News Archive

Residents submit objections to bridge toll increase

(Updated) Objections to the Bridge Company’s proposed 50% toll increase must be submitted to the Secretary of State for Transport by 2nd January 2015.  The details of the proposed new toll charges and the name and address to whom any objections should be sent were given in a Public Notice, the link to which can be found in our news item of 22nd November. 

On Christmas Eve four village residents submitted a joint 9-page memorandum detailing their objections to the increase.  Their conclusions are: 

1   An increase of tolls to 60p for motor cars resulting in a 600% rise over the last 10 years is grossly inappropriate and unfair to current bridge users. 

2   The Company should guarantee that the discount for frequent users should be at all times as they agreed to do in the Previous Application.  Furthermore, in the light of the reduction of the discount rate in recent years, it should consider increasing the discount to former levels. 

3   The Company should not seek to pay such high dividends and indeed should seek to suspend dividend payments until after the loans, which have been raised to build the new bridge, are repaid. 

4   The Company should not budget to repay all the loans over a 15 year period. It is almost certain these loans would be capable of extension in the years ahead. 

5   More convincing budgets and cash flows should be prepared to show the effect of differing rates of tolls on the profit and loss account and cash position over the next ten years. 

The memorandum, submitted by Peter Hawley, Stephen Trinder, Graham Morfey and Jim Kerevan, is expected to be considered by the Department of Transport in the New Year.  It can be read in full here.

Update, Boxing Day:

Parish Council chairman Harry Butterworth said today: “The Parish Council considered that the report compiled by a group of highly respected professionals, all of whom are long term members of our community, would provide the most persuasive argument concerning toll increases.  Once available it was circulated to and unanimously approved by the members of the Parish Council, which has asked the Secretary of State to regard the memorandum as endorsed by and representing the opinion of Whitchurch Parish Council.”

Date/Time : Wednesday, 24th December 2014 17:58

SODC refuses Eastfield House demolition plan

The Parish Council was informed today that South Oxfordshire’s planning officer has rejected the latest application for the development of the Eastfield House care home.  He received no less than 80 letters of objection from residents of Whitchurch. 

Parish Council chairman Harry Butterworth said:  “I’m sure everyone in the village will be delighted.  The idea of demolishing one of the village’s finest historic buildings does not seem to have any supporters.  However the SODC decision today may not be the end of the story.  The application is likely to be sent to appeal.  We need to bring this process of planning creep to a halt.  If and when an appeal is announced, everyone who wrote to SODC will need to write again, this time to the Inspector.  But that will be well into the New Year.”

Date/Time : Tuesday, 23rd December 2014 18:08

The Whitchurch Web team wishes you a very Happy Christmas.

We hope you’ve enjoyed visiting the site this year and will continue to do so in 2015.  There is a Christmas card from us - to receive it click here.

 

Date/Time : Saturday, 20th December 2014 14:23

Last chance to have your say on Eastfield House

If you want to comment about the proposed demolition of one of Whitchurch’s finest buildings, or consider that in a designated Conservation Area it is wrong to knock down historic houses, then you still have time to comment if you do so NOW.  The last date for comments to be received by the planning authority is this Friday 19th December

Comments can be submitted separately by any number of adults in a household. 

You can make your comment on the South Oxfordshire planning page.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 17th December 2014 17:24

Road rage caused by cars parked in High Street

Many people have remarked that since the bridge re-opened there seem to be more cars parked in the High Street.  It seems that some drivers may be sticking to a routine of park-and-walk that they used during the bridge closure.  Traffic is being affected particularly badly at one point, just north of the entrance to Church Drive and the post box (see photo).  There have been reports recently of traffic being backed up through the lower narrows and across the toll bridge into Pangbourne as a result of cars parked at this point.  Driver anger has been felt and reported by toll collectors. 

The Parish Council’s working group TAPAG (Traffic and Pavements Advisory Group) has recommended that a no-parking white line, 8 metres in length, which would remove two parking places, should be painted urgently at this location to avoid mounting driver anger at what is visibly an unnecessary obstacle.  That recommendation was transmitted to Oxfordshire Highways this week, with a request for urgent action. 

OCC Highways acknowledged the request today but said that they normally do road painting between April and October when the surface is dry and in any case they regret that there is no budget left in this financial year for the work.  Here is the OCC message in full: 

Thank you for the email requesting road marking refurbishment and installation in Whitchurch on Thames. Oxfordshire County Council have a limited budget for the installation and refurbishment of road markings so we have to ensure that we achieve the maximum value for money when we order this type of works.  We usually install and refurbish road markings between April and October each year when the weather is at its best and the thermo plastic material will adhere to the road surface, this prevents the crew having to dry the road surface before they can lay the markings and thus saving money.  I regret that the budget for road marking installation and refurbishment in South Oxfordshire has now been exhausted for this financial year, on this basis I regret that I am unable to order the works that you have requested at this time. 

This reply is unlikely to satisfy the hundreds of drivers whose journeys are being delayed unnecessarily each working day and who now apparently face further months of frustration before OCC is able to help. 

Parish Council chairman Harry Butterworth said today that any delay in implementing a no-parking measure at this location is undesirable and he will now be seeking assistance from Thames Valley Police.  

