Tadcaster’s bridge is both a vital link for a town that straddles the River Wharfe and also a symbol of its history and unity.
So when it was wrecked following the vicious Boxing Day floods of 2015, the emergency dealt a blow to the town on many levels.
Carrying the A659 across the water, the most immediate consequence was that access between the two sides were severed and while that meant a 20-minute detour for motorists, the impact on pedestrians was even more marked.
The collapse also saw part of the town’s rich heritage crumble in a way no-one had been able to foresee – the bridge is centuries old, has Listed status and is one of Tadcaster’s landmarks.
Reconstruction fell to North Yorkshire’s engineers and was a difficult task for the County Council for multiple reasons.
Speed was of the essence, because of the disruption caused and a temporary footbridge was installed while the complex operation of rebuilding the stone structure was tackled.
A complex and potentially dangerous task, that was undertaken with a combination of urgency and care, which saw the County Council defy the expectations of a two-year project, to have the reconstructed bridge reopened less than 14 months later.
The £5m scheme saw modern materials used on the internal structure of the bridge, speeding up the work and allowing pedestrian walkways to be widened, without damaging the integrity of the bridge’s appearance.
Harsh winter conditions could have hampered the work, but engineers beat the weather by using heated tents to cover the damaged parapet, allowing them to continue the delicate task.
To get the rebuild completed as quickly as possible, work continued around the clock and seven days a week – something that was not lost on grateful residents.
During one Sunday shift, they organised a shipment of tea and cakes to mark their appreciation.
The speed of the rebuild rewrote normal expectations and, to get the road back to normal with minimum delay, the final markings were still being applied to the carriageway on the day of the February 2017 reopening ceremony.
Our head of bridges, John Smith, remembered a multitude of challenges with the project, from getting Listed Building consent to widen the bridge, to finding the correct grade of stone – a rarity in itself – for the rebuilding.
He said: “Looking back this works tested every part of my previous experience, would I do it again? Of course I would, I’m an engineer.
“The satisfaction that comes when the problem has been overcome and you are stood on top of a bridge is a feeling of intense elation which usually lifts the spirit and washes the issues away.
“This job was easy without the widening scheme but in needed every ounce of determination as failure was not an option, after dealing with all the flood events during the works we actually opened on time and the feedback from the people of Tadcaster was brilliant.
“To those very generous people in Tadcaster with special thanks to those who turned out in the cold and rain who fed us in January when was cold and raining and they had had their houses flooded out my everlasting thanks for the kindness you showed us,” he said.