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Paul Wright, 2020
Ditchford Bridge 2020

Ditchford Bridge
The Old Bridge

Geographically we are about one hundred miles from the nearest coast. But If you were to say to the modern generation would you like to spend your annual summer holiday nearer to home, where would they choose?

One place that would not be on many lists would be “Ditchford”! But this was the very place that many local folk ended up, yes they paddled and splashed around for many an happy hour down there.

The bridge at Ditchford actually dates back to 1330, and was restored in 1927. Back in 1975 further strengthening and restoration work was carried out. The mid 1970‘s strengthening work was carried out to protect the existing under strength masonry arches, and consisted of inserting concrete piers on either side of the masonry arches to support four reinforced concrete beams. The two inner beams were 900mm wide and 400mm deep and had a 150mm duct running through their centre’s with traffic light and BT cables running through them.

In 2003 the Irchester and Irthlingborough historical societies put their heads together, along with Rushden & District History Society started researching a book in to these very facts about leisure time at Ditchford.

The book “Ditchford Days” includes photographs of the former bathing area, the history of the Ditchford ‘Treacle Mines’ as they were jokingly banded about, but (actually ironstone mines) and people’s memories.

The book takes us back to the Victorian era, and includes the time that 500 people from the Rushden area went to Ditchford for a day trip in 1935. I have read this book, and found it very amusing; it’s well worth a look.

Of course, you could even catch a train to Ditchford, this was on the line from Northampton, Wellingborough and Peterborough.

The Station actually stood to what is now the entrance to the Broadholme treatment works.

More recently, the railway line to Higham Ferrers was put up for closure, and despite many an uproar, and petitions the Rushden and Higham Ferrers Stations were closed to the public in the summer of 1959.

Car ownership was thin on the ground, so the traditional August Bank Holiday excursions carried on for another five years until 1964.

Travel was reasonably cheap, with the fare of 3d return to Higham Ferrers and Rushden, aboard the “Rushden Gusher”. That was the nickname that I was used to using, along with many other local folk I guess.

Goods trains still used the line from Wellingborough, but the goods depot shut at Higham Ferrers, and the station followed suit on 3rd February 1969.

Rushden station closed in the Autumn, in November 1969, with closure of the coal depot.

The railway line from Higham and Rushden to Wellingborough made its away across Ditchford Lane about a third of the way down towards the mill, this was on the Rushden side. If you look towards Wellingborough you can still see the old track bed.

All was not lost regarding rail operations in Rushden, and in 1976 the Rushden Historical Transport Society was founded.

During the mid 1980’s the lease came up on the Rushden station, and after much fund raising and hard graft, the museum was opened.

Early stage From Stone Cross side
Early stages of work.
From Stone Cross side.

The bridge at “Ditchford Mill” has stood for the best part of 700 years, and was in need of some “TLC”, and a weight and width restriction was put in place in the early part of 2019. Despite having the imposing metal barriers at either side of the bridge, there were many motorists who pushed their luck, and left various paint colours and metal scars to prove it.

From 4th November 2019 a team of eight engineers were strengthening the bridge with beams to support the extra weight expected to pass over for many years to come. The weather was fairly kind during the improvements, with daytime temperatures of 12C on numerous days, and no snow.

The strengthening work was hampered by the fact that a medium pressure gas main was in the structure, also a sewage main and cables belonging to British Telecom (BT) were all adding to access problems.

Duration of the closure was meant to be for 9 weeks, and it was meant to re-open in the first part of January 2020, it went on to being the afternoon of February 18th, 2020.

Work was probably not helped by the visit of storm “Ciara”, which happened over the weekend of Sunday 9th February, 2020. The wind gusts locally were reaching 55 mph; on the Isle of Wight things were even worse with gusts hitting 97 mph.

Rushden Lakes complex was also badly damaged by Storm Ciara over the weekend. The leisure terrace, which had been open for less than a year, suffered external cladding damage.

The building was evacuated on Sunday, February 9, and an exclusion zone was set up.

Workmen had been working on the damaged areas from a cherry picker one week later to make things secure.

barriers strengthening the bridge
Barriers near Ditchford Mill.

When I visited the Ditchford Lane site on Monday 10th February, there was quite a bit of damage to the trees in Ditchford Lane itself.

That was all before Storm Dennis was forecast to hit the following weekend of the 15th & 16th February, 2020. Structural damage locally amounted to flat roofing being torn

off, TV aerials ending up at jaunty angles, fence panels flattened and roof tiles being dislodged.

Many hundreds of flood warnings were in place across the UK, including five severe warnings in England.

The main road between Wellingborough, Isham and Kettering was flooded, and remained closed on the Monday of February 17th.

The clear up after Storm Dennis continued. Storm Dennis did leave us on the Monday, and was heading for the coast of Norway.

Timing things down to the last minute down at Ditchford, by the final morning, road markings were being put in place, and the site was tidied up. By the afternoon of Tuesday 18th February, 2020, the work was finished, and the traffic was flowing over this ancient, but now strengthened bridge.

last day finishing touches
The final afternoon
Finishing touches.

NRO Ref: 285P/297
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