Sir, – Further to Emrhys and Linda Barrell’s letter headlined “Destroying countryside” (Standard, March 27), this is not the first time that an attack has been made on the aesthetic qualities of the beautiful Brunel-designed railway bridges across the River Thames at Gatehampton and Moulsford. In a letter to Country Life on August 7, 1975, the secretary of the River Thames Society complained: “Sir, – At Maidenhead, Gatehampton and Moulsford, red-brick bridges span the Thames.“Built by Brunel more than 130 years ago, they have always been cherished by the public as examples of that rarity, an attractive railway bridge. The best known of the three, that at Maidenhead, was immortalised in Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed.“James Thorne, writing in 1849, described Moulsford Bridge as a considerable ornament to the river, of bold form and with handsome proportions.
Of how many modern structures can this be said? “It is sad to report that, in this European Architectural Heritage Year, two of the bridges have been damaged, not by accident or by vandals, but by the owners, British Rail. “Gatehampton Bridge, on its upstream side, has had three holes hacked in the brickwork of the parapet and iron structures inserted and an iron railing now runs along the length of the bridgeâ?¦ at Moulsford only the holes have been made but presumably the intention is to disfigure the structure as at Gatehampton.“This society hopes that the weight of public opinion will force British Rail to restore the bridges to their former appearance and that they will thereafter be protected by preservation orders.” The controversy stemmed from the preparation by British Railways for the general introduction of high speed train sets, which began with the Western Region timetables of October 4, 1976 and in consideration of the safety of maintenance staff working on the tracks.From Paddington to Chippenham, high-speed running – 125mph – was authorised except for the restrictions through Reading and Swindon stations.In the middle of 1975, BR began work on the construction of safety refuges on both the Gatehampton and Moulsford viaducts, despite the fact that the structures were already protected by preservation orders.These alterations had not been discussed with local councils and Cholsey Parish Council protested about the disfigurations.Both bridges were to have refuges constructed in the parapets directly adjacent to the up fast line.The way the work was undertaken created a cut-out effect on the parapet which seriously detracted from the structures’ original appearance. Cholsey council protested direct to the then Minister of Transport Richard Marsh as well as to BR, requesting that masonry or concrete be used on the Moulsford viaduct instead of the metal frames already in place at Gatehampton.After a site meeting between members of the council and a BR representative, the council’s chairman stated that he “understood that British Rail’s chief engineer at Reading was not happy with the present work and that it was now likely that two alternative plans would be submitted to the planning authority”.The watchfulness of the council paid off and the viaduct at Moulsford was spared the indignity inflicted on the Gatehampton structure, brick with concrete copings being used instead of the unsightly iron.Brunel had originally designed the two bridges at Gatehampton and Moulsford to be identical, only one set of plans being drawn up for both bridges.Both bridges were originally designed to be elegantly constructed of local red brick and embellished with copious amounts of Bath stone. This was unusual, as the GWR’s London committee of directors, who were responsible for the construction of the railway from London to Shrivenham (the construction of the rest of the line being under the jurisdiction of a Bristol committee), were not at all keen on some of Brunel’s proposals for the embellishment of the structures under construction. The Bristol directors took a completely opposite stance and normally allowed Brunel full rein. Not surprisingly, Brunel’s original proposal to use Bath stone on both bridges would not be sanctioned, large amounts of Bath stone only being used on the Moulsford bridge, the Gatehampton bridge being constructed almost entirely of brick.The reasons for this decision are not entirely clear but there is evidence to suggest that the then resident of Mongewell House, which overlooked the site of the Moulsford bridge, the incumbent Bishop of Durham, had doubts about the railway scheme and the directors of the GWR sought to buy him off with the promise of a magnificent bridge to match the grandeur of the Mongewell Estate.During the latter part of the 1800s, it became apparent that the original Brunellian double-tracked main line from Didcot Junction to the London terminus could not cope with the traffic from both the west and the north and that quadrupling of the tracks from Didcot eastwards was a priority.As part of this process, both the Moulsford and Gatehampton nridges would have to be extended and following design work begun in 1890, the additions to the two bridges commenced the following year.At Moulsford, Brunel’s original design was followed faithfully, a completely separate bridge being constructed to the north of the original bridge. At Gatehampton, the original bridge was literally widened on one side, the foundation and superstructure of the new bridge being incorporated with those of the original viaduct.From the time of its construction, the Gatehampton bridge was no match aesthetically to the Moulsford bridge, the former in 1975 also having to suffer the disfiguration inflicted upon it by BR.Under current plans for the electrification of the Great Western Main Line unless the efforts being made to persuade Network Rail to ensure that the line of railway through the Goring Gap is treated more sympathetically, it appears likely that more aesthetic damage will be inflicted on Brunel’s masterpieces – the bridges at Gatehampton and Moulsford. More detailed information on the design and construction of Brunel’s bridges across the River Thames can be found in my book, The Finest Work in England, the Construction of the Great Western Railway. – Yours faithfully,
Mitigating the damage
Sir, – I am writing in protest at the apparent disregard that is being shown with respect to the visual impact of the rail line electrification work between Goring and Moulsford.
