Sign the petition to save our bridge.
Boxted bridge is a steel girder bridge built over the River Stour in North Essex. From Essex Records Office archives we know that it replaced an earlier wooden bridge, built after 1835, which had fallen into disrepair. On 14th November 1896 The Bury Free Press announced that ‘the tender of Mr George Double of Ipswich was accepted for the sum of £927 to build Boxted bridge by Essex and West Suffolk County Councils’ and on the 28th April 1897 The Evening Star reported that ‘The Boxted Bridge, which has been built by Mr George Double of Ipswich is now completed and opened for traffic, so that the road to Nayland is once more available.’ Interestingly the bridge at Wormingford was also built by the same contractor.
By 1925 Boxted Mill, a water driven grain mill, across the river upstream from Boxted bridge, was demolished. Like many other mills at the time it could no longer compete with the introduction of big steamroller mills capable of working 24 hours a day. The remaining mill out buildings are remarkably intact as well as the grey brick19th century miller’s house, and the sluice and floodgates.
In the 1930s the views from Boxted bridge inspired many paintings by both Sir Alfred Munnings and John Nash, followed in the 1960s by Anthony Atkinson. The bridge is an important heritage feature of the village and well loved. Three country lanes converge at the Essex bridgehead, marked by a cast iron parish finger post standing in a vegetable garden nearby. This is stamped with ‘Maldon Ironworks’, with its half moon finial parish plate on top, unique to Essex; and there is something very charming about the setting of the green painted metal bridge at this little crossroads, over the beautiful Mill pool. The bridge beckons walkers and cyclists alike to stop here, lean over the edge and look, as generations have done before, to see if they can spot a fish in the shallows or watch a swan glide by or see the blue flash of a kingfisher.
Boxted Bridge lies in the centre of the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The surrounding fields are water meadows, where cattle and sheep graze and cricket bat-willow plantations thrive. Down the road at High Lift, is the magnificent Langham Waterworks built in the Egyptian style in 1932 (the pioneering ferro-concrete work was undertaken by Messrs L G Mouchel & Partners Ltd).
By 1992 Boxted bridge was showing signs of neglect. The bridge was assessed by Essex County Council that year and the report found the deck to have a live load capacity of 3 Tonnes: but no weight restriction was thought necessary; and for the next 28 years traffic continued to drive over it, including latterly some massive HGVs with trailers. These found their misguided way there by Sat Nav, following totally unsuitable narrow country lanes. The fact that the bridge was deemed unsafe for loads heavier than 3 tonnes in 1992 and yet ECC did nothing for 28 years calls into question the integrity of their assessments both then and now.
From 2017 onwards the residents of Boxted Mill have pursued lengthy discussions with Essex Highways about ways to limit the damage caused by the HGVs (and other vehicles) striking their garden wall. They were sent Notice in February 2016, informing them of a Proposed Option Study on Boxted Bridge, which “has been assessed as having insufficient capacity to adequately sustain the loading imposed by the highway it carries within the acceptable limits of an adequate factor of safety.” The Options Study, completed in October 2018 listed the following Options:
1. Do nothing
2. Environmental weight and width restrictions on existing bridge and network.
3. Introduce weight restriction of 3 tonnes gross vehicle weight over the existing bridge.
4 Permanent closure of the bridge to motorised traffic.
5. Enhance the capacity of the existing bridge.
6. Construct a replacement deck on the existing foundations/sub structure:
6A. Provide a replacement deck with a form and constructed in materials similar to the present structure.
6B. Provide a replacement deck with a ‘slab’ type construction form comprising either precast prestressed concrete or fibre reinforced polymer beams.
7. Reconstruct bridge
7A. Full bridge reconstruction on current bridge footprint
7B. Full bridge reconstruction on widened footprint incorporating highway alignment and ‘junction improvements’.
The Options Study Conclusions were listed in the form of Disadvantages and Advantages. Options 6A, 6B, and 7A were singled out to be investigated at feasibility stage. Option 7B was not recommended and no feasibility study was to be carried out. Option 7 B cranked up the most number of disadvantages of all the Options –nine- cost the most, £900,000-1,000,000 and took the longest estimated works duration 10-12 months. However this did not deter Essex Highways.
Discussions between the residents of Boxted Mill, local Councillors and the Dedham Vale AONB continued throughout 2019 to try to find a way forward: to limit HGV through traffic from using this route, at the same time allowing local farm traffic access; and to protect the bridge and garden wall. Progress was glacial. Suggestions for environmental and length-restriction signage were ignored. Finally, in December 2019, the second of two long awaited ‘Not Suitable for HGV’ signs was put up on the junction of one of the approach roads to the bridge. These have been remarkably successful in discouraging further HGV traffic.
At the same time, however, information on progress with the Options Study dried up. Shockingly, ECC are currently progressing the un-recommended ‘nuclear option 7B.
The decision was made without any consultation with the local community. Alarm bells started ringing when this came to light in June 2020.
The proposed full reconstruction on a wider footprint would urbanise this quintessentially rural beauty spot. This was explicitly recognised in the options study and was one of the reasons it was not recommended. It would, if anything, encourage more HGV traffic to use this route, at considerable unnecessary expense and regardless of the fact that the locality is totally unsuitable for such traffic, as all the roads to the bridge are single lane and there are four substandard bridges to cross, which are not included in the ‘upgrade’!
Any traffic scheme here should give proper regard to enhancing and conserving the statutory landscape designations of an AONB, which this scheme clearly does not. To add insult to injury the plans fly in the face of the recent listing of the bridge on the CBC Local List as a heritage asset.
Sign the petition to save our bridge.
We wish to thank the following people for their generous help in researching Boxted bridge: The Duty Archivist, Essex Records Library, British Newspaper Archive, David Williams for his research on the South Essex Waterworks Company at High Lift, Langham, Jenny Hand, Museum Director Munnings Art Museum, Andrew Tweedie, Editor of Graces Guide to British Industrial History.