Date/Time : Tuesday, 9th December 2014 16:47

MP backs village in battle to stop demolition of Eastfield House

At Monday’s meeting the Parish Council unanimously resolved to object to the demolition of the Eastfield House care home. 

MP John Howell has written to Adrian Duffield, Head of Planning at South Oxfordshire District Council, to say that he shares the concern expressed by the parish council and local residents, citing several objections and stressing the importance of taking the views of local residents into account.  His letter can be read here

District councillor Pearl Slatter, who was co-opted to the parish council at the meeting following the retirement of councillor Nigel Groves, emphasised that the way for the village to make its feelings clear was for as many people as possible to send comments to the planning officer, preferably by 11th December (19th December is the final deadline).  She suggested that comments should also be copied to the new Leader of SODC, John Cotton. 

Many reasons have been put forward for opposing the developer’s current plan to demolish the existing building and make way for a new facility of 50 beds, instead of adapting the existing building for a 45 bed facility as was eventually approved on appeal in 2013.  Here are some: 

  • Eastfield House is a beautiful building and one of the finest in our historic village.

  • The developer, Ross Healthcare of Heanor, Derbyshire, has a website on which the merits of its numerous Majesticare care homes are described.  The company itself states that “Eastfield House is a country house luxury care home of impressive historical character.”

  • The designated Conservation Area’s eastern boundary is specifically shaped on the map to include this very building.

  • The site is accessible only through a narrow and hazardous bottleneck which is the main walking route for children to school.  Any additional traffic needs to be avoided.

  • The new design includes more bedrooms overlooking neighbouring properties than the previous one.

  • The large basement would create an underground blockage to the natural flow of groundwater towards the river.  The groundwater is so high in this area that an immediately neighbouring house suffered from wet ground floors for several months last winter.  The proposed basement would have the effect of raising the level of the groundwater as it diverts around the obstacle, which is clearly unacceptable.

  • Since the previous proposal was approved in 2013, new evidence has come to light on the inadequacy of the existing foul drainage provision.  In January and February of this year the sewage pumping station serving the area was overwhelmed by the entry into its collector pipe system of flood water, leading to sewage flowing into at least one garden and widespread difficulty in flushing ground floor toilets.  Eastfield House is served by this system and the addition of any more residents than there are at present (with 27 beds) will exacerbate this problem.

A development professional in the village says that he believes that if the principle of demolition is approved, the village can expect another application before long in which the architectural simulation of the existing building, which is a feature of the current proposals, will disappear and be replaced by a more ordinary and less characterful design.  If the principle of demolition is agreed it could also pave the way for a much larger development.  This, he says, appears to be a classic example of the development phenomenon known as Planning Creep and the village needs to resist it strongly.

The planning application on the SODC website, where comments can be made, is here.  

The opportunity is there for everyone in the village to speak out by sending their comments to the planning officer.  After 19th December it will be too late.  More than one person (over 18) in a household can comment individually.

Graphic above by Lorna Webber.  More photos showing Eastfield Lane in the gallery.

Date/Time : Thursday, 4th December 2014 12:00

Do we want to lose this Conservation Area building?

After Majesticare won its application on appeal last year to enlarge the Eastfield House care home, despite the opposition of South Oxfordshire District Council, Whitchurch Parish Council and many residents, everyone thought that was that.  However Majesticare has now applied for an even more radical plan to demolish Eastfield House and start afresh with a new building catering for 50 beds, which is 5 more than in their previous application.  The present building provides 27 beds.  In addition, the new plans include a basement, a lowered ground floor and increased vehicle parking out front. 

If you want to comment on the application to demolish this characterful 1880s Victorian building, which is within Whitchurch's designated Conservation Area (and only accessible to vehicles via the narrow bottleneck of Eastfield Lane which already causes difficulty), the link to the application is here and the deadline is 19th December. 

This week residents of Eastfield Lane distributed a leaflet on the subject to Whitchurch houses. 

The Parish Council will discuss the application at their meeting at 8 pm tomorrow, Monday.

Date/Time : Sunday, 30th November 2014 16:47

Plan for a Defibrillator in the village

At its next meeting on 1st December the Parish Council will discuss a plan to install a first-aid device called a Defibrillator in the red telephone box on the corner of Manor Road and the High Street. 

Defibrillators available for public access in emergencies are now appearing in communities up and down the country. 

When someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest the potential to save their life is dependent on time.  Medical assistance needs to be given within five minutes but it can take considerably longer for an emergency team to arrive. The Defibrillator is claimed to be a safe and reliable unit, with visual and audio prompts for its operation, that will not administer a shock to patients who do not require it, and to be suitable for use by both lay rescuers and healthcare professionals. 

The Parish Council is considering working with The Community Heartbeat Trust and BT to have the device properly fitted and maintained.  The Trust is the largest charity putting Defibrillators in telephone boxes and has completed around a thousand projects.

Date/Time : Sunday, 23rd November 2014 19:34

Six weeks consultation on bridge tolls begins

Objections to the Bridge Company’s proposed 50% toll increase should be submitted not later than 2nd January 2015.  The Bridge Company issued a Public Notice in local newspapers yesterday giving details of the proposed new toll charges and the name and address of the person in the Department of Transport to whom any objections should be sent.

