Above: Artwork on the ‘Shoreditch Art Wall’ on the south side of Great Eastern Street. On the left is a representation of the Waterloo medal, issued to British troops who took part in the battle.
This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. In 1815 two men were lining up their armies in a muddy field in what is now part of Belgium, about 10 miles (15 km) south of Brussels. Wellington had his British and Allied army. Napoleon had his French Imperial Guard. One decisive battle could end twenty years of bloody conflict on the continent.
It was a showdown between two of history’s military giants. They were the same age, formidable strategists, with a string of victories behind them. By Sunday 18 June, the outcome hung in the balance and the victor would determine the fate of Europe. The battle started some time late morning and lasted throughout the afternoon. By that time Wellingon was to show that he was victor but the cost was that nearly 50,000 men on both sides lay dead, dying or seriously wounded.
The National Army Museum commissioned a mural executed by artist David Samuel who teamed up with street artists RareKind to produce ‘The Returning Soldier’ (at the top of this article), which spans 20 metres across the Shoreditch Art Wall.
The Shoreditch Art Wall (SAW), 17-19 Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, London EC2, has a Weekly Footfall of 250,000. SAW is a large 60 square metre flat expanse now being put to good use, in the high traffic area of London’s uber-fashionable art district of Shoreditch. This rather unsightly large brick wall was built to support a bridge carrying railway trains (running out of the old Broad Street Terminus) across Great Eastern Street. With the bridge removed in the 1990s the wall is now open to the sky and it has acted as a focus for what could be called ‘legalised graffiti’.
The outcome of the epic battle has given rise to several place names in Inner London. A new bridge across the Thames had been constructed a few years before the battle, built 1809-10 and designed by John Rennie. It was due to be opened with the name ‘Strand Bridge’ in 1817 but, due to the triumph of the English over the French at Waterloo, a new name – Waterloo Bridge – was adopted for the new bridge and it was opened by Wellington himself. The bridge that Wellington opened was, of course, replaced by the one we have today which was constructed during the Second World War and opened in 1945.
The opening of the first Waterloo Bridge gave the land in Lambeth (to the south) the name of Waterloo as well. That in turn meant that the new railway terminus, which was first opened on a smaller site in 1848, was also to be known as Waterloo Station. A second station, on the line between London Bridge and Charing Cross stations followed the same pattern being named Waterloo East.
Also sharing the same name is Waterloo Place which, like Regent Street, was designed by John Nash. Waterloo Place is situated at the southern end of the part of Regent Street that runs south from Piccadilly Circus.