I wish to make it clear that I support the electrification of the line but only if carried out in such a way as to minimise the impact on this designated area of outstanding natural beauty. To minimise the impact of the scheme I propose the following measures: 1. An immediate cessation of all work on the installation of the steel gantries to support the power lines and adoption of the less visually intrusive wire head-spans.2. The design and implementation of a large-scale planting scheme to (eventually) further mitigate the visual impact and to reduce noise. 3. The painting of pylons or uprights (mostly in place) appropriately for their settings in order to camouflage them.This is an important decision because it will have an impact on the scenery for many decades and affects not only us as residents of this area but the many visitors to this beautiful region. – Yours faithfully,
Jonathan Rohll and family
Sadly, we’ll get used to it
Sir, – Can you imagine the fuss if Brunel wished to build his railway line through the Thames Valley today? Well, actually there’s no need – just look at the reaction to HS2.If Brunel was here today, he would be using overhead power lines as they are the latest, cleanest, quietest technology that can run (indirectly) on less polluting renewable energy.Without doubt, the brilliant silver of the new galvanised structures can be seen for miles. If they were camouflaged with a darker paint they would have much less impact.
In due course we will doubtless get used to them – just as, I suspect, the Victorians got used to those ghastly huge, red brick bridges that are now Grade II listed structures. – Yours faithfully,
Attraction of arts centre
Sir, – Your correspondent Richard Creed is missing the point about the need for a proper performance hall in Henley (Standard, March 20).
He seems to be thinking only of small groups needing small, intimate venues.The Kenton Theatre is a special and charming theatre but even with an extension would never be able to provide space for a full symphony orchestra, or a large choir with orchestra together with an audience of 600.
Christ Church is also too small for these large events. So many pews have to be removed to put on some concerts that the audience capacity is reduced to 250.There are plenty of small and intimate venues in Henley but what is needed to complement these is a large hall with good acoustics, a large stage and raked seating which can be folded back so that the space can be used for other events.
A professional feasibility study was done about 10 years ago and it showed that many groups and societies in and around Henley were in favour of a proper purpose-built large venue. There is a plethora of musical talent of all sorts in Henley, which is being encouraged by dedicated professionals who are encouraging its diversity from the very young to the not so young. For example, at Henley Music School (soon to become a charity) the ethos is to provide fun music education for all children regardless of ability, age or means.Groups include rock and pop, string ensemble, wind band, flute choir, sax and clarinet, keyboard clubs and musicianship classes. All are tutored by professional musicians who are specialists in their field.
Henley Symphony Orchestra has been a part of Henley for more than 40 years and has to perform at the Hexagon in Reading regularly as it attracts an audience of up to 900 to listen to a symphony orchestra of 70.In Henley we also have choral societies, ukulele groups and rock choirs and that is just for adults.
Just last week we had the Henley Youth Festival where many local children and young adults performed to a very high standard in all genres of music in many locations around Henley. We have Acoustic@Magoos, which gives teenagers the chance to play and learn about all types of music while building confidence and self-belief.
A new performing arts centre would never be a white elephant because it would attract even more art and more music of all kinds into the town and be a huge attraction because of it being in Henley. – Yours faithfully,
Henley Music School
Credit to Maurice Day
Sir, – I write in response to the letter from the trustees of the Kenton Theatre (Standard, March 13).
In no way to do I want to detract from the work that David Tapp did on the theatre restoration, but I do want to correct some points made.David was a salaried associate in the practice of Maurice R Day and associates, who were the architects to the Kenton Theatre restoration committee.
David was the associate responsible for the Kenton project with a small team of architectural assistants.It was Bob Brackston and Maurice in the early Sixties who were instrumental in setting up the committee and subsequently the work at the theatre.Maurice was very involved and funded the architectural work on a pro-bono basis as a way of showing his great love for Henley.
