POOLE Bridge is expected to reopen this month after a series of delays to a £4.7million refurbishment.

Its return will be a relief, but the welcome will fall short of the celebrations that marked the bridge’s debut almost 91 years ago.

The Echo proclaimed March 9 1927 a “red-letter day for Poole”, as processions on land and water greeted the official opening.

Until 1837, the best way to get from one side of Poole Quay to the other was on a ferry pulled by a rope. Every local family paid fourpence a year for that privilege, while strangers were charged a halfpenny for each crossing.

In 1834, parliament agreed a proposal for a bridge, after much local controversy, stoked by fears that people would leave Poole and build homes at Hamworthy to avoid paying heavy rates.

The wooden bridge that opened in 1835 stood for 50 years. An iron structure replaced it in 1885, and was demolished in 1926-27 to make way for the lifting bridge that still dominates the Quay.

The Daily Echo of March 10, 1927, reported: “Splendid weather attended the opening of the new bridge connecting Poole and Hamworthy, which ... took place yesterday, the ceremony being carried out by the Mayor (Alderman HS Carter).”

Not everyone liked the look of the bridge, as the Echo noted.

“The bridge is of concrete and iron with two spans, which are raised to permit the passage of shipping to the upper wharves. It is very simply and effectively controlled by electricity,” the paper noted.

“The bridge is of a rather severe design, but it is relieved by the arms of Poole, designed by Mr PA Wise (headmaster of the Art School) and executed in Della Robia ware by Messrs Carter, Stabler and Adams – a new feature in bridge decoration and one which has proved a great success.”

In a passage that might resonate with today’s residents on the western side of the bridge, the report went on: “During the period of re-building, the residents of Hamworthy and those engaged at the works in the area who live on the Poole side were put to no little inconvenience, though a good ferry service was maintained.

“Therefore, the re-establishment of communication by the new and freed bridge was the occasion of very real satisfaction.”

Poole’s elementary school pupils had an extra day’s holiday so they could watch the opening of the bridge. The streets were decorated and crowds filled the Quay.

Civic VIPs marched in procession from the Guildhall, along with scouts and guides.

On the water, King Neptune and his court were in the motor ferry Excel, which followed the harbour launch to Holes Bay, ahead of a procession of decorated vessels. Boys from South Road School had helped decorate the ferry.

A celebratory lunch was held at the Guildhall, with music from Poole Municipal Amateur Orchestra.Alderman Ballard toasted the Ministry of Transport, although the transport secretary himself was unable to attend.

Alderman Ballard said the council had “freed the town from an intolerable nuisance at one end, but there was still the level crossings at the other”, as “these railway gates were a great hindrance to Poole”.

The mayor, Alderman Herbert Carter, made a speech, summarised by the Echo reporter.

“Prophets had arisen at various times and had denounced the Borough Council as a lot of wasters who were piling up debt, and were a lot of petty shopkeepers not used to spending,” the paper said.

“This had occasionally resulted in new members being placed on the Council, and they generally were as ready to spend the public money as the old members.”

It went on: “Much of Bournemouth’s working class population lived in Poole, and they had to cater for their housing.

“The Council were under an obligation to cater for the huge crowds which went to Sandbanks in the summer, as Sandbanks was no longer the rural area which some of the residents would wish to believe.”

The lunch saw Cllr RC Carter toast “the engineers and contractors”.

Sir Brodie Henderson, for the designers, noted lifting bridges were “regarded as the ugliest of bridges”.

He also gave an insight into the challenges of building the bridge.

“They had many difficulties and anxieties. During the building, for instance, there was an earthquake in California, and he believed that they felt the effect on the bridge, but no harm was done,” the paper said.

When HGVs were unheard of and hardly anyone owned a car, it would have been impossible to foresee the demands to be made on the bridge.

For much of that century, there would be calls for it to be replaced.

When the Twin Sails Bridge opened in 2012, it was an an alternative route rather than a replacement.

And the current refurbishment – when completed – is expected to give the 1927 bridge another 120 years of life.