Date/Time : Saturday, 22nd November 2014 09:42

New lamps likely to slow traffic

The Bridge Company is to replace two lamp posts on the Pangbourne approach road to the toll bridge, after discovering serious corrosion at their bases.  The work will be done outside rush hours using temporary traffic lights.  No date has been announced. 

Asked why the work was not done while the bridge was closed, Bridge Company director Geoff Weir said: “Unfortunately we discovered this too late in the reconstruction project, when one of the lamp posts received a knock which revealed the corrosion.” 

Photo: a rainbow seen from the bridge yesterday.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 19th November 2014 17:29

Plan for Eastfield House demolition

(UPDATE, 24th Nov: Consultation has now started and comments must be received at SODC by 19th December.......)

In a surprise move Ross Healthcare of Heanor, Derbyshire, owner of the Eastfield House care home, has submitted an application for demolition of the existing building and for the construction of a completely new 50-bed facility on the Eastfield Lane site. 

This submission follows the approval on appeal of the previous application, after opposition by the community, a recommendation for approval by a planning officer and a refusal by the South Oxfordshire planning committee. 

The owner states that ‘Whilst demolition of the existing building may be seen as a drastic measure, it is felt that the proposed replacement maintains the contribution to the street scene and conservation area and therefore does not result in demonstrable harm.’ 

The application documents can be seen here.  The consultation period has not yet started. 

Parish chairman Harry Butterworth said today that the council had been surprised by this application and he expressed concern that the new design includes even more beds and car parking spaces than the previous design which had been rejected by the community and the planning commitee. He said the Parish Council would study the new plans carefully. 

Date/Time : Tuesday, 18th November 2014 17:46

Creative spirit at Whitchurch’s Art & Craft show

The Village Hall was transformed last weekend for the Whitchurch Society’s annual Art & Craft Exhibition. The number of entries was slightly down on last year’s record numbers but they were still very encouraging - 174 exhibits from 109 exhibitors. There was a wonderful variety of artwork, craftwork and photographs from young and old, showing a very high standard of skills from the local community. 

This year for the first time there were also two exhibits in the ‘New Media’ category which received much interest. Colourful displays of work by children at the Pre-School, the Primary School and the Oratory Prep School added to the show. 

Visitors enjoyed refreshments all day and meeting up with friends and neighbours before the prize-giving ceremony at 5pm. There was also a Tombola for extra entertainment, raising additional funds to cover the costs of staging the show. 

It was a lovely occasion – congratulations to all who helped and entered. For the full list of prize-winners, click here

Report by Sally Woolhouse.  See also the Photo Gallery.

Date/Time : Monday, 17th November 2014 20:55

MP seeks grant to keep bridge tolls down

Our MP John Howell has written to the Minister responsible for flooding to seek a grant to help compensate for the increased cost incurred during the bridge reconstruction as a result of the exceptional winter flooding. 

Grants were made available earlier in the year to help businesses and householders deal with flood damage but under the terms of those grants the bridge company was not eligible. However, now that the financial consequences of the enforced delay to the works have been made public, John has asked for government support for the company and in turn the community.  If a grant is awarded the Bridge Company would make a smaller increase in the toll. 

The letter can be read here

John is encouraging residents to make representations in response to the forthcoming consultation process so that all factors can be taken into account by the Department when assessing the application.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 11th November 2014 16:04

Centenary landscaping for War Memorial

The Remembrance Day service at the War Memorial was attended today by nearly a hundred residents of the villages above and below its site on Whitchurch hill.  Traffic stopped and the sun shone as wreaths were laid on behalf of Whitchurch, Goring Heath, South Oxfordshire and the British Legion.  From the moment the Last Post was played by trumpeter Stewart Lewin of the Pangbourne Silver Band, the gathering stood in a silence broken only by the drone of helicopters and the barking of a muntjac deer in the autumn woods, until the Reveille sounded two minutes later. 

After the service, Whitchurch Hill resident Martin Wise described a scheme of landscaping that is being considered by both parish councils to improve the setting of the memorial.  It would incorporate a display board featuring the men commemorated, whose histories have been researched recently by members of the Whitchurch & Goring Heath History Society. 

Martin’s sketch of the landscaping proposals can be seen here

There are more photographs in the gallery.

Date/Time : Sunday, 9th November 2014 14:06

Fewer drivers are using the toll bridge

The Bridge Company has applied this week to increase car tolls by 50%, from 40p to 60p, from 15th July next year.  The discount proposed for regular users is at least 25% (giving a car toll of 45p) for five years. 

The Toll Application, submitted to the Secretary of State for Transport on 5th November, shows the number of vehicle crossings each year.  For the five year period before the recent bridge closure there was a gradual reduction in bridge use, averaging 2.2% per year.  This is three times greater than the reduction assumed in the 2008 toll application. Whether the decline is just the result of drivers avoiding the bridge because of increased tolls or whether it is also due to other factors (such as more people working from home) is not explained. 

The pattern of declining bridge use is one of the reasons for the increased toll.  However, the main reason is the £6.4m cost of reconstruction, which is £2.3m more than the 2008 estimate.  Six issues causing the cost increase and the five month delay are listed in the application, the principal one being the 11 week stoppage caused by exceptional river conditions. 

Bridge Company director Geoff Weir said today that after the bridge reopened in September he expected an initial reduction in the number of crossings, as some drivers would keep to their changed routes.  Crossing numbers have already recovered to about 90% of the previous level, he said. 

