THE DESTRUCTION OF ANCIENT BRIDGES. %TIOLENT attacks of any kind,
whether on persons or things, generally produce one result. They draw attention to the matter, and whether for good or bad, public opinion takes shape on the question at issue. For some time a good deal of quiet mischief has been done to the ancient bridges of England by the Committees of County Councils and other bodies controlling them, not from any particular grudge which these bodies have against the beautiful old structures themselves, but mainly from motives of economy. The matters which hate drawn what the surveyors are pleased to call their " attention " to the bridges are generally two,—first, the lapse of time, which in due course makes repairs necessary; and secondly, the invention of heavy steam-waggons and traction-engines, the owners of which often greatly overload the trucks attached to them, which in any case are often too heavy for the old bridges, especially those built of timber. But all alike, timber, brick, and stone, are now required to bear heavier traffic than they were designed for, though the margin of safety is often so great that structures which have stood for many centuries can still bear the new burdens put on them. The County Committees have in many cases quietly pulled down the ancient bridges and substituted cheap, and generally hideous, new ones of iron girders or blue bricks. Sometimes, as in the case of a partly Roman bridge at Swartstone, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, or some other sensible body, hears of what is pro- posed, and by giving the unpaid advice of experts, shows the County Council, if tbey condescend to listen, how they can make the old bridge stronger without spoiling its appearance. Far more frequently the bridge is quietly pulled down and re- placed, and as this is done sporadically, no one knows of the impending damage till it is completed.
A particularly regrettable instance of this course of pro- cedure, taking a very violent form, will be found in the report of the proceedings of the Oxfordshire County Council on August 9th. As there were thirty-three members present, including three Peers, three Members of Parliament, two Baronets, and two Knights, with a very representative body of other Councillors, some kind of feeling for the beauty and antiquities of their native county might have been expected from all Yet by a majority of one they passed a resolution for the instant destruction of three out of four of the series cf beautiful bridges across the Thames at Sonning, one of the prettiest villages on the whole course of the river, and one which the chief proprietor, who we believe also owns the fourth bridge, an ancient structure of brick, has always care- fully maintained in its old character and surroundings. The majority of the Council took the opinion of their surveyor not only as to the destruction of these bridges but as to the time, and voted that the work should begin at once, as soon as tenders could be got in, "so as not to lose a season." One would think these bridges were young dkibutantes instead of very ancient fixtures on the "river of pleasure" which had stood the floods and winters of generations. One of the bridges is the " Mill Bridge," joining the island on which the old mill stands to the main causeway ; it is built of timber and is 188 ft. long. "-New Bridge," not so old as Sir John Golafre's New Bridge on the Upper Thames, but of respectable age, is made of brick and timber, and is 139 ft. long. These old bridges are joined to the largest, over the main river, by lengths of causeway, quaint old railings, and parapets ; and next to the Oxfordshire bank, where a side-stream runs, is another pretty wooden bridge, leading from the weir, 111 ft. long. Any one who knows the
Thames, but does not know Sonning Bridges, can make up the picture with no great effort of imagination. All these but that over the main river are to be destroyed, and a nice, cheap (?) fiat iron girder series of viaducts is to replace them (at a cost of £8,000), from the designs of the county surveyor, which the County Council had not even seen! The new bridges are to be " wider, and more economical "; but even for that the Council had no guarantee, for no alternative scheme was before them, nor did they allow themselves time to ask for one. Lord Saye and Sele drew attention to the costliness of the proposal, and dwelt on the character and beauty of the village and the existing bridges. The surveyor was quoted against him, and against Lord Jersey, who wanted to see the plans, and against Sir W. Markby, who truly remarked that the beauty of the Thames was a valuable possession, and begged that at any rate the river might be spared another iron girder bridge. Finally, Lord Jersey, seconded by Sir W. Markby, moved that the question be referred back to the Committee, but the Council, supported by the Vice-Chairman, Mr. Cobb, threw out the motion, and the bridges are formally, though possibly not irretrievably, doomed.
