Women of Waterloo and Lambeth #1

In this weekly series, we are featuring prominent women in our local community, both throughout history and those shaping our world today.


To kick off, we asked Lorraine Spenceley, from the Creative Curve Theatre Company, to write a set of fictional monologues which give a little insight into women's roles in Waterloo. We launch today with Dorothy, representing the large female workforce who at the height of WWII were employed with the task of rebuilding Waterloo Bridge. If you want to learn more about the story of the women of Waterloo Bridge, watch this documentary here.


Two female builders carry hods of bricks on a building site, 1941 © Imperial War Museum

THE LADIES' BRIDGE

written by Lorraine Spenceley


Dorothy (Dot) is in her early 20’s, bright, cheerful, with a sense of pride and purpose that she is building Waterloo Bridge. Speaks with a South London accent. Lives in Vauxhall with her mum and brother while her dad is away fighting.


DOROTHY


Bleedin’ cold, it is up here on the bridge. Dress up warm me mum says. I do, even wear two pairs of me dad’s old socks. The wind whistles down the Thames. And it is damp too, what with Waterloo being a marsh. First thing in the morning the mist rises up from the ground. Can be bleedin’ spooky seeing the wisps of mist walking to work half asleep. “Dot, Dot” me mum says “don't be so soft in the head there are no such thing as ghosts”. Me mum’s a good ‘un, she always has a hot meal waiting for me when I get in. She says I do the work of a man so I should get fed like one!


We call it the Ladies Bridge, the girls and me because we are ladies!!! (Dot giggles) sometimes!!! Not that we look like ladies in our overalls and caps. It is only when we open our mouths and call to the river boat pilots below that they realise we are girls. You ought to see the look on their faces when they see us with acetylene torches. One nearly crashed into the bridges supports! The men who work with us on the bridge are alright but they do take liberties. My first day, a group of us girls arrived and you could tell by their faces what they were thinking: “Bloody hell! There’s a war on and we’ve got women welders too!” When you are welding you can’t take your eyes off the torch, while I’m welding the bleedin’ men knick my fags out of my bag! An acetylene welder's job is to cut up the girders and dismantle the temporary Waterloo Bridge. The sparks from the torch can be lethal, I thought I was getting a bit hot one day, when I looked down me trousers were on fire!


Last week, the manager from Peter Lind and Company, they’re the ones who are building the bridge, turned up in his posh suit and said to us girls: (Dot mimics the posh voice of the manager) “Well done girlies you are doing a sterling job, Britain will be proud of you”. I don’t care if Britain is proud of me I just want to be paid the same as the men. I’m doing the same job; it is just as dangerous for me as it for the men. He went on and on about the war effort, how the bridge would be a link across the river, getting “our brave men” to Waterloo Station and how building the bridge was hush, hush because they don’t want the “Jerry” to know about it. It’s all well and good for him to say that but he’s not up here when the Doodle Bugs fly over. I can hear the rasping whine of the Doodle Bugs as they fly up the Thames, (Dot mimics the whine) then the power goes, there is silence (silence) and they drop. Everyone runs, but we can’t run up here.


(Dot pauses as she realises the dangers of her job. Then perks up.)


Bleedin’ cold, it is up here on the Bridge.


© Daily Herald Archive, National Media Museum, Science & Society Picture Library
© Historic England
From Waterloo Bridge (Photo: Robert R. Schünemann)

Find us at:

St John's Waterloo

Waterloo Road

London SE1 8TY

Presented by:

Presenting sponsor:

HB Reavis logo.jpg

Website design and illustrations:

Hart Club

David Bassadone