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  • Keith Newman

The tale of two Black Bridges (part two)

‘Old faithful’ Black Bridge replaced - only standing by ‘force of habit’ (1207)

The tendency for the Tuktituki river to carve itself another channel remained a constant source of concern, with the Hawke’s Bay County engineer fearing in 1904 that it was about to change course and flow to the south of the Black Bridge rather than under it.

Protective measures costing £800 were ordered, again stirring up controversy with some ratepayers, suggesting this protected private property, namely Grange Estate. The council insisted it was necessary to protect the south end of the bridge. Barnes & MacErlich, Clive, pp. 45-47 Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton beaches were attracting larger numbers of Napier and Hastings people as a weekend playground and the frustration of longer queues, waiting for bottlenecks to clear, saw patience grow thinner.

By 1936, the bridge was clearly past its use by date; the decking was slippery and dangerous for horses and cattle and while sand was still spread across it, the constant flow of motor vehicles quickly dispersed this coating. Local ratepayers and residents began lobbying for a new bridge, to ease access to 35,000 acres (14,164 ha) of rich productive land and the growing popularity of the seaside areas.

The evolving coastal villages now embraced smaller cultivated holdings, seaside batches and the Tukituki Branch of the Farmers’ Union was now speaking out for the small farmer.

Farmers feared the bridge would collapse, leaving them isolated with no way of getting their produce to market. They pointed out that the 5-ton weight limit presented a serious issue for those needing to use heavy agricultural machinery.

The bus company considered asking their passengers to walk across to another bus and the school bus did exactly that, asking children to get out and walk.

Flooding in parts of Haumoana was quite common before the flood banks were finished. In the big floods, the river lapped at the decking of the old wooden bridge.

“That bridge became a great problem as traffic got denser. It only had a passing section in the middle and jams and arguments followed. Eventually lights were installed…Many a motorcyclist came to grief on the old wooden bridge on frosty mornings,” recalled former local resident, Fred Bradshaw.

When no action was taken a group of irate residents calling themselves the Haumoana Black Bridge Committee bombarded the Hawke’s Bay County Council with complaints and requests until it passed the concerns to the District Highways Council.

It had been a long and arduous battle to have the old bridge with its “steel and wooden patchings” replaced. A deputation had managed to entice Minister of Public Works Robert Semple to visit the spot in the early 1940s “to see and feel for himself the wobbly state of the old bridge”.

The story goes that while he was meeting with the locals in the middle of the bridge a district sheep farmer “happened” to take a heavy lorry load of sheep across. “The shakes so convinced Mr Semple that he uttered one of his famous never to be forgotten wisecracks: ‘This bridge is only standing up by force of habit’.”

It seemed everyone agreed, although post-war difficulties in getting steel presented a problem and no dates were set. After a stream of complaints about the nails and spikes protruding from the decking and damaging vehicle tyres, the HBCC approved re-decking.

The lobbyists for a new bridge were indignant. For all their efforts, they got more patch up jobs. If that wasn’t bad enough the Red Bridge at the Waimarama crossing was now in even worse condition and declared unsafe, forcing that traffic to be diverted along a riverbank road across the Black Bridge.

A further £3,000 was spent on strengthening and while the HBCC was saving up a ‘replacement fund’ it was to be another five years before the Bridge Replacement Account had accumulated £5,000.

In 1952 the original “old faithful” Black Bridge was still intact after coming through another flood while its replacement was still in the planning stages with comments made by locals that the only way to end its time would be to dismantle it.

During construction, the approach from Clive was completely realigned, eliminating two turns in the end of Mill Rd through an extension to Mill Rd then a gradual easterly curve toward the new bridge being constructed upstream from the existing single lane bridge.

The new steel and concrete structure; 1200ft (366 m) long, 20ft wide (6m) with 15 x 80ft (24.3m) welded plate girder spans. The deck and a 5-foot (1.5m) pathway were reinforced concrete with huge 4ft 6 in (1.4m) thick steel girders supported by 11 piles 60ft (18.2m) deep into the riverbed. It crossed the river at right angles to the flow of water and was much higher above the river than its predecessor to compensate for flood height, necessitated by new stop banks on either side of the new site.

Three bays were spaced along the length so pedestrians could seek refuge and close the gates behind them when cattle were crossing. The footpath was designed “to facilitate the passage of picnic parties to and from the Black Bridge domain – a popular picnic spot.”

As the second and more practical bridge was nearing its opening date, F. R. Hursthouse in the Freelance, memoralised the rickety old predecessor that had served the coastal communities for 89-years.

He talked of the original Black Bridge having a personality in the district, that it was spoken of “like a person nearing a century in age” with its last days numbered. There was now a sense that “with the brand new concrete bridge, now nearly finished...each journey over the ancient construction may be the last motorists take.”

The new Black Bridge, costing around £170,000 was officially opened at 3pm, October 6, 1956 by the Minister of Works, the Hon. W.S Gooseman, chairman of the National Roads Board. The Hawke’s Bay County Council invited the public and 300 prominent citizens of Napier, Hastings and surrounding areas with official guests invited to entertainment at the Haumoana Hall afterwards.

While much was made of the ‘first vehicles to cross, it was widely known that a few enthusiastic motorists had already ‘christened’ the bridge by removing the approach barriers and driving across at night.”

Like its predecessor, the new Black Bridge became an essential link between Clive and Haumoana and points beyond, forking off left into Haumoana and right into Te Awanga with the massive gum tree, believed to be one of the largest in the country in the middle of the fork.

Within six months the old bridge was gone, lying dismembered on both sides of the former approach road. As the HB Herald reported “it did not look nearly as black as its name would lead one to suppose. Only a few parts were really black – those touched by numerous fires which plagued the bridge’s last days.”

The timber, about 200 lots of 36 lengths about 20 or 30-foot-long, was up for auction to contractors and farmers under the watchful eye of a few local identities, some of it ending up as chap firewood. “Under the auctioneer’s hammer – as ugly, bolt studded lengths – the bridge did not bring anything like its value as a useful bridge…it seemed an ungrateful end to ‘old faithful’.”

Sources: Almost a personality in the district…Bridge standing only ‘by force of habit’, F.R Hursthouse, New Zealand Freelance, August 31, 1956 James Belich. 'Whitmore, George Stoddart', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012 Clive, Barnes and MacErlich, Clive, p 46 Old Black Bridge has served the district well, HB Herald, 5-10-1956 Auckland Weekly, October 1952 Cinderella Bridge on drawing boards, Daily Telegraph, 15 May 1954 Timber from old Black Bridge sold at auction, HB Herald 15-04-1957 Black Bridge to be opened on Saturday, Daily Telegraph, 03-10-56


Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust, Hastings District Council Archives and Hawke’s Bay MTG

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