The Old Black Bridge
Hemingford Abbots.

20191022 001061 5 minutes
Country life, Memories, Wooden Bridges, Bailey Bridge, Trains

The old black bridge crossed the river
From the lane which ran past the side of our garden.
It was a romantic old bridge,
With big wooden supports and planks.
Big and sturdy, at least to a small child.

When I was five years old
My mother’s helper took me to the river,
Strictly against parental orders.
We were on vacation from London,
Staying at the village Axe and Compass Inn.

She went down the steps to the landing
Where the punt was moored.
The landing ran beside the bridge and under it.
She got into the punt and called to me to join her,
Luckily the punt was not under the bridge,
Otherwise my story could have had a different ending
And I might not be writing this.

She tried to get me into the boat,
She had no idea what she was doing.
I fell between the boat and the landing…
Into 20 feet of water, (or so the story goes!)

I came up under the punt
But people on the bridge saw what happened and
Came down and fished me out.

We went back down the village street to the inn,
With me bawling my lungs out.
Of course I was drenched.

My next memory is of seeing my father
Running towards us.
He had come to take us back to the inn.
War had been declared.

That was my introduction to the Black Bridge.
Not an auspicious one, but it didn’t matter.
I loved that bridge.

Two years later our London house was bombed and removed,
Brick by brick, window frame by window frame.
It was rebuilt in our field beside the lane
That ended at the bridge.
The river ran under the bridge and past our field.

My brother and I enjoyed being in a boat,
And waiting under the bridge
While people walked above us.

The railway bridge was fun too,
When trains crossed the tracks over the bridge
With us underneath.

That was in the era of real trains,
Ones which used coal and spewed black smoke,
Had a tender behind holding the coal
Hot pieces of which would sometimes fall into the river
And make a wonderful sizzling sound.
My mother didn’t enjoy that at all,

It was a freight line which carried the fruit on the trains
From the black earth of the fen land to Huntingdon,
To be taken to markets or factories
Where it would become the jams and preserves
Enjoyed the world over.

The old black bridge joined Hemingford with Houghton,
Across the enormous field which, in my day,
Wasn’t even fenced.
There was a public path and people were trusted
Not to destroy the hay.

Enough people abused that trust
That eventually it had to be fenced.
Such a shame. Life isn’t what it used to be.
People can’t be trusted to respect other people’s property.

But the bridge, which was strong enough
To handle a full cartload of hay,
Eventually became old and unsafe.
Everyone loved that bridge
And when the time came to replace it
There was a local uproar.

They wanted to replace it with a Bailey bridge.
No character or beauty.
Just practical.
But money wasn’t available to replace the bridge
With a wooden one,
It was too soon after the war.
We all cried a little to see the old bridge disappear.

We watched while
The new one was put up in just one day.
It worked and could carry the necessary loads of hay,
Or anything else.

But it wasn’t the same.
Modern technology was taking over our
Beautiful little village
And we all hated it.

An bridge had been there
For ever, it seemed.
Maybe even since Roman times.
But perhaps then there would have been a ford.
The village was HemingFORD, remember?

I loved to swim up to the bridge
And hold onto the supports.
You couldn’t do that with the Bailey bridge –
There were no supports,
Just one span over the river.

A Bailey Bridge would make it easier,
when trying to negotiate a boat underneath it,
Through the narrow spaces between the supports.
But that was part of the fun of it.
It required skill.
Even a moron couldn’t get stuck under a Bailey bridge,
There were no supports.