There is a link to the full 37-page Toll Application on the Bridge Company's website. When the period of consultation starts, anyone will be able to make representations to the Secretary of State on the application. 

Date/Time : Saturday, 8th November 2014 17:03

The sign of The Greyhound swings again

A new pub sign appeared yesterday and a familiar feature returned to the High Street. The restoration of the sign, following wishes expressed by many residents, indicates that Punch Taverns is committed to the success of Ruan and his team at The Greyhound. 

Ruan said today that a problem he had recently with an oven is resolved and he is now serving roast Sunday lunches.

Date/Time : Thursday, 23rd October 2014 18:09

Loose dog causes concern

(UPDATED)  The behaviour of a hungry stray dog caused concern to several residents near the centre of the village this morning, before it ran off across gardens in the direction of Eastfield Lane.  PCSO Ashley Richardson attended and visited the school but was unable to find the animal, which is a male boxer cross, seen in this photograph taken by John Southey through a kitchen window.  The collar had no visible tag.   John reported that at close range the dog showed its teeth and came forward, barking aggressively.  It even trapped a neighbour in her car. 

Does anyone know the owner?  Sightings can be reported on the police non-emergency line 101, quoting reference URN 460 141014.

Update, 21st October: It turns out that the dog belongs to residents of Hardwick Stud and can be seen on page 102 of Jim Donahue’s 2012 photo book of the village. Eric Hartley, who spoke with the owner, said: “It is a rescue dog and had been missing for 30 hours, hence the hunger.  It is a harmless dog in reality and they will try to ensure it doesn’t escape again.” He has suggested they tag and chip it.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 14th October 2014 16:24

Bridge toll to be increased

The Bridge Company has announced that it needs to increase the car toll from 40 to 60 pence.  A Toll Application is being prepared for submission later this month to the Secretary of State for Transport. 

The statement does not give reasons for the increase but it is understood that the effect of delays during the reconstruction project increased the cost from £4 million to around £6 million and an increased toll income in future years is needed to pay off the resulting debt.

The present car toll of 40p is discounted to 29.4p for those pre-paying with a Toll Card.  The Bridge Company has not said what discount will apply when the toll is 60p. 

Bridge Company director Geoff Weir said today that the Toll Application document will explain in full detail the reasons why such an increase is necessary and, once it is published, it will be open to challenge through the consultation process administered by the Department for Transport.

Update, 3rd October: Reading Chronicle article here.

Date/Time : Thursday, 2nd October 2014 20:27

Bishop blesses new bridge

The Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, arrived with fellow pilgrims at the newly reopened bridge on Wednesday afternoon.  They had walked that morning from Moulsford and along the bridle path, as part of their pilgrimage from Radcot to Runnymede.  The Bishop gave a short address and then blessed the rebuilt bridge and all who will cross it.  The bridge’s central lantern was decorated for the occasion and a group of schoolchildren joined in. 

The photo, taken by Ian Bruce, shows the Bishop speaking, shepherd’s crook in hand, with Rev Claire Alcock at far left.  Claire, who says that no less than three bishops attended the event, wrote in her blog last week about the significance of bridge-building.

Update, 30th September: Nick Brazil's video of the bishop blessing the bridge can now be seen.

Date/Time : Friday, 26th September 2014 10:06

Ann Ducker has died

The Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, Ann Ducker MBE, died on 21st September aged 71, following a short illness.  Tributes from her family and from her colleagues can be read here

Update, 25th Sept: There will be a Thanksgiving Service in Dorchester Abbey at 11 am on Thursday 6th November.

Date/Time : Monday, 22nd September 2014 13:58

The MP and the Bishop in Whitchurch this week

John Howell, our Member of Parliament, will be at The Old Stables (opposite The Ferryboat) on Tuesday from 10.30 am, ready to answer questions and meet constituents. 

On the following day the Bishop of Oxford will pass through the village on a pilgrimage.  He will pause to bless the new Whitchurch Bridge at 1 pm.  The Bishop, John Pritchard, has invited everyone from across the diocese to join him on the walk, between 18 and 28 September, following the Thames Path.  Wednesday’s section is from Moulsford to Tilehurst.  It is open to all and pilgrims have been told they can dip in and out.  Read more about it here.

Date/Time : Sunday, 21st September 2014 18:49

Hundreds turn out for bridge reopening

The new bridge deck, its blackness contrasting with the shiny white girders, was densely packed this afternoon with hundreds of people of all ages who came to see the completion of a project they have been following with close interest for a year.  A De Dion Bouton car of 1902, the same age as the refurbished girders, was driven carefully towards the centre of the bridge where it broke through a white tape.  On board were Whitchurch parish councillor Nigel Grove and two Bridge Company guests.

Mike Beckley and Geoff Weir, Bridge Company directors, made speeches of thanks to the many parties who had contributed to the success of the project.  An iced cake in the form of the bridge was cut up and swiftly disappeared.  Dozens of children had come from the primary school for the experience. The press were busy photographing and interviewing. The sun came out.  Geese flew down the river.  People reminisced about the pleasures of walking across the temporary footbridge and the tranquility of Whitchurch High Street. But most people seemed very glad that the bridge has been successfully rebuilt.  At 5 pm the bridge was reopened to traffic. 

