Billingford Bridge

Posted in General Village Interest

I was interested to recently read about the rebuilding of the Billingford Bridge in 1991.

Building this bridge necessitated the B1145 being closed for the duration of the works (sixteen weeks) which meant if you were going to and from Norwich you had to find alternative roads, easy for locals (though it would make journeys longer) harder for visitors to our area.

There was a petition for a bailey bridge to be built but it was too costly, adding about 1/3 to the cost of the project said Mr John Birchall, Norfolk County Council spokesman.

Feelings were running high in the village as various businesses along Station and Billingford Road depended on that route for access and also relied on the passing trade.

The bridge which was being demolished had been in use for just over 40 years. It said in the EDP that the bridge had set the trend for modern bridges as it was made from pre - stressed concrete. May Gurney, the engineers were having to 'de - stress' it, dismantling it piece by piece.

They worked from the original plans, drawn up in 1949, to take it apart before building the new bridge (same basic design) over the river Wensum on the B1145.
However the site foreman, Mr Trevor Cooper, said the plans did not show the exact route of all the 18 miles of thick wire which pulled the bridge together.

The bridge which had developed cracks, was made up of 32 reinforced concrete beams each weighing 6 tons, 'threaded with the 1/4" thick wire." A few of the beams were to be sent for expert testing on removal, Mr Cooper said "Being the first of its type they want to test it out".

Reading about the bridge and the problems the engineers were encountering, Mr Bert Pestell who was the previous site foreman for building the bridge in the early 1950's, got in touch and although he was 91, he visited the site and was able to tell the engineers a few things about the construction of the bridge. He was invited to be on hand when the work commenced to remove the 32 concrete beams.

The 1950's bridge was built on a new piece of road, cutting off the loop over the river and straightening the road. It replaced a much smaller hump backed bridge on the narrow road which ran behind the present cottage (2 cottages then). I wonder if this old bridge had been a toll bridge.

This bridge was not dismantled- it was blown up, and took two attempts to demolish it (we have a photograph of this happening in our village archives).

As children in Elmham many of us went to this bridge in the 1940's (and until the bridge was no longer), for swimming in the summer in the deep river water beneath the bridge. The bridge for the boys was an excellent diving board (again we have a wonderful photograph of boys mid dive.) I can't remember if any girls did this, do let me know if you did.

Health and Safety - eat your heart out!! I can never remember anyone being hurt, either in the water or on the road.

(If you had an accident you would have been told 'it was your own fault, or if you had an accident on the road with a vehicle, you would have been told, 'you shouldn't have been there!') Times change, there's no such thing as an accident today, it must be someone's fault!

Happy Days!!!
Janet Woodhouse