home to a cluster of cultural institutions.

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Tourism is vital to London’s economy

Before the pandemic, the city’s tourism sector employed over 700,000 people and contributed £36 billion a year to the economy. It was estimated that London would host over 40 million tourists per year by 2025. 

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The pandemic has affected all sectors

Tourism was hit particularly hard. The government provided over £25 billion to the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors across the UK in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks.

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The Bank of England also helped to support the economy by keeping interest rates low and ensuring banks can continue to lend to households and businesses.

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What changes to the tourism sector have you witnessed during the pandemic?

Waterloo Bridge (2020) by Justin PipergerBank of England Museum

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Somerset House

Somerset House looks a bit different today thanks to the Embankment, but it still has strong connections to art and culture.

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Skyscrapers

London’s skyline has changed considerably in just the last two decades! Breakthroughs in engineering and architecture have allowed skyscrapers to sprout up out of London’s clay ground, a feat that was previously thought to be impossible. 

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St Paul's Cathedral

Some things, on the other hand, haven’t changed. The view of St Paul’s from Westminster Pier is a protected view, which means newly constructed buildings cannot obstruct it. Since Waterloo Bridge lies within this path, St Paul’s will always be visible from Waterloo Bridge.

The Thames from Waterloo Bridge (1860) by Edmund John Niemann (attributed)Bank of England Museum

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Near where you’re standing, a man rests on the railing while gazing at the view of London and watching boats go by. Bridges have always been popular viewpoints. St Paul’s dominates this man’s skyline as the tallest building in London at the time.

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When you’ve had your fill of the view, make your way back to the north side of the river and walk the short distance to your next stop – Covent Garden.

Credits: Story

Picture the City is an exhibition produced by the Bank of England Museum.
Waterloo Bridge is stop 4 of 8 in this digital exhibition. The next stop is Covent Garden. To go to the start of the exhibition, click here.

All images © Bank of England Museum except where stated.
Explore more and discover the sites in real life on our website!

With thanks to: Thomas.Matthews.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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