HUNDREDS of thousands of people cross them every year in cars, on cycles and on foot and they are a vital part of our day-to-day lives. Without them, many people would be unable to get to work, to do their shopping or to visit friends and family. So maybe it’s a little surprising that few people give much thought to the bridges that cross the River Thames – we just take them for granted.
So I thought I’d include an occasional piece focusing on our local bridges.
The obvious place to start seems to be Staines Bridge – simply because the Roman name for the town was Ad Pontes meaning ‘The Bridges.’
It was the Romans who probably built the first bridge over the river at Staines shortly after their arrival in 43AD.
And it was largely because of that bridge that the town grew in importance – it was the first structure crossing the river above London Bridge, a distance of more than 25 miles – which gave the town a major strategic significance. That situation continued until the early part of the 15th century when another bridge was built joining Shepperton and Walton.
During the Civil War, Staines Bridge was partially destroyed and was replaced by a ferry for a few years before a new structure was built in 1683.
That crossing lasted for more than 100 years but the history of the two bridges that replaced it was somewhat less auspicious.
The first replacement, a three-span stone bridge which was put up in 1779 just behind the old Town Hall building, quickly developed problems. Within months it started to disintegrate. In 1803, a single span iron bridge was put up to replace it but that, too, failed almost immediately. (Obviously not a good time for bridge builders, then.)
The iron bridge was shored up to prevent it collapsing but the huge baulks of timber used then got in the way of river traffic.
An Act of Parliament was eventually passed approving the building of a third new bridge.
Designed by brothers George and John Rennie and sited 300 yards further upriver than the two failed bridges, the new structure was opened in 1832 and it is that bridge that still spans the river today.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, a temporary Callender-Hamilton bridge was put up next to the Rennie structure because there were fears that the stone bridge might not be able to support the weight of heavy armour crossing it. After the war, the temporary bridge was reduced to a footbridge and was eventually removed in 1959.
Staines historian Chris Gardan, whose father ran the Gardan Engineering Works where Island Close now stands, recalls seeing the temporary bridge as a youngster.
“I remember my brother taking me down to the water’s edge.” he said. “We watched a large tank being taken across the bridge on the back of a transporter – presumably to test it out. Employees at the old Lagonda Works on the Causeway would have used that bridge to reach Staines town centre.”
Next time you’re heading into or out of Staines across the graceful old bridge, just try to imagine what it would do to your journey if it suddenly disappeared….