This photographic postcard of the Iron Bridge from David Howard’s collection shows the familiar landmark as it was in the early part of the 20th century. Prominent also is the excavated bare white chalk of the 1840 cutting, dug out in order to ease the existing road’s steep gradient over Bere Hill. For obvious reasons, it came to be known as Chalk Hill during the mid-19th century.

The history of the bridge really begins with the laying out of the Ladies Walk in 1785, which was an afterthought to the local enclosure of the fields that took place that year in the Andover area. Before enclosure, people could largely wander as they pleased and the laying out of a walk may have helped to deflect dissent. Along the high ridge to the south, a path was laid out which gave a splendid view of the town below. It starts at the top of today’s Old Winton Road and runs on towards Andover Down, terminating just south of the Queen Charlotte Inn.

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So, Andover had its pleasant walk and there matters rested for the next 55 years until the London and South Western Railway decided to build a line from Battersea to Southampton – or at least join up parts that had already been constructed. A new stretch from Basingstoke to Winchester needed a suitable station in between and a site at Warren Farm in Micheldever seemed eminently suitable as being halfway between both towns. As this was just 12 miles from Andover and a road already led out of Andover in that general direction towards Bullington, it was expedient that both station and town should be linked up, the station being named Andover Road Station, 14 years before any station in Andover itself existed.

However, the road leading from Andover was unfit for the much greater horse-drawn traffic that the new railway and station would attract, and it was necessary to improve the existing road and to build some new stretches – including going across a field at Bullington - to provide a direct route to Micheldever from Andover. As a new turnpike road, it required an Act of Parliament to put into effect.

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Accordingly, various legal processes were gone through, such as gaining permission from the owners of the land through which the new road would pass, but matters progressed far more quickly in those days than they would today and the road was soon being constructed. The steep gradient at Bere Hill was one of the principal obstacles to be encountered, the gradient being one in 19 at the peak of the hill and needed to be drastically reduced. Consequently, a deep gouge was cut through the chalk where the road was to run.

In cutting through the hill, it also cut through the line of the Ladies Walk and anyone who intended to walk the entire route along the ridge, now had to make a detour down the slope of the hill and come back again on the other side of the road in order to join up with the original path.

More than 10 years were to pass before the situation was remedied. Some degree of agitation was stirred up by various parties who claimed that a bridge was always promised but never constructed. There had also been encroachments onto the Ladies Walk itself, though this had been remedied by the efforts of the 1848-49 mayor, Cllr G S Payne, who authorised the staking-out of the walk to clearly mark its boundaries. However, the abrupt and dangerous break in the walk remained until 1851 when Tasker and Fowle, the iron foundry at Anna Valley, constructed a new bridge of cast iron and linked up the two sections.

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A strange incident occurred in 1853, when a horse and cart driven by an employee of brewer John Poore was returning to Andover along the turnpike road. He was passed by a man called John Pope on a four-wheeled velocipede, an early type of bicycle with limited means of steering. The rider seems to have got to the top of the hill, just beyond the iron bridge, and then turned around to speed back down again. On reaching the horse and cart, the velocipede went out of control and smashed into it. The horse reared in fright and pain, falling on top of the hapless Pope. He was fatally injured, despite being taken to the Red Lion Inn at the foot of the hill where he received medical attention.

John Poore lamented the mutilation of his mare that had been pierced in the shoulder by the metal of the velocipede but was unsympathetic to Pope himself, commenting that ‘the law was not armed with sufficient power to put down such dangerous nuisances.’ It was a sad story, but interesting that in 1853 it was possible to see a four-wheeled velocipede in Andover; surely a particularly rare sight?        

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