David may well have carried this on when he set up his own practice and continued to work with the theatre.It is sad that they are no longer with us and my thoughts go out to David’s family.
I also read with interest about Mayor Martin Akehurst’s wish to have a new arts complex.Maurice spent many years working on such a project with the arts group of the Henley Partnership.
He found several sites which he evaluated and for which he drew up plans but came up against apathy and then wasn’t well enough to continue.The brief here was a performing arts centre, large enough to accommodate the Henley Symphony Orchestra plus a hotel to help fund the centre. He had a hotel group keen to take this on.Sadly, people didn’t really understand how to undertake this project and couldn’t take on board Maurice’s advice.
Again, Maurice paid for all this out of his own pocket.As far as Mill Meadows is concerned, the Thames Conservancy were very keen to have a small marina in conjunction with the centre. Good luck. – Yours faithfully,
Past honorary secretary to the Kenton Theatre restoration committee,
Lane End, Bucks
How we all win (sort of)
Sir, – It’s a pity that Justin Bowles’ warnings about global warming have stimulated a lot of people to waste time showing off their erudition, wide reading and keen intellects.It doesn’t matter whether the planet is warming or not. The fact is that if Justin is wrong and we spend a king’s ransom on developing sustainable energy systems, we’ll have lots and lots of lovely alternative sources of energy, which should protect us in future from any naughty Dick Turpin-like behaviour by sundry Kazakhs, Russians and Arabs. If Justin is right and we don’t develop alternative sources of energy, our children’s children will be destroyed forever. – Yours faithfully, Dick Fletcher Mill End Concerned by triathlon Sir, – I wish the Henley Highwayman well. While there are swimming and running elements to the event, the main concerns being raised to me and Oxfordshire County Council are for the cycling section in the parishes around Henley.
The organisers are not seeking any traffic restriction, providing no marshals and they do not envisage any disruption as a result.The main cycling loop is 120km long and covers a multitude of roads from as far west as Wallingford, as far north as Chinnor and as far east as Frieth.
I understand that rider numbers being aimed for are approximately 600 and, due to the start period and route length, the organisers do not envisage any negative effects on the local roads beyond the normal cycling traffic that this area draws.I am aware that the organisers have worked very hard to ensure that the Highwayman is a popular local event and one that is a positive addition to the Henley calendar. Henley Town Council is supporting the event.The county council has had a meeting with the organisers and the police. The organisers have indicated that they want to work with us to ensure the event runs safely and with minimum congestion given this is its first year.
I have requested, through the county council officers, that a meeting takes place at Henley town hall, organised by the event organisers for them to explain their event to town and parish councillors, the public and anyone who may have concerns.This would be beneficial due to the known traffic issues resulting from the Challenge Henley triathlon in previous years. – Yours faithfully,
Councillor David Nimmo Smith
Cabinet member for environment,
Oxfordshire County Council, and Henley Town Council,
St Andrew’s Road, Henley
One answer to speedingSir, –Having been a member of the Shiplake Villages Plan steering committee from its inception, I was disappointed to read Robert Pehrson’s letter (Standard, March 27).This Government-led initiative was designed to give residents of villages more say in the way parish, district and county councils invest in local infrastructure and generally run local affairs.
Seventy-four per cent of respondents in Station Road requested the need for traffic calming of some description. A significant proportion of residents of Mill Road, Plough Lane and Memorial Avenue also favoured reducing the speed of traffic on those roads. Having investigated the associated costs of introducing speed humps, sleeping policemen, rumble strips and chicanes and being informed by Oxfordshire County Council that it had no money to give towards this project, the only affordable solution presented to Shiplake Parish Council was the introduction of a 20mph speed limit throughout the villages.I am sure we would all be delighted to see some French-style, flower-bedded chicanes along Station Road and at various other locations of concern throughout the villages. Unfortunately, money is in short supply. – Yours faithfully,
Shiplake Villages Plan steering group
Who’s truly mediocre?
Sir, – The dangers of saying something written for you is one of the pitfalls of being a politician.
And so “call me Dave” Cameron falls into his own speechwriter’s platitude pit by declaring “all-out war on mediocrity in education”.
Well, not for the first time, education becomes an election battleground. Remember “Education, education, education” or (NHS) “safe in our hands” and more? Well, if you did get education, education, education, did you actually learn something? Mediocre – that being neither good nor bad; not excelling above the norm. Average.
