River nene Sutton Bridge Lincolnshire, The Wash national nature reverse - Katey Jane Photography

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Sutton Brigde & local places

  • Descriptions (click)

    The swing bridge
    Which spans the River Nene is a notable feature of the village and the current version, known as Crosskeys Bridge, was built in 1897 at a cost of £80,000 and is the third bridge to cross the river. The bridge was originally dual purpose, serving both road and rail traffic until 1959 when the railway closed. The first bridge, opened in 1831, was designed by John Rennie the Younger and Thomas Telford as part of the Wash Embankment works. It was of a timber and cast iron construction and opened up rather like London's famous Tower Bridge. However it was eventually found to be awkwardly sited and in 1850, its replacement designed by Robert Stephenson was opened. The position of the second bridge was approximately halfway between the original and the present day bridge. It was a swing bridge and was used only for road traffic until 1864 when the Midland Railway acquired powers to also use it for rail traffic. When the current bridge was constructed it was hoped that the 1850 bridge could be left in position for rail use but the river authorities decided that two bridges so close together constituted a hazard for shipping, and it was removed.

    Twin lighthouses
    These were built, on the banks of the mouth of the River Nene in 1831 to commemorate the opening of the Nene outfall cut. Contrary to belief these were lit and acted as lighthouses although they were not lit throughout the night, there being no rocks to protect ships from. The River Nene has however always been an important navigation for shipping and if a high tide occurred after dark, they were lit for approximately one and a half hours before and after high tide to guide ships through the sand banks and into the river. The towers are circular but the top lantern sections are hexagonal. Both have a circular window facing the channel entry. Each has in addition a half moon window to the north on the west bank lighthouse and to the south on the east bank lighthouse. A ship picking up either side light is not in the channel. The side lights would however be used by skilled pilots to triangulate their way through the twisting sand banks by picking them up and losing them. The East Bank Lighthouse is also known as the Sir Peter Scott Lighthouse and was the lighthouse used by Paul Gallico in his The Snow Goose story.

    Dam Busters Raid 1943
    During the early part of 1943 Sutton Bridge and Crosskeys Bridge was used by 617 Squadron from RAF Scampton to practice their low-level flying needed for Operation Chastise (the legendary Dam Busters raid). The mission was led by commanding officer Guy Gibson, who was familiar with the village of Sutton Bridge having participated in advanced training at RAF Sutton Bridge during the summer of 1937. RAF Sergeant George (Johnny) Johnson DFM, Bomb-Aimer on board Lancaster bomber ED825/AJ-T commanded by Joe McCarthy that attacked the Sorpe Dam from a height of just 30 feet, recounts that in the village of Sutton Bridge there were electric cables that cross the River Nene just before the bridge itself and to hone their low-level flying skills they would regularly practice flying the Lancasters onto the electric cables and skim up over Crosskeys Bridge, missing the bridge itself by only a few feet each time.

    Stretching to the east and north was a vast, fast flowing expanse of marshes known as Cross Keys Wash, through which the River Nene (earlier, the Wellstream) wound its way to the sea. The whole area is composed of sand and silt, shifting regularly as the water cut new channels. The track across the marshes between Lincolnshire and Norfolk was passable at low water and needed a guide for a safe passage. Livestock, travellers, wagons and coaches were lost into the quicksand of the marshes. Since reclamation began in the 16th century of the estuary between Long Sutton and Sutton Bridge, The Wash House (now the Bridge Hotel) marked the start of the safe track and it was possible to hire guides to help the general travellers and also the drovers with their herds of cattle, flocks of sheep or geese safely over the marsh.

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