The Chinese Bridge is very precious to the people of Godmanchester because it is one of the most important images of the town. But there is not just one Chinese Bridge but two. The other Chinese bridge connects Island Hall to its island and was built much earlier than the town bridge.
Why are there two Chinese Bridges in Godmanchester? In the eighteenth century there was a great fashion for what became known as Chinoiserie.
The word comes from the French for Chinese, 'chinois' and was a style inspired by art and design from not just China, but Japan and other Asian countries. It influenced paintings, prints, tapestries, costumes, textiles, illustrated books, porcelain, and furniture. Even pagodas were built in gardens and a well known example is the Pagoda at Kew Gardens, London. Godmanchester followed this love for all things Chinese and so the two bridges were built.
Some people might have been upset that the iconic town bridge was taken down and replaced by a new one in 2010. Neither of the two Chinese Bridges that we see today is original and they have been replaced or repaired several times. The earlier Island Hall Bridge was built in the eighteenth century. However, in 1928 a violent storm caused an elm on the island to crash down on to the bridge resulting in serious damage. Although repairs were made, the bridge was not properly maintained and it was finally demolished in 1972. The current bridge is a replica erected in 1988. Christopher Vane Percy won several awards for the bridge including a Conservation Award from Huntingdonshire District Council and the Cambridge Association of Architects Craftsmanship Award.
The architect of the original town bridge James Gallier has an interesting story. Gallier was born in Ravensdale, Ireland in 1798. The Godmanchester Bridge was one of his early commissions as a relatively young man and he went on to become a notable architect in America. After designing Godmanchester's Town Bridge in 1827, he started work on the redevelopment of the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair. However, Gallier went bankrupt, and emigrated to America in 1832.
He travelled to New Orleans and established a successful partnership with Charles one of the Dakin brothers. They designed several important buildings in the Greek Revival style but the partnership lasted for only one year. He had a rocky relationship with the Dakin brothers and was often in court testifying against them about the new buildings going up in New Orleans. James Gallier continued alone and established himself as a very important architect and several of his buildings are now National Historic Landmarks. His most important design was New Orleans City Hall in Lafayette Square. It is considered the most notable surviving example of Greek revival architecture in New Orleans.
Gallier was no stranger to personal tragedy in his life. His first wife Elizabeth died in her mid-forties but she had already given birth to their son James Gallier, Junior who also became an architect. Gallier married again to Catherine who was 24 years his junior. Several years later in 1868 they were travelling from New York to New Orleans on the paddle-steamer Evening Star but it sank in a hurricane, just off Cape Hatteras in Carolina. Both Gallier and Catherine were drowned.
Together with his wife Pam, Ken is writing a new history of Godmanchester "Godmanchester: A Celebration of 800 Years which will be published in December 2011
FAREWELL, OLD FRIEND
On the 9th of February 2010 in Godmanchester at daybreak the Big Crane came with the Yellow Jackets who immediately started tying our Bridge with support straps under her belly. It reminded me of something I had seen in Lilliput, but that's another story. At 9.30 the man with the screaming saw announced with a triumphant air“she'll be lifted by 10.00". This was not to be the case, the very last leg at the bottom by the Town Hall would not let go! Four motorised rip saws met their end that morning, never to rip again! but alas she could hold on no longer, at 1.00'clock the big crane started to move.
The big crane didn't waste anytime, it had become very fed up watching the silly Yellow Coats standing around for nearly four hours while the rip saw man was fighting with our Bridge trying to make her let go. He would show them what efficiency was all about
With a big HEAVE the Big Crane started to twist sideways while lifting our Bridge into the air. Just like a fisherman he lowered his catch down into the car park. Our Bridge stood there looking as fierce as she could but without her stone steps she was feeling very wobbly.
Big Chief Yellow Coat realised our bridge was much too big to fit in the back of the lorry and they would have to cut her in half.
This was quickly done by Mister rip saw man who was now not feeling so embarrassed.
When the Big Fat lorry arrived the Yellow coats retied their straps to one half of our bridge.
The Big Crane was showing off now because he was lifting half the weight, his scales had told him that our Bridge weighed 5 tons half of that was water which is why our Bridge had become too dangerous, she was twice as heavy as she should have been.
