Sun, 17 Jan 2021
Heritage enthusiasts have discovered that a disused railway bridge outside Hampstead Norreys is one of hundreds across the country at risk of demolition or infill by government agency Highways England.
The bridge is located at Hackney Bottom, just outside the village and was part of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway line, opened in 1882.
Like structures of its kind up and down the country, it is the property of the Historical Railways Estate (HRE), which is managed by Highways England.
Lobbying organisation HRE Group contends that the loss of these bridges would be a blow to local heritage and would prevent their reuse.
The line emerged as an important national resource in the Second World War, funneling armaments and troops to the South Coast.
The route stopped at a number of West Berkshire stations, including Newbury, Compton, Highclere, Hampstead Norreys and Burghclere.
Of these, only Newbury still exists.
The railway stopped serving passengers in 1962 and its use by goods trains ceased two years later.
The Hackney Bottom bridge currently forms part of a country road.
The HRE Group has produced a map of 134 'at risk' structures, including the Hackney Bottom bridge.
The group said that the HRE has earmarked these properties for infilling or demolition.
Tutts Clump Cider owner Tim Wale, a historic rail enthusiast, questioned why the Hackney Bottom structure would be considered for infill.
He said: "The Government are now going through the country and removing bridges that are no longer required – surplus to requirements.
"They're either filling them in, or dismantling them, which is costing a huge amount of money.
"This one is a road bridge, which just goes over a field now, because there's nothing underneath."
A Highways England spokesperson confirmed the plan to infill the bridge, saying: "To maintain the safety of communities living near to Historic Railway Estate structures, and the drivers who use the roads that cross them, we are planning to infill 115 bridges, one of which is Hackney Bottom railway bridge.
"Local highway authorities have responsibility for applying weight or traffic restrictions or closing the road, but haven't despite the bridge having fractures increasing in size. Therefore, our planned infilling is the safest and most appropriate option and will maintain access across the structure.
"We contact all local authorities affected to advise them of our plans and to see if they have any use for the structures."
A petition to protect the structures can be found on Change.org.