Building a new Bridge for Blythburgh by John E Allen
The earliest records of a ‘great bridge’ over the river Blyth are from 1296, probably lower down from its present position. Smaller footbridges are also cited. The repair of the bridge would have been the Prior’s responsibility until the Dissolution in 1537. The bridge was rebuilt in 1549 and again in 1759, when work started on the Blyth Navigation. A humpback road bridge was built over the Southwold railway for its commencement in 1879.
The latest reconstruction of the river bridge began on 9th January 1989. It was commissioned by the Suffolk County Council and was officially designated Clause 14 of contract programme 88404/P01. The bridge was designed by Kashec consulting engineers of Royston and built by the Fairclough civil engineering company. The west half of the bridge was removed first, and both lines of traffic used the east half. Although the bridge was not strong enough to carry heavy lorry traffic without eventual deterioration it took powerful drilling machines to break it up and remove the piles. A complication was to free eight steel cable ducts from the roadway which carried telephone and cable circuits, support them by a temporary bridge and re–site them in the concrete of the new structure. Once the west half was completed, the traffic was diverted over it and the demolition of the east half began.
The contractors built their own ‘village’ for the duration of the works. This entailed bringing in portable office accommodation, connecting water, sewage and electric services and storing materials and machines. This was laid out on the site of the old Blythburgh railway station on the Southwold line. On completion all this was tidily removed. It had been planned that the reconstruction would be completed by 23rd June but it was in fact finished by 13th May, six weeks early!
During the course of the work many specialised cranes, pile drivers and concrete mixers would have come by road and many scores of engineers would have been engaged in measuring, preparing, setting out and finishing – all the time the traffic was flowing past, inches away. The builders came from all over East Anglia daily: Deri Lewis, site agent from Woolpit; David Flatt, foreman from Loddon; Michael Juby, ganger from Shipdham, E Flatt contract manager from Norwich and the Clerk of the Works came from Ipswich.
I made friends with the site agent and he allowed me to photograph the work?s progress so affording me a unique opportunity to make a comprehensive record, which is now part of my Blythburgh Photo–Archive. At the end of the project members of the Blythburgh W.I. gave a lunch to all the workers in the Village Hall. A list of the names of the guests, their occupations and home towns was recorded. There was no opening ceremony, which seems sad as the bridge was an excellent addition to Blythburgh village – although motorists travelling along the A12 are little aware that they have even crossed a bridge at all. One has to see its simple, handsome proportions from the river banks to appreciate its quiet beauty which fits so well into the river scene. The swallows which habitually nest under its beams returned immediately after it was finished.
Later the bridge at Yoxford underwent a similar reconstruction, but with a difference. Instead of rebuilding the bridge in two halves the whole A12’s two carriageways were diverted through adjacent fields so that the bridge could be demolished and rebuilt without the interference of passing traffic. Again, as at Blythburgh, the builders completely restored the fields and river banks to their original state once the new bridge was finished.
John E Allen, Blythburgh, August 1999
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