Waterloo Bridge Granite

Demolition starts on Waterloo Bridge (left) in 1934 while traffic uses a temporary iron bridge (right).

Structural issues with the Waterloo Bridge (which opened in 1817) resulted in the London County Council’s decision to demolish it in 1934. The granite used to construct it did not go to waste. A lot was used for paving or rubble, balustrades were turned into pedestals for bird baths or sundials, and larger pieces were offered to parts of the British Empire. New Zealand took a piece and turned it into a memorial for Paddy the Wanderer at Wellington. Canberra accepted two stones and displayed them under the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.

The two Waterloo Bridge granite stones at Canberra. Courtesy of Google.

In London at the time was James MacCallum Smith, who was part of the delegation petitioning the British Parliament for Western Australia’s secession. He had read about the demolition of the bridge and the subsequent interest of various people to obtain relics of it. As the bridge had “great historical interest,” he decided to try to obtain something for Western Australia.

He sought the help of Alexander Howard, the agent in London for the State Saw Mills. On 18 March 1935, MacCallum Smith confirmed via letter to the Premier, Philip Collier, that he had secured four blocks of granite presented by the London County Council to the Western Australian Government. His hope was that they would be used as buttresses for the future bridge over the Swan River at Fremantle.

My idea is that these stones might be incorporated in the structure of the new bridge across the Swan at Fremantle which will have to be built some of these days.

State Records Office of Western Australia; J.McCallum Smith M.L.A. – Block of stone from Waterloo Bridge; AU WA S360- cons1496 1935-0223; Letter from James MacCallum Smith to Louis Shapcott

Alexander Howard used his influence on behalf of MacCallum Smith. In the afternoon, on 8 April 1935, he went to the bridge, looked over the stones, and approved of them. They were to be transported by the Port of London Authority free of charge from the bridge to the ship. In a letter written to MacCallum Smith that day, Alexander noted “All being well they are to be transported tomorrow, and each stone will have on it your name and that of the Western Australian Govt. Perth, in two places.

The object of bringing the stones to Western Australia is a sentimental one, having in view their inclusion in a public structure…

State Records Office of Western Australia; J.McCallum Smith M.L.A. – Block of stone from Waterloo Bridge; AU WA S360- cons1496 1935-0223; Letter from Fremantle Harbour Trust to the Premier’s Department

Writing to the Secretary of the Premier’s Department on 15 April, MacCallum Smith further advised that he had arranged transportation of the granite via the ‘SS Baradine.‘ The shipping company agreed to do so without any cost to the Western Australian Government. They departed London on 12 April 1935.

SS Baradine courtesy of State Library Victoria (H91.108/1780)

A month later, the ‘SS Baradine‘ and the four granite blocks arrived at Fremantle. As they were consigned to the State Saw Mills, a request was made by the shipping company that they arrange collection. The blocks were six foot nine inches tall, two foot three inches wide, and one foot three inches deep. In total, they weighed nearly six tons. Realising that they did not have a lorry that could carry all the blocks in a single trip, the General Manager wrote to the Premier’s Department requesting that they arrange transport.

Costs relating to the transportation of the granite continued to be waived. Along with the free passage via the ‘SS Baradine‘, duties relating to the Customs Department were remitted, and the Harbour Trust was asked to “kindly waive Harbour Charges.” They confirmed they had done so in a later letter.

As requested by the State Saw Mills, the Premier’s Department arranged the transportation of the blocks from Fremantle, and deposited them in the gardens of Government House. The Secretary expressed that they were pleased to have the historic relics but advised MacCallum Smith that as the Fremantle Bridge would likely take some years before completion, he may want to look elsewhere for their use. He offered the State Gardens Board as a possible suggestion.

The Waterloo Bridge granite blocks in the Government House gardens.

Letters were written by the Secretary of the Premier’s Department to Alexander Howard and the London County Council thanking them for their assistance with the endeavour on behalf of the Western Australian Government. Alexander replied on 27 June 1935 stating that the demolition of Waterloo Bridge was almost complete. He also requested the Government immediately start work on the Fremantle bridge and be finished “no later than the end of April next year…” The reason for his insistence was that he wanted to come to Perth and see the granite in situ. He ended the letter: “With my very best wishes for the success of the Bridge.” His request went unheeded.

Around the same time the blocks were being moved to Government House, a decision was made by the Joint Select Committee in London that Western Australia’s secession petition could not be presented to British Parliament. The delegation was unsuccessful. They later issued a statement: “We are disappointed beyond measure at the British Government’s deplorable indifference to a question of such vital importance to our State…” In August 1935, MacCallum Smith returned home disappointed and frustrated.

The Waterloo Bridge granite stones that he had originally taken a keen interest in were forgotten. There is a sense that his eagerness with respect to the stones stemmed from a desire to maintain the connection to Britain. As though owning the relics of an old bridge was saying, we may want to separate from federated Australia, but we do not want to separate from you. Once the secession movement failed, he seems to have lost interest in them. There were no other suggestions for their use in the records during the late 1930s. Indeed, there were no suggestions for decades. For 26 years, they lay abandoned in the grounds of Government House, a symbol of the hopes of the secessionist movement in Western Australia.