Well, haven’t we suffered because of such a pervasive attitude in all our society? Politicians that do not, nay, refuse to excel, councillors that pocket their wages and find excuses not to act in the interest of their areas, police who go after the “easy” result, councils that avoid those things that their residents cry out for, corporations that find it easier to pay lip service than “put up or pay up” their dues, shops that are motivated by shareholders instead of customers. All of us can add to a list that goes on and on.
But what it does not include is dedicated people who take on a vocation as a profession. I know a fair few teachers and all of them are in that profession because they want to pass on knowledge, give kids a better chance, give them a better future.
I have not met any nurses or doctors that have gone through all their training (and frequent retraining) just to be average. A firefighter doesn’t run in the direction of flames to be safe, or mediocre, he does it to help to save lives.So when a mediocre politician uses education, nursing, the emergency services or any other vocational profession as an election argument, make sure you check what they did for them in the years before.
Do this because we have all learned to live in the “now” and yet, as the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). So, as a voter when making a decision, look at past evidence or you will be complaining again, repeatedly. – Yours faithfully,
Crisp Road, Henley
No need to misinform
Sir, – I am a representative of Save Bugs Bottom. We are currently trying to support the consultation process on the Heights Primary School.
We agreed to take part because we were told it would be an opportunity to stop some of the false information being spread about the sites being considered and would be an opportunity for residents around the local sites to get more information and to express their views based on facts rather than rumours.While the public consultation meeting on Wednesday last week was an opportunity for the public to hear more and ask questions, I am now gravely concerned about the continuing perpetuation of false information and, in some cases, blatant lies being used to influence members of the public to vote in certain ways in the survey which opened on Monday.We at Save Bugs Bottom have always tried to present the truth. I therefore want to take this opportunity to set the record straight so that members of the public can make their own minds up based on the truth.
Here are the points we want to correct:
1. Mapledurham playing fields. The school would not be built in the middle of the playing fields. The Education Funding Agency has been very clear that it has not selected where it would be on the site and that if the fields were selected it would need to do a further consultation and work with the trustees on where the development would cause least disruption and minimal loss of facilities on site. No sensible planner would put it in the middle. The school could actually be used to enhance the current facilities and provide benefits to the wider community.
2. Allowing the school to be built on the playing fields would not automatically open the floodgates for housing to be built there. Kevin McDaniel, Reading Borough Council’s head of education, was clear at the consultation meeting that if the covenant on the playing fields site was broken, the trustees would be in charge of rewriting it in a way which continued to focus the site on recreational use and prohibit other types of development. This propaganda about losing the land to housing was the reason that Sir John Madejski originally backed saving the playing fields. However, once he realised this wasn’t true, he said he believed a school located there would be “an enormous benefit to its community”.
3. The A4074, which is continually used as a reason not to build on the playing fields is not so dangerous that children can’t cross it, otherwise why do we allow children to play football there? It is a straight road with a 30mph speed limit and good line of sight. All the sites have traffic and access problems.
4. The playing fields site is not a part local wildlife site as stated in one of its campaigners’ leaflets. In order for land to be confirmed as a local wildlife site, local wildlife trusts independently verify its status based on robust criteria. The Thames Valley Ecological Records Centre confirms that this site is not on its list, unlike Bugs Bottom.
5. With reference to Bugs Bottom, it is not where the school is needed. The school is needed in the west of Caversham, close to the centre of demand, and is why approval was given to create the Heights School. Putting a school on Bugs Bottom would still mean there is no school in Caversham Heights. The clue is in the name of the school and children around Bugs Bottom are already covered by, and are more likely to get into, the other primary schools in the east – unlike children in west Caversham. There are already three primary schools within 1.5 miles of Bugs Bottom, which is located in the east of Caversham and Emmer Green.
6. Bugs Bottom is not 40 acres, as stated in one of the Mapledurham playing fields campaign leaflets. It is 32 acres according to Reading Borough Council, which owns and manages the site, and incorporates houses (old Shipnell Farm house) as well as dense woodland. The available land is therefore only a fraction bigger than the playing fields site, which is 25 acres.