There are more photos in the gallery.

Date/Time : Friday, 19th September 2014 19:04

All set for bridge opening today

The Bridge Company has issued an invitation to local people for the bridge reopening event this afternoon, Friday 19th September.  There will be tea and cakes at 3 pm at the Pangbourne end, then at 3.30 a veteran car will be the first to cross.  The bridge will be fully open to normal traffic from 5 pm.

Yesterday Balfour Beatty were replacing railings (photo) and Thames Water had completed a final water connection on the Pangbourne embankment, repairing the road in time for the re-opening.

The Company has stated that tolls will not be charged until 11 am on Wednesday 24th September, when the discounted rate for regular users with bridge cards rises from 20p to 29.4p.  Tolls prepaid at the old rate on bridge cards will remain valid. 

Date/Time : Friday, 19th September 2014 10:58

More damage to village green seating

Someone has damaged one of the new benches on the village green again.  Parish councillor Keith Brooks would like anyone who can offer any information to contact him, or speak to Thames Valley Police on 101. 

Keith says: “We all have worked hard to make the village green a pleasant place to be but some selfish individuals seem to see it as a place to vent their frustrations.  The Parish Council will have the seat repaired and continue to ensure the green is a great place to enjoy outdoor activities.  I hope the culprits can be found and dealt with.”

Date/Time : Sunday, 14th September 2014 11:09

Bridge will re-open on Friday 19th September

The Bridge Company issued the following statement today:

“We are pleased to announce that the Bridge will re-open for road traffic at 1700 hrs on Friday 19th September.  There will be an opening ceremony at 1500 hrs to which everyone is invited.  We will have a veteran 1902 De Dion car to drive across the Bridge and cut a tape to mark the re-opening. Tea and cake will be available. We will announce more details later. 

The Bridge will re-open for pedestrians on Wednesday 17th September to allow for reinstatement of the footway and railings etc across the access points to the footbridge.  This work may continue after the reopening date and require some short term temporary footway diversions.

We will start collecting Tolls at 1100 hrs on Wednesday 24th September - until then crossings will be free.”

Good progress has been made on the project in recent weeks.  Yesterday the second of three layers of surfacing was laid on the road surface of the bridge, the third layer being scheduled for Monday 15th. 

Nick Brazil yesterday published a new video “A Bridge is Reborn” which shows the whole 12 month project compressed into 3 minutes.  He says this is a taster for the 40 minute documentary on the project that he expects to complete later in the year. 

Balfour Beatty’s project manager Bernie van Hoek said yesterday that his company had agreed to help the Adventure Dolphin Centre by donating and installing a new facility at the river bank to help disabled youngsters get on and off boats.

Date/Time : Friday, 12th September 2014 14:20

Hedgehog project needs more data

Ecologists at the University of Reading would like to hear from anyone who finds a road-killed hedgehog.  They will come and collect the remains for testing.  They are continuing to examine the impact of roads on hedgehogs, numbers of which have declined by a fifth in the last 20 years. 

They are also looking for help from people who have hedgehogs visiting their gardens, who will be asked to put out food for a few nights.  A researcher will then visit to collect the resulting nearby poo for analysis. 

If anyone can help, Ben Williams hopes to hear from them.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 10th September 2014 15:50

142 bus service to end but 143 to replace it

Thames Travel has announced a new timetable for the 142 bus service through Whitchurch, starting on 29th September. This shows that a two-hourly service will continue for Whitchurch and Whitchurch Hill, renamed the 143.  However the 142 service to Cray’s Pond, Woodcote, Checkendon and Goring Heath will end.

No confirmation has been received yet from Oxfordshire about the new 143 service, following their emailed consultation to parish councils at the end of July about reducing the 142 service.  However the bus operator Thames Travel has published the details.

Update, 10th Sept: West Berks Council has confirmed that Oxfordshire is funding the part of the 143 route that lies in Oxfordshire.  That is the loop from Pangbourne northwards to Whitchurch and Whitchurch Hill and then back to Pangbourne.

The photo shows passengers waiting to board a 142 bus in Whitchurch during winter 2010.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 9th September 2014 15:58

A great fete — the Pre-School says thank-you

Large numbers came to the Village Green on Saturday afternoon and enjoyed a huge range of stalls and activities. The fund-raising fete was organised by a committee of parents of Whitchurch Pre-School. 

On behalf of the Pre-School, Fi Acworth says: “Thank you to all who came to the Whitchurch Village Fete on Saturday 30th August. It was lovely to see all ages from across the community coming together to enjoy this annual event. 

The village green was the perfect location to host a great collection of stalls and local societies. We hope you had a chance to wander and enjoy them while being entertained by the fabulous Beenham Wind Orchestra, whose music created a party atmosphere on a late Summer's afternoon. The kids' rides went down a storm and who can forget the dog show, which drew a huge crowd and plenty of memorable moments. 

A big 'thank you' to our sponsors who consistently support this event. BP technology centre for the Grand Draw, Warmingham, Richard Wilson Long Solicitors and Valley Veterinary Group. We would also like to thank Whitchurch Parish Council and Whitchurch Cricket Club for their continuing support and the use of the Village Green and cricket club facilities. Thank you also to the Village Hall and Old Stables for the hire of tables and chairs. 

