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The Chinese Bridge

The Chinese Bridge (Painting by Sally Helm)
The Chinese Bridge (Painting by Sally Helm)


When was it built? Who was responsible for its building? Why so called?

Many of the older generation of the village have recalled playing as children near to this bridge located south of Henley Park Mansion and spanning the stream that flows north from Tickner's Bridge through the low meadows of Henley Park eastwards towards the road bridge at Cobbetts Hill Road.

Some referred to it as "Cheynie's Bridge", others as "The China Bridge", but most referred to it as "The Chinese Bridge", presumably because of the bridge associated with that shown on the Willow Pattern table-ware popular in the early 1900s.

This ornamental bridge, built in red brick with red paved-brick footing, is an extraordinary feature of the meadows, providing a footbridge crossing to the stream for the public footpath that links the upland fields of Henley Park Farm to the water meadows of the lowland fields abutting the Guildford - Aldershot A323 Road. An inspection of the brickwork leads to the conclusion that much of the originality of the structure has been retained but repair and modifications are apparent at both approaches and some of the brick decking.

Buttresses on either side of the stream support a high arch, surmounted longitudinally by parapets about 18 inches high raised on either side of the walk-way. John Baker, well known local artist whose work was frequently shown in the Surrey Advertiser, described it as a 'sheep bridge', possibly because a shepherd could stand astride of the parapets of the bridge as the sheep passed beneath him to be counted; but as practicable as that would appear to be, it would hardly account for the construction and placing of such an elaborate structure in that locality.

The Ordnance Survey of c1870 indicates a footbridge (f b.) but of course no description of the type of bridge is given, but perhaps the field notes of the Surveyors (if available) might be more descriptive. Of interest on this OS map is an adjoining stream and water-way named "Withy Bed Copse", now severely neglected but still discernable as having been well cared for at one time. A search of the area in March 2004 revealed that the water source appears to be a low volume spring to the west rising at the foot of a very old oak tree of approximately 150 years of age. The westerly water, with an elongated island supporting a mass of old willow trees, is joined to the easterly water by a sluice, from which a small flow trickled into the easterly water via a conduit.

The 6" OS map of 1896 indicates that the footbridge of 1870 is now credited with a sluice, but there would appear to be no evidence of this during the search of March 2004. Furthermore the map gives "fish ponds" for the previous name of Withy Bed Copse. The OS map of 1915 reverts to "footbridge" for the location of The Chinese Bridge.

At present there is no definitive date of build or who was responsible for its construction but supposition suggests that it was constructed for the benefit of gentlemen visitors to the Mansion so that they could more leisurely and more thoroughly enjoy the excellent hunting, shooting and fishing provided by Lord Pirbright. This supposition pre-supposes further that it might well have been during the early tenancy of Henley Park by Lord Pirbright, possibly in the 1890s, when he made many beautifying improvements to the Mansion and to the estate particularly for the benefit of visitors of Royal rank.

Peter Blakiston

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