The Town Bridge in Weymouth is so familiar to most of us that we scarcely give it a thought, except to grumble when it is up and we are marooned on the wrong side. Perhaps, therefore, we should give it a cheer this summer which marks its 90th birthday.

It reaches the grand old age of 90 on Saturday, July 4, 2020. A children's art competition is taking place to celebrate the milestone, along with an special online gallery of photos of the bridge and a video.

The bridge is the last in a long line of bridges, almost all of them made of wood, to cross the harbour since the first one went up in the early 1590s. The first stone bridge was opened in 1824, and was repaired and altered in the 1880s, but by the 1920s it was found to be inadequate for modern traffic, so the decision was taken to build a brand new bridge.

Demolition of the old bridge began in October 1928 with a temporary wooden bridge put up at the end of St Nicholas Street for pedestrian use. Weymouthians must have been amazed as a large coffer dam was built to enable the old bridge’s foundations to be demolished and two further dams constructed for the building of the new bridge.

During the demolition of the old bridge a bronze plaque was found in the harbour mud, which bore the name Henry Lawrence Travers, supposedly marking his death. At the time nobody could work out what it was. Reading the description in the local paper report of the find, it was almost certainly one of the bronze medallions, known as ‘dead pennies’, presented to the families of soldiers killed in the First World War. Indeed a Henry Lawrence Travers from a Puddletown family was killed in 1918. Why it should have ended up in the harbour is a mystery.

In early 1929 a special ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the new bridge was held on a platform inside one of the coffer dams. The Mayor, Percy Boyle, the Town Clerk in his wig, and several aldermen, all in ceremonial robes and tricorn hats, took part. The foundation stone was in fact a large stone from the old 1824 bridge.

The Mayor placed a casket in a recess cut in the stone. To our eyes it is perhaps a bit of an anticlimax to discover that lovingly placed within the casket was a Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Corporation year book, an abstract from the borough accounts and a rate demand!

As part of the new bridge works a row of late Georgian houses and a warehouse, where the Prezzo restaurant now stands, were demolished. Roads had to be closed causing buses to be diverted, fuelling bitter complaints from shopkeepers and pedestrians. Some of the latter were so outraged that they tore down the barriers preventing access to streets they were used to using.

The new bascule bridge with its stone abutments to house the lifting machinery cost £90,000 (worth over £4 million today). It is to the credit of the then town council that much of the construction work was carried out by men recruited from the unemployed of Weymouth and the surrounding district. At times there were as many as 150 men working on the site. Sadly one of the workers, a Shrewsbury man, fell 20 feet to his death onto the floor of the dam.

As might be expected a lavish opening ceremony was planned for the new bridge. On July 4, 1930 a grand procession made its way down St Thomas Street with the guest of honour the Duke of York (later King George VI) leading civic dignitaries including representatives from Weymouth, Massachusetts.

When the Duke had formally declared the bridge open, guided by the Mayor, he operated the electric control raising the two bascules slowly into the air. At that moment the Cosens paddle steamer Empress, laden with cheering local school children, passed safely through. This splendid new bridge with its lifting machinery modernised in later years is still serving us today 90 years later.

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