In April 1961, the eastern end of Government House gardens were being altered. Still lying there, and needing to be moved, were the Waterloo Bridge granite stones. The Under Secretary for the Premier’s Department contacted the Commissioner for Main Roads and asked, “Have you any ideas as to their possible utilisation? In the meantime, would you be able to arrange for their removal to some other place of keeping?

Their rediscovery and the questions asked finally got the ball rolling. A representative of Main Roads spoke to the Secretary of the Kings Park Board, John Watson, and then wrote him a letter. Along with a description of the stones and how they arrived in Western Australia, they suggested that they could be placed somewhere 50° west of the rotunda, which was west of the War Memorial. From that position, visitors could look out at the Narrows Bridge, with a plaque providing the history of the stones.

John brought the matter up at the next Kings Park Board meeting in May. Upon hearing about the stones, the Lord Mayor of Perth, Harry Howard, expressed his desire for them to be used in Perth’s new civic buildings (Council House). As the Kings Park Board was unsure about potential sites in the park, they agreed with the decision. Also happy with the outcome, the Under Secretary of the Premier’s Department agreed that the stones could remain where they were until required by the City of Perth. The last letter held in the Premier’s Department file is dated 19 July 1961 and was sent by the City of Perth’s Town Clerk, William Green. He acknowledged that the granite stones “may be taken for use in the paving area of the new Town Hall.

Excavations for the foundation of Council House began in October 1961, with the building completed by late November 1962 and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in March 1963. Where the documents in the Premier’s Department file come to an end, the City of Perth History Centre fills in some of the gaps. While the Mayor secured the stones, it was the Town Clerk (William Green) who appears to have been pivotal in deciding their use.

Having designed an abstract depiction of the City of Perth’s coat of arms, Jeffrey Howlett (one of the architects of Council House) commissioned artist and jeweller Geoffrey Allen, who created a metal sculpture. Upon completion, it was mounted on a piece of the Waterloo Bridge granite and placed prominently at the front of Council House. The inscription on the front of it read: “This plaque commemorates the opening of Council House by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, 25th March 1963.”

The coat of arms mounted on the granite circa 1965. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (142307PD).

Much like after its acquisition in 1935, the Waterloo Bridge granite has since become a forgotten piece of Perth history. In the 1990s, during extensive restoration work of Council House, the coat of arms and granite base was removed. According to a City of Perth publication (50 Years of Council House), the granite was lost (or broke) while in storage. Once the restoration of the building was complete, the coat of arms was put back in place without the granite.

The coat of arms at Council House in 2021.

Despite its loss, the base was a small part of the granite, possibly coming from only one block. There were still three large blocks unaccounted for. What became of the rest of the Waterloo Bridge granite? The History Centre has a photo within their records of a pyramid monument, made of granite. There are sadly no details of its purpose or origin. Was it made from a leftover block? It is also possible that much of the granite was not feasible for use. In 1935, as the granite from the bridge was being distributed as souvenirs, the Resident Engineer noted that it was of poor quality and was not suitable for reuse commercially. Perhaps a significant portion of the granite could not be incorporated into a monument.

Initially, I expected to write about how the granite was obtained and used, a simple story of how a part of London’s history ended up in Perth. The story quickly became so much more, a story of secession (or the failure to secede) and of a desire to maintain a connection to Britain. Ultimately, we may never know what exactly became of the Waterloo Bridge granite. Not only is much of its use a mystery, even the whereabouts of one of its known uses is now a mystery.

Sources:

  • State Records Office of Western Australia; Premier’s Department; Administrative and Functional Files; J.McCallum Smith M.L.A. – Block of stone from Waterloo Bridge; AU WA S360- cons1496 1935-0223
  • State Library Victoria; Green, A.C., 1900. Baradine; Accession no: H91.108/1780
  • State Library of Western Australia; City of Perth coat of arms on Council House, Perth, 1965; Evan Luly; Call Number: 142307PD
  • Information relating to the Waterloo Bridge granite courtesy of the Londonist website: https://londonist.com/london/old-waterloo-bridge
  • Information relating to Council House courtesy of the Heritage Perth website: https://heritageperth.com.au/properties/council-house/
  • Information relating to the history of Council House from the 50 Years of Council House 1963-2013 publication published by the City of Perth; Page 44.
  • 1935 ‘WATERLOO BRIDGE RELICS FOR PERTH.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 23 May, p. 20. , viewed 26 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32859459
  • 1935 ‘SECESSION PETITION’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 26 July, p. 22. , viewed 26 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32873294
  • 1935 ‘Report That Secession Petition Rejected’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 24 May, p. 1. (LATE CITY), viewed 26 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85729577
  • 1934 ‘Noted Bridge Goings Old Roman City: Champion Tennis’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), 9 August, p. 36. , viewed 02 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91064085
  • British Library; The Times (London, England); Saturday, Aug. 17, 1935; Issue: 47145; Relics of Waterloo Bridge; Gale Document Number: GALE|CS169815313

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