Stories flood in of a bridge spanning 50 years
STORIES about one of Oxford’s most controversial bridges have been flooding in ahead of its momentous birthday.
Donnington Bridge will celebrate its 50th anniversary next month and to mark the golden milestone residents have been collating their memories of the structure in readiness for a 1960s-style party and an exhibition of photographs.
Construction work at Donnington started in October 1960, making it the first new road bridge across the Thames for centuries, built specifically for motorists stuck in the clogged city centre.
Drivers wanting to get from Iffley Road to Abingdon Road had to negotiate Magdalen Bridge, which then had 35,000 vehicles travelling over it each day.
Peter Cousins, 73, from Garsington, worked on the bridge, transporting materials from a quarry in Radley to the site.
He recalled: “I had a tipper lorry and so I used to drive between the two all day. I remember it was a really hot summer and I used to sit there, in traffic , because you had to go through the city centre in those days. It was a big job with a lot of people working on it.”
He added: “I remember on that job, one of the workers was in a lorry when he started to choke on his sandwich and a policeman had to drive the lorry to save him.”
According to workers like Mr Cousins, the job was not an easy one. They had to endure gale-force winds and the winter of 1961 was so cold, ice on the bridge had to be smashed using a heavy weight tied to a crane.
Weirs Lane resident Pamela Foynes sent in pictures of a toppled crane to the Oxford Mail, which is believed to have fallen over during building work.
She said: “When the crane was lifting a section of the bridge up, it collapsed into the river. My husband took lots of pictures.”
Radcliffe Road resident Jean Fisher, 88, said: “It was very different before the bridge was built. It was a lot quieter. I used to punt across the river over to my swimming lessons on the other side.”
Ms Fisher, who has lived in the same house her whole life, added: “It was nice to have it quiet, it’s buzzing at all times now.”
The photographic exhibition, which will open on the day of the party at Donnington Community Centre, in Freelands Road on Saturday, October 27, has been named A Bridge over Troubled Waters.
City councillor David Williams, who represents Iffley Fields, said some people throught the bridge was a great thing connecting the south and the east of the city, while others believed it was the worst thing to happen to Donnington.
Golden anniversary celebrations on October 27 begin at noon with children and adults in costume at a party at the community centre.
At 2pm Lord Mayor Alan Armitage will head a procession of residents to the bridge, with the Larkrise School Samba Band and other musicians leading the way.
Mr Williams said: “Falcon Rowing Club will ferry him across the river as they used to do before it was built. A ribbon will be cut to mark the opening of the bridge for another 50 years, with veterans of the original ceremony there too.
“A cake will be cut by the Lord Mayor, who will also cast a wreath into the river to remember all those who have died on the bridge.”