Once the second half of our Bridge was loaded into the Big Fat Lorry the Yellow Coats gave a big sigh of relief. We all waved her goodbye as he was driven off to a nice dry shed, hopefully we may see her again as a designer solid oak candle stick or something? Mr and Mrs Swan came along to see what all the fuss was about "My, the old Bridge has gone on holiday” said father Swan as they went to lunch.
It was midday on the 15th February 2010 and Pontoon Crane had been set up and waiting for hours for the new bridge, which everyone had been talking about, to arrive on the back of a lorry. When Big Crane Lorry (cousin of Big Crane) started reversing onto the Town Hall car park Pontoon Crane could not believe his eyes. It wasn't a bridge at all
But what was it?
Big Crane Lorry came to a halt and had to stop and catch his breath for a few minutes before telling his story. He had had to come all the way up from a place called Cornwall where he had picked up Charlie. "Who's Charlie?” said Pontoon Crane. "Charlie is who is sitting on my back” puffed Big Crane Lorry, and he is going to help people over the river.” “But he is never going to be big enough for that” laughed Pontoon Crane in disbelief.
"I have got to go back tonight and pick his sister up from Cornwall then get back here for the morning” said Big Lorry Crane not believing his own words. "They are going to be holding hands over the river so that everybody can get to Gala Day in the summer” he added. Pontoon Crane thought this a very nice idea and asked what the sisters name was. “Charlie” was his answer “that's right they are both called Charlie.' Very soon Charlie was being carefully lowered onto Pontoon Cranes back who then had to ferry him across the river to where he would be standing. Although Charlie started feeling sea sick he kept quiet because he didn't want to worry his new friends, it's not very nice having someone be sick on your back! Charlie had to say something though when the Boiler Suit boys tried to push his feet into the foot holes of the old Bridge. "Ouch! it's a bit tight” he squealed, one more push and they were in.
Charlie was very excited when his sister arrived the next morning. Big Crane Lorry gently lifted her into position opposite her brother while Pontoon Crane carried on holding Charlie tightly in position, He had been doing this all night and his long arm was getting very tired. "Hurry, I don't want to drop anyone in the river!" he called. The Television man was busy filming today so all the world would know about this great coming together.
At last the 2 halves of the bridge touched and both had to wiggle their fingers a bit to make sure they were in exactly the correct position before the cranes let go of them and went home. After all the excitement had died down and everyone had gone the Wise Old Willow, who had been very quiet up until now, introduced himself and commented on how smart they looked together. “We will be even better when all our rails are fitted” commented Charlie. This took many weeks because it was a very fiddly job. Over that period the Wicked Weather tried to frighten the 2 halves away, first with snow and then with floods that came right up over their ankles! But they just held on to one another reminding themselves that they had to be ready for the children to walk over them on Gala Day.
The people of Godmanchester were so thrilled at their new bridge they decided to throw a party to welcome the wonderful new addition. The Mayor would be there to tell everyone present how brave the bridge had been during the bad weather and how the people of Godmanchester would all come and see the bridge often. Charlie got very excited at the idea, they would meet all their new friends in Godmanchester and it would be very nice to be officially welcomed.
Saturday 3" of April 2010. Three o'clock came, but no one else! Only one boy had turned up to the bridge's party, he was feeling as lonely as the bridge. The bridge was very sad at not meeting everyone and asked the boy why he was the only one to come? “Doesn't anyone like us?” sobbed the bridge. At this point the wise old Willow joined in the conversation.
"I understand the legal department at the County Council stopped it because Mrs Bossy Boots. The Boss wanted to have her own party in the summer for all of her friends. It's her bridge and she chooses who plays on it!!” “I don’t think I like the sound of that” said Charlie. “Never mind” said the boy “when Gala Day comes everybody in Godmanchester will come to see you!” This made Charlie much more cheerful.
The days I spent recording the progress of this unique occasion, although cold and wet and even snowy sometimes, were a wonderful experience. Hopefully the record I have produced will enable those not lucky enough to be there in person to have a chance to glimpse this historic event and give future generations access to the memory.
The cross member visible leaning against the flagpole was kidnapped by Stephen S. and is now on display in our "PORCH MUSEUM.
A full set of photos taken can be viewed on our website WWW.godmanchestercommunity association.org in the SCRAPBOOK Section.