Graham Dednum from The Ferryboat made a wonderful MC – thank you for donating your time and terrific sense of humour! Thanks also to John Gray and Ian Barter for their expertise on the PA/sound system. 

The fete is organised by the volunteer parent committee of Whitchurch Pre-School, a charity for whom the fete is the main fundraising event of the year. So, thank you to all the parents and friends of Whitchurch Pre-School who helped with the running of the day, thus creating a significant contribution to pre-school funds.”

Date/Time : Wednesday, 3rd September 2014 15:37

Demolished Polish chapel marked by flowers

Anna Szczeponek of Manor Road is the only surviving member of the refugee community that came to live in Whitchurch at the end of the war.  She says there were about 48 families here, mostly from Poland. The Coombe Park Camp consisted of Nissen huts and concrete ‘prefabs’ that had housed Canadian pilots during the war.  These were gradually rebuilt and developed over the years to become today’s Manor Road. 

Behind the row of houses at the upper end of Manor Road is the site of the Polish chapel, a focal point of the Catholic community. As the refugee families grew up and moved on, some returning to Poland, it was less often used and finally deconsecrated.  Eventually it became derelict. The photograph above shows it earlier this year, almost lost under the creepers and in danger of collapse.  This summer the building was demolished and petunias are now flowering where it stood. 

Anna has agreed to share some of her photographs of life in the community.  The History Society held a meeting about Whitchurch’s Polish community earlier this year and there are plans for an article to record Anna’s many local memories.

Date/Time : Monday, 1st September 2014 18:16

Bridge to open on 26th September

The Bridge Company said today that the most likely opening date is Friday 26th September.  But if the remaining work makes good progress the bridge might open earlier. See the bridge website for more.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 26th August 2014 18:21

Fallen oak to provide picnic table for Maze

Tim Sheldon of Hardwick Estate was yesterday cutting up a large oak tree to create a picnic table for the Maze. The tree, one of a pair in the field beside Eastfield Lane, crashed to the ground in a storm last October.  Tim volunteered his time and skill to cut a cross-section for a table that will be in harmony with its surroundings.  Jim Donahue, who took the photo, says the next challenge will be moving it to the Maze before the Apple Day event on 19th October.  Path Hill Outdoors has volunteered to make some stools to go with the table.

Date/Time : Monday, 25th August 2014 16:00

Bridge opening date still unclear

Many people have been wanting to know exactly when the bridge will re-open, some of them wishing to plan their children’s transport to and from school for the new term.  The Bridge Company has been trying to establish an opening date in advance but the principal remaining work is the installation of services involving three utility companies.  These are not subcontractors of the main contractor Balfour Beatty and are less predictable in their programming. 

BT Openreach has telephone and fibreoptic lines to install, Thames Water has a pipeline to complete, and SSE has to run electricity cables of two different voltages through the bridge.  The three companies are working mainly in the confined areas on the embankments at each end of the bridge, placing services in trenches.  On the bridge itself, some services are to be laid in ducts placed under the footpath while others are accommodated deeper within the structure. 

Bridge Company director Geoff Weir said today that, while he can currently say only that the opening will be some time in September, he hopes to announce a date by the middle of next week.

Date/Time : Friday, 22nd August 2014 15:36

Vandals cause damage to village property

The turf of the cricket pitch on the village green has been damaged by vandals. The police have been informed.  Jon Steward, who looks after the pitch, spent a whole day this week trying to repair two holes and restore an area where words had been cut into the turf.  He said: “The pitch, which takes me all season to get ready for five or six matches, has lost a lot of its life due to the fact that they damaged the roots of the grass.  This damage will take the whole winter and part of next season to fix.  It is difficult to grow grass on a rock-hard surface and takes months of preparation which these vandals have made pointless.” 

The village green had already suffered damage in June when one of its new seats was broken and had to be repaired. 

Nearby, the Maze information panel has been damaged.  The perspex cover was hit and cracked around 12th August.  Parish councillor Keith Brooks said that the Parish Council has ordered a replacement. 

A further example of irresponsible behaviour occurred a week ago when according to a report in 'The Herald' on 15th August: “Police received reports of string tied across two bridleways, at the neck-height of cyclists, in Goring and Whitchurch.  Two cyclists have reported the suspicious string.  Neither were injured but officers have warned those on bikes to be beware of similar traps.’ " 

If you can offer the police information on any of the above please contact them by phoning 101. 

Date/Time : Friday, 22nd August 2014 15:30

Local concessions not favoured by Bridge Company

Village resident Graham Morfey this week submitted a request to the Bridge Company for a toll concession to be given to all Whitchurch residents and to those Pangbourne residents who have regular business in Whitchurch because of school or employment.  He said that the 50% toll card increase which takes effect when the bridge re-opens would result in particular hardship for these groups of people, who have no practical way of avoiding it, unlike those who live further away.  Any subsequent toll increase to cover the costs of construction delays will increase the hardship.  He asked the Bridge Company to agree a policy of local concessions with the Parish Council before submitting their next application for a toll increase. 

