A bridge with some history

photographRichard Greenaway is an expert on the local history of Christchurch. He has an eye for a good story and the skill and patience to check and cross check all kinds of references. He has compiled a wonderful array of New Brighton stories. This one concerns the Central  Brighton bridge on  Seaview Road.

The original Seaview Road bridge was a flat bridge which was replaced at the beginning of 1930s by the present bridge. This was designed by H. F. Toogood, father of Selwyn Toogood.  See photos of bridges in George W. Walsh’s New Brighton, a regional history, 1852-1970.

photographThe modern Seaview Road bridge is a high bridge. The hump in the bridge is there because Richard Bedward Owen (1873-1948), tailor and conservationist, known as ‘River Bank Owen’, argued that boats could come ‘sailing with the tide’ to Christchurch. They never have.

Owen’s conflict with the New Brighton Borough Council brought forth verse which appeared in the Star of 1 October 1927. A Mr. Wright was Owen’s lawyer. J. A. Flesher (1865-1930) was the borough council’s lawyer and A, W. Owles (1847-1940) the Mayor from 1927-29. Flesher and Owles had a personal squabble during the greater battle. Perhaps there was long-standing bad blood between them. They had once stood against each other for the position of Mayor and Flesher had won.

In the 1970s I met Mr. Hensley, lawyer with Hensley and Mortlock. He told me how, as a young man collecting information for Mr. Wright, he had spoken to elderly residents and gathered information on the vessels which had come up the Avon in pioneer times.

The councillors of Brighton,
by the Nine Gods they swore
they’d build a bridge full four feet high
but not a damned inch more.
By the Nine Gods they swore it
and coolly went their way,
and called for tenders for the job
and fixed up who would pay.

Then out spake R B Owen,
the River Banker bold:
“Your proposition’s a disgrace.
The people’s rights you’ve sold.
In perpetuity I claim the right of navigation.
Now who will put in my right hand
the costs of litigation?”

The privy purse was duly lined
and lawyers were engaged.
The issue long remained in doubt
while Wright and Flesher raged.
The Court below to RBO
awarded its decision;
but on appeal his argument
was treated with derision.

“Oh, Avon, Mother Avon”,
cried Owen in distraction,
“His Majesty in Council
shall adjudicate this action.
Five hundred quid’s as nothing,
and we’ll see this matter through

unless you folks agree to raise
this bridge a foot or two.”

And so the bridge remains unbuilt,
and contest’s still unended;
and Owen’s owin’ more and more
for costs and fees expended;
while Captain Owles irately howls
that JAF’s uncivil,
and JAF consigns the worthy captain
to the Devil.

But R B Owen’s sure to win
for Wright is on his side;
and when, in days to come, the boats
come sailing with the tide,
and pass with ease beneath the span,
then will the tale be told
how valiantly he raised the bridge
in the brave days of old.


Richard Greenaway

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