Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Let there be lights!

Let there be lights!

AN artist has caused a stir by lighting Henley’s historic bridge.

Clive Hemsley has illuminated both sides of the Grade I listed structure with two strings of 8,000 white LED bulbs following the outline of its five arches and balustrade.

The lights were switched on unannounced at about 8pm on Tuesday and word quickly spread as residents took photographs and shared them on social media.

Mr Hemsley, of Hart Street, began attaching the lights on Thursday last week with a team of six workmen from a barge.

The boat and crew were provided by Hobbs of Henley and included the company’s general manager Kim Clifford, decorator Brian Fearn and historian Robert Drayton, who offered advice.

The men were harnessed to ladders and used duct tape and a soft, removable putty to affix the lights, which collectively use about the same power as a single incandescent bulb.

They are powered by the mains sockets at Red Lion Lawn, off Thames Side, which supply the bridge’s existing halogen lamps.

Despite being praised by residents, Mr Hemsley has been criticised for going ahead without the consent of Oxfordshire County Council, which owns the structure and wants them taken down.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, has launched an enforcement investigation and could order the removal of the lights.

Mr Hemsley claims he doesn’t need planning permission as the lights are temporary and he was given the go-ahead beforehand by Mayor Kellie Hinton and Henley town and county councillor Stefan Gawrysiak. The councillors agree they backed the idea in principle but deny giving permission.

Mr Hemsley, an advertising agency owner who is also known for his dog portraits, had hoped to install the lights before Christmas but couldn’t find a contractor to take on the work.

He said: “I had five attempts at this with various people but they didn’t have the vision to see it through and I’m grateful to Hobbs of Henley for their help.

“I’ve always thought that Chelsea and Westminster bridges look terrific at night and that we’d benefit from a relatively low-profile lighting scheme. They’re warm white lights and look welcoming, not cold and sterile.

“It has been a nightmare being out on that muddy barge and with harnesses and the like — needless to say, if anyone was going to get hurt it was going to be me. This is a young man’s business and I’m too old for it as I’m absolutely knackered!

“As we switched them on, we heard this big cheer coming from the water. There was a group of canoeists from Marlow passing by and they were glad to have a bit of extra lighting.

“If this doesn’t attract more business to the town I will eat my hat because the whole idea is to create a focal point as people stroll past. There should be an upturn of at least 10 per cent.

“The lights are temporary so they can be removed at any time.

“They should really have that ‘wow factor’ as you can see them from Phyllis Court Club and beyond Hobbs’s boatyard.

“One of the other benefits is increased safety for all the boat traffic, especially during the regatta and festival week. As a boatman, it can be quite daunting looking for the arches when it’s getting dark or the mist is coming down.

“Furthermore, it has not cost taxpayers a penny.

“The lights should be an icon and I think it’s the obvious thing to have done — in fact, it should have been done 20 years ago. At the moment the bridge is lit by rusty old halogen lamps from the Eighties, which is really bad news for the environment. This brings it up to scratch.”

Mr Hemsley claimed the county council should be more concerned with the bridge’s general condition, saying there are many areas where the stonework has been damaged by boats and two columns by a lorry during the regatta in July.

He said: “If people want to complain that’s fine but our historian was flabbergasted at the damage done to the bridge over the years.

“The council should have a bit more vision. If they’re responsible for the state of that bridge then a lot of people should be losing their jobs because they’ve let it deteriorate.

“I am very mindful that it was a low-profile project and we took liberties in doing it without consulting townsfolk, and for that I apologise.

“However, the lights are temporary and it’s up to the town if people want it left permanently.”

As the Henley Standard went to press, there were dozens of supportive comments on the paper’s Facebook page. None was critical.

Laura Reineke, of Berkshire Road, said: “Please don’t remove them — it’s a wonderful idea and only makes our beautiful town even more lovely. I feel sure the majority of Henley residents would vote to keep them.”

Angela Castles said: “Please keep them, they look amazing. Thank you Clive.”

Sharon Elliott said: “They look amazing — well done!”

Councillor Gawrysiak said: “Clive approached me last November regarding lighting up the bridge, which I thought was a brilliant idea but I did say it had to go through the proper consultation channels.

“The county council has confirmed this work was not authorised. However, the lights are on the bridge. Let us light them up as a trial and see what residents and visitors say.”

Councillor Hinton said: “We haven’t discussed it as a town council but I do recall Stefan and Clive being informally advised that it wouldn’t need planning permission as a temporary structure.

“Clive is incredibly passionate about this town and its attractiveness. He does everything with the best possible intentions and would certainly not have wanted to cause any offence.

“Personally, I think they look lovely and they do address a certain issue with safety, particularly in winter and at the height of our social season, when there’s a lot of river activity.

“The county council has said they must come down but it’s a shame it didn’t act with the same efficiency on the missing columns. That is an actual health and safety issue whereas Clive is just trying to make an iconic landmark look as beautiful as possible.

“If those lights are taken down before the bridge is repaired, it will be an absolute travesty.”

Mark Dunlop, landlord of the Angel on the Bridge pub, said: “I wasn’t consulted, which is a shame as there should have been some dialogue.

“It’s held together with duct tape and doesn’t look brilliant because it’s all fairly cheap. During the summer we have to be careful with our own lights as they can attract thousands of mayflies, which is harmless but it bothers our customers and I wouldn’t want anything to affect that.

“It’s a nice gesture and I agree it could look fabulous but we should have been told.”

Henley district councillor Joan Bland said: “You can’t have people just putting things up on public property. There needs to be a consensus among not just the town council but the entire townsfolk — it’s not just one man’s decision.

“Mr Hemsley is a commercial artist so this is a commercial project. The bridge exists to serve a purpose and is very beautiful so it shouldn’t be altered without debate.”

A county council spokesman said: “We would be very happy to consider permitting a lighting trial at any of our river bridges if it was supported by the relevant local council and an acceptable method of installation and removal had been agreed prior to installation.”

More News:

POLL: Have your say