Bridge Company director Geoff Weir replied: “I am afraid there is no prospect whatever of the Company reinstating a concession based on geographical criteria of place of residence or place of employment etc.  We aim to treat all our users equally. We need a certain level of income, and a concession for one group means higher Tolls for another group. In our view it is clearly not fair or justifiable, for example, to offer cheaper Tolls for Whitchurch residents (who are a significant proportion of our users) which need to be subsidised by more expensive Tolls for Whitchurch Hill etc residents.  Such an arrangement would of course please Whitchurch residents, but we would expect protests from residents of Goring Heath, Woodcote etc.  However, if and when we do submit a Toll Application we will commit to offering a Bridge Card Toll which will never exceed 75% of the regulated Toll, thus extending the Undertaking we gave at the 2009 Public Inquiry.”  

Mr Weir confirmed that the business plan included with the toll application, which will probably be submitted in late September or early October, would include “financial provision for improving the Pangbourne approach road (wider road and pavement, railing repairs, etc) and improving the pedestrian crossing near the Toll Booth, either by lowering kerbs (like outside the surgery) or widening the speed bump at kerb level.”  He said the Bridge Company would be happy to discuss these plans with Whitchurch Parish Council before they are finalised. 

He commented: “The best thing the Company can do for all Bridge users is to continue to manage its operations efficiently and cost effectively and thus keep the Tolls as low as possible for everyone.  It is unfortunate that there have been delays to the Bridge works: these have significantly increased our costs and these will have to be paid for, over time, by Bridge users.  We have taken steps to spread the repayment of debt so as to minimise the short term cash requirement: details will be in our Toll Application when we submit it.” 

The picture above shows the toll bridge early in the 20th century.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 6th August 2014 17:13

New bridge approaches the finishing line

Recent fine weather and normal flows in the Thames have allowed good progress to be made on the bridge rebuild.  The last two major concrete pours to complete the deck will be done this week, a spokesman for the project manager OCC said today. It is thought likely that the bridge will re-open in the first week of September. 

Among the many tasks to be completed before re-opening is the diversion of three services back into ducts within the bridge.  Thames Water will install a pipeline; Openreach has telephone lines and fibre optic cables to lay; and SSE will run 11kV and 33 kV cables in separate ducts on opposite sides of the bridge.  No duct is needed for a gas main as an independent gas pipeline was built two years ago. 

Work started today on improvements at the toll booth.  They include quicker-acting barriers and a new bridge card reader which can read cards at a longer range.  These changes are expected to help reduce traffic queues. 

On re-opening, the cash toll will remain at 40p.  New top-ups for the bridge card will rise from 20p to 29.4p (34 crossings for £10).  Bridge Company director Geoff Weir said that a decision on whether to submit an application for a new toll will be taken in September and if an application is made it is likely to be a year before the toll changes.

Date/Time : Monday, 4th August 2014 14:35

Swanston Field gets lighting upgrade - Manor Road next

This week Oxfordshire County Council installed new street lighting around Swanston Field, following the High Street upgrading work reported here a month ago.  The new lamps are said to be more energy-efficient and to dim at midnight. 

As Alan Cockbill of OCC explained when the plan was drawn up: 

“Some older lighting units in Whitchurch are due to be renewed: Swanston Field and its footpath (Units 1 to 5 and SFP2).  In the main it is intended that all the new lamp columns will be installed in the back of the footway, as current good practice, where they are generally less prone to impact damage and less obstructive to footway width and to car doors being opened.  Some minor lateral repositioning will be offered for Units 2, 3 & 4 in Swanston Field to marginally improve clearance and appearance at premises/driveway, etc.  The lights will be our typical modern simple pale green post and hooded lantern as has been installed in other locations in the village.” 

Chris Marks of OCC says that three units in Manor Road are also being upgraded.

The photos show the old design on the left and the new one on the right.

Date/Time : Sunday, 3rd August 2014 15:28

Smartwater, the burglary deterrent, is coming

There has been a rash of thefts recently, many from garden sheds and garages, and the Police often find it difficult to match recovered goods with owners.  Now the Smartwater security scheme, which has proved popular in Henley and elsewhere, is being offered by Thames Valley Police to all householders in Whitchurch.  Possessions are marked invisibly using a special liquid that contains a code unique to each house.  When stolen goods are recovered the police can read the code using special equipment and then refer to a national register to identify the owner. 

Laptops, tablets, phones, TVs, cameras, jewellery, mowers, garden tools, power tools, golf clubs, fishing tackle, bikes, motorbikes, cars, etc (even sheets of lead on the roof) can all be marked.   If your possessions are lost or stolen while away from your house they are still covered by the scheme. 

Smartwater comes in a small tube and carries fine particles in suspension.  Remarkably, each particle carries the registered code number. The tube contains enough liquid to mark up to 50 items.  The price of a tube will be offered at a police-sponsored price of £10 (discounted from £70).  This includes warning stickers for display on windows and small ones for smartphones and laptops. 

Thames Valley Police say that if 80% of the houses in Whitchurch sign up to Smartwater they will supply street signs at the village entrances to inform would-be thieves.  The police say that these signs have a good deterrent effect as the code makes it easy to prove that goods have been stolen. 

The scheme was discussed at a Parish Council meeting on 8th July and it was agreed that all residents should be encouraged to take up the offer.  The scheme is due to be rolled out from next week and our local policeman, PCSO Mark Bell, is planning to visit many of the houses in the village.  Mark is shown holding a Smartwater kit in the picture above, so you will be able to recognise him.  If you don’t want to wait for a visit from Mark you can respond using a form that will be delivered to all houses.

