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The London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) opened the station on 11 June 1848 when its mainline was extended from Nine Elms. The unfulfilled intention was for a through station with services to the City.
The name on opening in 1848 was 'Waterloo Bridge Station', from the nearby Waterloo Bridge across the Thames.
In 1886 it officially became 'Waterloo Station' reflecting the long-standing common usage, even of some L&SWR timetables.
As the station grew it became increasingly ramshackle, a little-used railway line even crossed the main concourse on the level and passed through an archway in the station building to connect to the South Eastern Railway's smaller station, now Waterloo East, whose tracks lie perpendicular to those of Waterloo. Passengers were confused by the layout and by the two very close stations called 'Waterloo'.
Extensive reconstruction between 1900 and 1922 gave 21 platforms and a concourse nearly 800 feet long. The main pedestrian entrance, the Victory Arch, serves as a memorial to company staff who were killed during the two world wars. Damage in World War II required considerable repair but entailed no great changes of layout.
A past curiosity of Waterloo was that a spur led to the adjoining dedicated station of the London Necropolis Company from which funeral trains ran to Brookwood Cemetery, at one time daily, bearing coffins at 2/6 each. This station was destroyed during World War II.