HENLEY town centre was brought to a standstill on Wednesday morning after what was feared to be a chemical spillage.
The incident happened outside the Angel on the Bridge pub at about 9.10am and resulted in the closure of Henley Bridge and many roads in the town centre being sealed off.
However, it turned out the creamy white material in the road was potato waste which had fallen off a lorry as it turned the corner.
About 20 firefighters were called to the scene together with police cars and an ambulance. No traffic was allowed into the town centre for almost three hours and police redirected drivers.
Closures were in place at the junction of Greys Road and Duke Street, Bell Street and New Street and at the bottom of Hart Street by St Mary’s Church as well as at both junctions of Thames Side and Hart Street and on the Berkshire side of the bridge.
Traffic quickly backed up along the Wargrave Road and at one point car drivers were seen going the wrong way up New Street in an attempt to find an alternative route.
Bob Speakman, the fire service’s incident commander, said the initial report from a member of the public was that the spillage was “chemical waste” and it was “bubbling” in the road.
He said: “We sent our normal pre-determined attendants for a chemical incident as we didn’t know what we were dealing with.”
The firefighters quickly established the spillage was not hazardous but potato waste due to be used in animal feed.
Mr Speakman said: “The lorry came across from the Berkshire side and turned left. It’s a very tight bend and he lost some of his load there.”
A Biffa vehicle arrived on the scene around 10.45am to scrape the waste from the roads and hose them down and the streets were re-opened shortly before noon.
During the drama, Hobbs of Henley ferried about 100 people across the river from the Berkshire side free of charge.
The firm asked permission to launch from the royal regatta headquarters across to the Angel on the Bridge.
Senior crew member Joe Southwell, 20, used one of the company’s self-hire boats which holds up to 12 people.
He said: “People were very grateful and were just saying how wonderful it was to have that service provided.”
Frederick Nead, 77, from Charvil, got off a bus that was stuck in traffic in Wargrave Road and walked about half a mile to the river where he caught the boat.
He said: “I only came in for some bread and they haven’t got any!”
Mark Dunlop, landlord of the Angel on the Bridge, said: “At 9.15am it was a hell of a mess out there.
“It was obviously the worst place it could happen in the town, on the crossroads over the bridge.”
Town councillor Joan Bland, who runs Asquiths teddy bear shop in New Street, praised the emergency services for doing an “excellent job”.