A HISTORIC bridge is missing its famous plaque after it was believed it was knocked off by a passing tractor.

The plaque is now being kept safe by a resident after it came off the bridge in Lower Bockhampton near Dorchester.

The plaque is known for its historic warning that says anyone responsible for causing damage to the bridge will be deported to Australia. It is a replica of a former plaque which used to be in place.

The Grade II-listed bridge, which carries a lane over the River Frome water meadows, dates from the early nineteenth century and is mentioned by Thomas Hardy in his novels.

Chantal David, 51 from Osmington, said she was 'devastated' after discovering the sign was missing whilst walking her dog.

She said: “I was devastated to see that one of the historical signs had been ripped from the Grade II-listed bridge.

“That sign is so iconic, you often joke about it because it says you will be deported to Australia for causing damage to the bridge."

She added: “I’m relieved someone has found it, although it’s still missing from the bridge."

Historic England has been made aware of the damage.

A spokesman said: “We are very concerned to hear that the plaque seems to have been removed.

“The plaque is a charming element of this little bridge and one of the reasons that it was listed in 2015, which you can see in the bridge’s list entry online.”

The resident who took in the plaque was Pat Cosgrove.

Mrs Cosgrove said she heard a tractor driving through the village before hearing a 'terrific clatter' from the bridge.

She explained: "The driver got out and picked up the sign he had knocked off the bridge. He asked 'where does it go?' I replied it can't go anywhere now."

She later joked: "This chap really ought to be deported."

Dorset Council has been passed the details of the driver and has been made aware Mrs Cosgrove is keeping the sign safe.

A council spokesman said: “We were notified that a tractor had hit the bridge and knocked the plaque off. "A local resident came out and took the plaque for safe keeping.”

The spokesman added: "We are pleased that the sign has been safely kept and as long as it is still in good condition we will secure it back in place on the bridge."