Waterloo Station in London is the busiest rail hub in the UK, with over a quarter of a million people using the station each day. Perhaps you are stuck there now - waiting for a train, with a few hours to kill? The station itself has an interesting history, but there is also a lot to see within a ten-minute walks of the station. So rather than hanging around overpriced cafes, why not check out these 15 sights that are sure to keep anyone entertained while waiting for a train.
HISTORY OF WATERLOO STATION
Built in 1848 in the Lambeth borough of London, Waterloo Station was originally planned as a station on the line into central London, rather than a terminus. It replaced the earlier Nine Elms Station, which had seen a sizable increase in travellers from the south and south west of England.
An Act of Parliament in July 1845 led to its creation, with the demolition of over 700 houses to make way for the new station, named after nearby Waterloo Bridge. The intention was to continue the lines into central London, something which was cancelled due to financial constraints in 1847.
Extra tracks, platforms and ticket offices were added on in a piecemeal fashion, with the station becoming increasingly confusing for visitors. Of its 16 platforms, only 10 were numbered, some of which were duplicated.
In 1898, an underground station was built, and it was accepted that Waterloo would remain as a terminus. By 1900, more land was bought and work began on the ‘Great Transformation’. Work continued throughout World War I and the new station was formally opened in 1922 by Queen Mary.
The station has continued to develop over the years to meet the needs of an ever changing society and is now the largest and busiest station in the UK, with over 100 million people using it each year.
If you’re worried about missing train updates while you are exploring, this National Rail Live Departure Board updates constantly with train times and platforms for trains from Waterloo. so you can check it from your phone whilst on the move.
If you have luggage – leave it at Excess Baggage, which you will find at the SouthBank exit (6). They are open from Monday to Sunday, 7am - 11pm.
THINGS TO DO AT WATERLOO STATION
1. Victory Arch
The main entrance to Waterloo Station, known as Victory Arch, is at Exit 3 if you are already inside the station, or on Cab Road if you are outside it. Grade II listed and built of Portland Stone, it was carved by Charles Whiffen in 1919-1922, with input from staff of the London South West Railway as a memorial to the 585 staff who lost their lives in World War I. It is topped by a sculpture of Britannia holding the torch of liberty, under which is a clock in a sunburst.
On either side are two sculptural groups, one dated 1914 and dedicated to Bellona, the Roman goddess of war. On the other side is a group dedicated to Peace and dated 1918.
The archway is inscribed with ‘Dedicated to the employees of the Company who fell in the war’ and medallions around the arch name Belgium, Italy, Dardenelles, France, Egypt, Mesopotamia and the North Sea. Bronze plaques inside the arch list the names of the fallen employees.
It is best to try to ignore everything else around this grand entrance, as the passage of time has not been kind to the area.
2. Battle of Waterloo Memorial
This memorial to the Battle of Waterloo is a relatively recent addition and has a replica of the Waterloo Campaign Medal
If you walk up the stairs inside the station to the balcony area, a relatively recent addition from 2012, you will find a memorial to the soldiers who died in the Battle of Waterloo.
It was unveiled in 2015 to mark 200 years since the battle, in a ceremony led by the 9th Duke of Wellington and attended by descendents of those who fought and died in the battle.
The memorial is an enlarged replica of the Waterloo Campaign Medal, the first such to be given to every soldier at the battle, irrespective of their rank. It was also the first campaign medal to be issued to next of kin of those who had died.
It depicts Victory sitting on a plinth, with the word ‘Wellington’ inscribed above and ‘Waterloo, June 18, 1815’ below. Beneath the medal are the words of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington;
‘My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.’
Most people walk past the memorial without even noticing, but it is worth seeking it out.
3. Original Archway
Few people notice this archway which is now hidden by the retail balcony, but which is a colourful early 20th century memory of the now defunct London South West Railway.
Still on the balcony near the Waterloo Memorial and opposite the clock, is the curved arch which once served as the main road entrance, but is now mostly obscured by the balcony.
A stained glass window of the LSWR crest is surrounded by inscribed banners to locations served by the original London and South West Railway and which include (left) Middlesex, Surrey, Bucks [Buckinghamshire], Berks[hire], Sussex, Isle-Wight; (right) Hants [Hampshire], Wilts[hire], Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall.
It is interesting to note that by the time Waterloo was being built, the LSWR had actually ceased to exist, but the window and design were still incorporated into the finished building.
4. The Waterloo Clock
Striking and prominent, there are few more famous clocks in London than this one.
Best viewed from the balcony, the Waterloo Clock is perhaps the most famous symbol of the station and “under the Waterloo Clock” one of the most famous meeting places in London.
This four sided clock, with each side over 5 feet, has hung above the concourse since the early 1920s and was built by Gents of Leicester, a company which had began trading in 1872 and which had made electric clocks for railway stations around the world.
The area underneath the clock is now marked with a huge blue spot telling you it is the area under the clock, which takes away some of the charm, but it is still worth a visit.
5. The Sunbathers
This is the newest addition to Waterloo Station, just along from the Battle of Waterloo Memorial. This artwork was installed in 2020 and was actually created for the Festival of Britain in 1951, by artist Peter Laszlo Peri.
It had been assumed lost forever after the Festival, until an appeal was put out to find missing artworks, and someone recognised it as being in terrible state in the garden of the Clarendon Hotel in London.
Fundraising followed to repair it, and for three years it was on display in the Royal Festival Hall. It has now been moved to Waterloo.
THINGS TO DO IN A 2 – 5 MINUTE WALK FROM WATERLOO STATION
6. St. Johns Church, Waterloo (2 minute walk)
Built in 1824 by architect Francis Octavius Bedford, this church was built in a Greek style inspired by his love of Greek scholarship. Bombed in 1940 and left exposed for ten years, the restoration was completed in 1950 and the church rededicated as the Festival of Britain church.
Most of the Victorian features are long gone and the interior is now a spacious, open rectangular room with large windows and a simple balcony. The reredos is replaced by 1950s murals and the overall impression is one of light and simplicity.
The church has a large graveyard which has won multiple awards as a wildlife sanctuary and green space, filled with plants to counteract the pollution which comes from Waterloo Station.
With a thriving community, the church is open to visitors and the graveyard a small sanctuary of peace and nature in the busy city.
7. The Old Vic Theatre, Lambeth (3 minute walk)
Photograph © Tarquin