7. There is no suitable compensatory land available nearby for Bugs Bottom. Bugs Bottom is a habitat of principal importance (under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act) and has been managed for decades in accordance with Natural England’s higher level stewardship plan, resulting in the diversity of wildlife and flora that exists today. This cannot be replaced and the land over the border in South Oxfordshire is not suitable compensatory land because it has previously been used as farmland, thereby reducing its ecological value. This same piece of land, however, could be used as compensatory land for Mapledurham playing fields. I hope this has gone some way to dispel some of the myths being reported in response to this consultation. This consultation is about finding the best location for the much-needed school in Caversham Heights. There is no ideal location otherwise we wouldn’t be having this process and not everyone is going to like where it ends up. However, we owe it to the children of Caversham to find a home for their school and to do so in a manner which is respectful of the whole community i.e. not based on lies and propaganda. We need to be properly informed and make the best judgement we can based on the facts. That is what the consultation was supposed to be about. If it is not, then it is pointless. I urge my friends, neighbours and all those affected by this decision in Caversham to take part in the survey but to do so understanding all the facts. We need to find the best solution we can as a community and return to being just that – a community, not warring factions. – Yours faithfully,
Dr Andrew Rogers
Save Bugs Bottom
We’ve room for wolves
Sir, – Now that Sir David Attenborough has thrown his support behind plans to reintroduce wolves in Scotland, is it not time for us to show similar far-sightedness? I am often struck by how many beautiful open spaces we have around Henley, from golf courses and farmland to the grounds of stately homes.
There would surely be room for several packs of wolves, which would not only help to control the deer population, but might do something for the tourist trade, too. – Yours faithfully, Garth LeBrook Nettlebed Joy to behold Easter story Sir, – So it’s not all Easter bunnies, chocolates and Easter eggs.
On Friday, Trinity School in Henley held its Easter service in Holy Trinity Church.On entering the church, I saw banners saying “Alleluia” and “He is risen” and the pupils’ own proclaiming the Easter story.The main body of the church and both side aisles were packed with expectant parents and friends. The rear doors opened and the whole school entered two by two and there was a buzz of excitement in the air.The whole school was involved and the celebrations began with singing by the early years, followed by year two singing A Special Man with such crisp clarity as befitting the occasion.
In just 40 minutes the children told the Easter story, from finding the donkey to take Jesus into Jerusalem to his glorious rising again on Easter Sunday.So many took part, reading, acting, singing and telling that special story as only children can. Several were so young that I could not see their faces above the lectern but this did not detract from the clarity of their message.
It was a joy to behold and as I walked home in our beautiful town, I pondered that the pupils at Trinity school certainly knew the true Easter message. I congratulate their teachers on a job well done and hope the children have their fair share of Easter bunnies, chocolates and Easter eggs! – Yours faithfully,
Trinity Primary School,
Vicarage Road, Henley
Thanks for supporting fashion show
Sir, – This is a thank-you letter from the Rotary Club of Henley Bridge to the people and businesses in the Henley area who helped to make our charity fashion show a success.
At the fortnightly meetings of our breakfast group, we decided to organise a local fun event involving companies, the local paper, people and celebrities and raise money for charity.
We decided on the fashion show to be held at Phyllis Court Club with the price of a ticket to include a goody bag for added value.
The beneficiaries were the much-valued Chiltern Centre for disabled children and young adults and our Rotary charities.
Many Henley fashion shops supported the event and other businesses gave wonderful prizes for the raffle and products and vouchers for the goody bags. We had a fun evening stuffing the 200 goody bags. We are very grateful to the
Henley Standard for its sponsorship.
Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee agreed to be our special guests and we had volunteer models from Olympic rowers, young ladies from The Henley College, staff from Invesco Perpetual, fashion shop customers, Deputy Mayor and Rotarian Jeni Wood and friends, not forgetting the 180-plus ticket-buyers who supported and enjoyed the fun night.
We cleared more than £3,000 but, most importantly of all, involved the town and local people in an entertaining night.
Thank you all, including my hard-working committee for making it a success. – Yours faithfully,
Chairman, fashion show committee, Rotary Club of Henley Bridge
(Very) young theatre fan
Sir, – Please publish this picture of 12-day-old Rowan, who attended Sunday’s performance of
Good To Be Bad at the Kenton Theatre.
This show, produced by the wonderful Artemis company and featuring some 30-plus children, was a perfect example of what the Kenton brings to Henley.
Rowan will be 90 years old in 2105, celebrating the Kenton’s 300th anniversary, which says far more about the theatre’s future than your correspondent Mike Rowbottom’s self-serving opinion (
Standard, March 27).
A huge welcome to Rowan from everyone at the Kenton. – Yours faithfully,
Chairman, Kenton Theatre trustees, New Street, Henley