Updated October 2006 and revised in 2004 with additional information kindly provided by Janet Kennish who has written an extensive Datchet history and published Datchet Past.
This article features 27 illustrations. Please allow a moment or two for them all to arrive.
Windsor's Bridges Downstream
The History of Windsor Town Bridge
The only bridge across
the Thames in this area for hundreds of years was at the point
where Windsor Bridge now stands although a ferry also operated
across the river at Datchet. It is only comparatively recently
that other bridges have been built nearby. One of the earliest
alternative bridges was built downstream at Datchet providing
an east-west link on the road between London and Windsor and
replacing the ferry earlier. The only other option would have
been to 'ford' the river but this would not always have been
possible, especially in times of flood.
(Tighe and Davis, 'Annals of Windsor', Vol. 2, p 492)
In 1706 Queen Anne erected a wooden bridge at this spot and discontinued the ferry. The bridge was for the use of the public and was at all times free of toll much to the concern of Windsor's Corporation who lost revenue from their toll bridge as a result, but were recompensed by The Treasury. In 1734 the bridge was repaired at a cost of £800, paid for the the Crown.
Around 1770 the bridge was rebuilt as ten wooden arches resting on stone piers, but this was short-lived, one section collapsing in 1794 during heavy floods. The ferry was therefore reinstated once more at the expense of George III.
but by that date one of the arches had collapsed.
Two paintings exist showing the piers of
the ruined bridge, one by J Hakewill in his 'Views of the Neighbourhood
of Windsor', London, 1820. p.31. According to Tighe and Davis,
'Annals of Windsor' p. 494, this dates from 1810 although other
references date it from 1795.
Following the collapse of the 1770 bridge,
an argument ensued between Buckinghamshire and Berkshire as to
who should pay for its replacement. By this time the king, George
III, was determined not to have to pay for yet another bridge,
being of the view that it was now the responsibility of Berkshire
and Buckinghamshire whose county boundaries met in the middle
of the river, a fact that was to lead to trouble in the future.
An engraving painted by Tombleson and engraved by T Harris.
This view is from the Berkshire side, looking towards Datchet village and was first published around 1820 in black and white with the above tinted version being published in 1840.
It was not long however before the bridge
was causing trouble again. By 1834 further repairs and restoration
were required on the Datchet (Buckinghamshire) side for which
Berkshire refused to accept any financial responsibility, until
it was found that Berkshire's half of the bridge was nearing
collapse also. When Buckinghamshire's side actually collapsed,
Berkshire wanted to totally rebuild the bridge in iron (as had
been successfully constructed at Windsor ten years earlier).
But Buckinghamshire refused and so they went their own ways,
Berkshire rebuilding in iron, Bucks in wood! This new bridge was described as "a hideous
monstrosity", and showed the lack of compromise between
the two counties where claim and counter-claim had lasted for
almost 20 years. At its centre Berkshire had built a cantilever
that did not rely on structural support from the Buckinghamshire
side. Two pictures are known to exist of this 'hideous monstrosity',
one by J Bannister, from 1837 viewed from upstream on the Windsor
bank, and a second, reproduced below, dating from 1847.
The bridge would finally be completely removed as a result of The Windsor Improvement Act of 1848 which resulted in the construction of the Albert and Victoria Bridges. Remains of the stone piers have been found in more recent times during dredging of the Thames at Datchet.
The new roads of 1850-1851
In the 1840s there had been much discussion about the land around the castle, and the roads to and from Windsor. In the end The Windsor Improvement Act divided The Little Park (Home Park) into public and private areas and provided for two new roads out of Windsor and one between Datchet and Old Windsor. The Windsor Improvement Act was a major development in the town ushering in many changes and will be the subject of a future article on the Royal Windsor Web Site.
Three new roads were constructed as a result
of the Windsor Improvement Act. One new road passed through The
Home Park to Datchet, shown in blue above and crossed the river at Victoria Bridge.
The second new road was from Datchet to Old Windsor crossing
the river at the Albert Bridge, shown in green, and the third
new road ran from from Kings Road, Windsor, shown in red,
across the Long Walk to Old Windsor. These routes are still in
use today. This meant
that the 1812 bridge at Datchet could be removed entirely as
soon as The Albert and Victoria Bridges had been completed. They
were both opened in June 1851. The old routes out of Windsor
(orange) were now closed off but remain
as roads within the Castle grounds.
The Albert Bridge
Both The Victoria Bridge
and The Albert Bridge were constructed in cast iron in 1850-51,
and designed, it is said, by the Prince Consort, Albert. The
two bridges were constructed in connection with the 1851 Enclosure
of the Little Park when the older Datchet Bridge was removed.
The Enclosure also caused the closure of the tow path along that
side of the river, the south bank on the Berkshire, castle, side.
The Thames Path, that runs the length of the Thames, crosses to the north bank at this point and beneath the approach arches, then on upstream along a wooded path.
Rather a catastrophe appears to have been visited upon the Albert Bridge in 2004 in that a totally unsuitable pink balustrade has been erected on both sides. Our illustrated story of the rebuilt bridge appears here.
The Victoria Bridge
for VR, Victoria Regina
Victoria Bridge was built
originally at the same time as the Albert Bridge in 1851 and
paid for in part by the Windsor, Staines and Richmond Railway
Company, anxious to extend their line from Staines, through Datchet
to Windsor, in the hope of royal patronage.
This new railway line would need to be built across the grounds
of Windsor Castle, The Home Park, and so in 1847 the railway
company sought the permission of Parliament and Queen Victoria.
This was granted in 1848 in return for a substantial contribution
towards the costs of a new road and bridge, as provided for in
The Windsor Improvement Act of 1848. Construction of the bridge
commenced soon after and was completed in the summer of 1851.
Victoria Bridge was eventually closed on 26th March 1963 following this wartime damage as cracks had developed in the cast iron ribs. A temporary Bailey Bridge was erected by Army engineers over the existing bridge, but without placing any load on it, and so that the old bridge could be removed. The Bailey Bridge itself had to be removed later while the new bridge was completed in 1966 and the road to Datchet closed to traffic, although a temporary footbridge existed to one side for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge as we see it today was opened in February 1967. The County Surveyor at this time was Mr Harrison. The consultants for the project were Messrs. Mott, Hay and Anderson.
Victoria Bridge was reopened in 1967 but not before the railway company, the nationalised British Railways by this time, had been pressed to make a substantial contribution towards the cost of repairing the bridge, the upkeep of which their predecessors had been responsible for over the preceding 110 years. There cannot be too many railway companies in the world that are required to pay for the repair of adjacent road bridges!
References and Further Reading
Dredge's Bridges of the Thames. Windsor Bridge
1851 Tighe folio re Albert and Victoria Bridges (Windsor Library)
Parish Magazine (Trinity Church) features a story about a young boy being taken by his father to view the construction of Victoria Bridge. (Copy not located at time of writing)
Berkshire Records, previously at Shire Hall, Shinfield Park, Reading, Berkshire received the 'Bridge Box' from Windsor, however, records and archives, scattered since the demise of Berkshire County Council, remain to be indexed.
Daphne Phillips, How the Great Western came to Berkshire. Page 28. Reading Library, 1975. ISBN 0 9501338 5 X
Artist Doug Myers has undertaken a major project to paint all the bridges along the Thames. To see how far he has got - see www.dougmyers.co.uk
To contact us, email Thamesweb.