It is much to be hoped that Lord Valentia, the Chair- man, who was absent, may be able to summon another meeting of the Council and obtain a postponement of this decree, and for the following reason. Our bridges are, with the exception of our churches, the oldest national buildings still used for the purpose for which they were built. They are, almost one and all, of excellent, and often of most beautiful, design, adapted in every case for the particular river over which they were thrown. Palladio settled once for all the principles of bridge- making. Our old English builders, probably with no reference to Palladio, and often before his time, built their bridges true on the lines of common-sense. They have been at work on them ever since Cob michen, the monk, designed Old London Bridge for Henry II., and that stood almost to the memory of living men. Some have been the work of private philan- thropists, like Sir John Golafre's "New Bridge" built in the fifteenth century, or Lord Aldenham's, equally good, built at Clifton Hampden some twenty years ago, or the Clopton Bridge at Stratford-on-Avon. Some were made by pious societies, like that at Abingdon, built by the munificence of one merchant, and the assistance of the Guild of the Holy Cross.
The fine bridge at Berwick-on-Tweed was built at the instance of James I., who wanted a sound road back to Scot- land; while every one knows the legend of the bridge at Bide- ford, and how the mussels were sent by Providence to bind the piers together with the steely " byssus " which joins their shells. (This bridge has been hideously spoilt, it may be remarked in passing.) There are Celtic bridges on and around Dartmoor; Roman bridges, little ones on old viae vicinales, with the rainbow arch, mostly on byways in the moors and debateable land ; tiny mediaeval bridges over little brooks like the Swill, whence the ashes of Wycliffe were cast by the order of the Council of Constance ; and bridges by the side of fords, so tiny that the little country children cross them with hesitating feet, as they reach up to steady themselves by the handrail. They are of all materials, and invariably well proportioned, and often singularly beautiful, merely as the result of struc- tural excellence and of the material they were made with. Generally they have a fine curve, while iron bridges are flat. The timber bridges, both for foot passengers and heavy traffic, are among the best of all, and those over the Thames and its tributaries the finest of their class. There was an exquisite timber bridge at Hampton Court, now destroyed, and another at Caversham. These timber bridges are a specialty of Oxfordshire, and as such should be peculiarly the care of the County Council. What would be said if the Cheshire County Council resolved to pull down all old county buildings, or others over which they had control, made of the famous Cheshire timber and plaster in black and white, and let the county surveyor put up neat corrugated-iron ones in their place ? In Oxfordshire these bridges may be found on the remotest tributaries of the Thames, a characteristic and ancient tradition of building. Some of the stone bridges there and elsewhere have wooden cress-beams supporting the causeway, or, if the arches are steno, and not the piers only, there is a striking and
effective wooden parapet with struts and supports from out- side, mortised into projecting baulks of timber. Such is the old bridge at Eshing, above Godalming, built in the days of King John, which the authorities will be able to pre- serve, mainly by the suggestion of one of the societies interested in the preservation of these old buildings. Where it is abso- lutely necessary to have a fresh bridge for very heavy traffic, it is always possible to let the old bridge stand as an extra causeway, and to make the new bridge on a deviation of the road. But in nine cases out of ten this would not be necessary were proper advice, architectural and antiquarian, invited by the Councils. It is to be hoped that the case of Sonning Bridges will be widely discussed among the sensible members of County Committees, and possibly form a part of the agenda of the Surveyors' Institute, a body which is always open to take wide views of questions in which both utility and beauty are largely concerned.
To put the matter shortly, we by no means deny that it may not sometimes be necessary to build new bridges capable of bearing heavy weights. If and when it is, by all means let them be built, but in such cases let the old bridges remain: It is by no means a, cheap operation to pull down a bridge. In truth, vandalism is very seldom able to go hand-in-hand with economy and efficiency, though, of course, it always professes to do so.