Date/Time : Saturday, 26th July 2014 12:01

Bridge girders all back in position

The last of the white lattice girders, which have been given a facelift in Great Yarmouth to prepare them for their next century spanning the Thames, was hoisted into position yesterday.  The ancient but refreshed iron girders are now strapped to the sides of a new, much stronger, steel structure and will no longer have the job of supporting the bridge.  The big blue crane, by now a familiar sight to bridge watchers, has now performed its last hoisting duty, said Bridge Company director Geoff Weir, and it will be departing the site along with its jack-up barge. 

The first concrete is scheduled to be poured in the bridge deck next week. The date of re-opening the bridge to traffic remains sometime in September.

Photo by Geoff Weir

Date/Time : Thursday, 10th July 2014 17:23

Pavilion meeting this Thursday at 8 pm

This is a reminder for those who want to have a say on the village’s exciting new project to replace the old cricket pavilion.  And for those who want to know what is proposed and how the estimated £150,000 will be raised.  All village residents are invited to the Village Hall on Thursday 10th July at 8 pm to hear about the plans. 

This week’s Henley Standard (page 7) carries an article on the project in which parish councillor Harvey Ainley, who is leading the project, explains: “To say the current facilities are dilapidated would be an understatement.  We have spoken provisionally to several contractors and have a draft outline of a scheme but it’s at a very early stage.  The next step is to consult the community and find out what people want.  It is very important that we get feedback before committing to a planning application.” 

The full article can be read here.  Grants are expected to be available from South Oxfordshire District Council and from Sport England.  The sum of £15,000 has already been raised in private donations and more sponsors are being sought. 

The picture above shows a typical timber pavilion design.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 8th July 2014 11:52

The day Prince Harry came to the Ferryboat

This week’s episode of "I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’" featured the Ferryboat pub as the location where a lookalike Prince Harry meets five American girls competing for his affections.  The series is being shown on Wednesdays on ITV2.  ‘Prince Harry’ is seen arriving at the pub with his bodyguards, followed by a red London bus bringing the girls.  Their dinner in the pub is interrupted by paparazzi. 

The sequence can be found on itvPlayer here, and starts 21½ minutes into Episode 6 of Series 1. (Ignore any putting-off message and click on the programme of 2nd July.)

Englefield House was where the cast and crew stayed and did much of the series filming - see MailOnline story.

Thanks to Laura Lucas for this item.

Date/Time : Sunday, 6th July 2014 18:56

New seat on Village Green damaged

Last year several public seats were installed around the Village Green, paid for by generous sponsors in the village.  Now one of them has been damaged in what appears to be an act of vandalism.  The backrest has been split in two. 

Parish chairman Harry Butterworth has arranged for a carpenter to make a repair but he would like anyone who has information on how the damage occurred to let him know.   

Date/Time : Wednesday, 2nd July 2014 17:57

Sign of the Greyhound to swing again (UPDATED)

The picture, by Nick Brazil, shows Greyhound chef James bringing refreshments to the team from Punch who were installing a new post to support the pub sign this week.  Meanwhile, publican Ruan’s telephone problems have not gone away.  He says the phone company has yet again failed to make the connection on the date they promised.  So the pub still has no card payment facility and no internet connection.  His means of communicating is by mobile.  But mobile reception is so poor in the centre of the village that he has to go some distance from the pub to make a call.

Meanwhile cash-carrying village residents are continuing to enjoy the food and drink at the pub.

Update, 7th July: the phone has been connected and payment cards can be used.  

Date/Time : Saturday, 28th June 2014 12:31

Upgrade for street lighting

New lamps, of greater elegance and efficiency, have gradually been appearing in the High Street.  The photo shows parish councillor Keith Brooks with Chris Marks, OCC street lighting electrical inspector, under the fourth such new lamp, which was installed opposite the entrance to The Old Rectory this week.  Improvement of street furniture in the High Street was one of the actions agreed in the Village Plan of 2009 and replacement lamps have already been installed near the Toll Booth, at the Manor Road junction and opposite The Greyhound.  Keith says that the next to be replaced will be the one near The Old Stables and he hopes that all the old lamps in the High Street will eventually be replaced.  Where necessary the lamps are being repositioned.  Funding for the work has come partly from parish funds and partly from the OCC Community Fund. 

Photo enlarged here.

Date/Time : Saturday, 28th June 2014 11:45

Pavilion project – come to the meeting on 10th July

There will be an informal public meeting in the Village Hall at 8 pm on Thursday 10th July to discuss the proposal for a new pavilion to be built on the Village Green.  All are welcome to come and hear from members of the Village Green committee about this important village development.  This is an opportunity to comment on the proposal. 

Harvey Ainley, chairman of the Village Green committee, outlines the plan: 

“As you will be aware, the Parish Council acquired the Village Green in 2012 and since then there have been some small developments with the addition of goal posts for a junior football pitch as well as planting trees and locating some benches thanks to some generous local donations. There has always been a longer term ambition to replace the current cricket pavilion and tea room, which is now dilapidated and no longer fit for purpose, with a single combined building. 

The intention is that this new “pavilion” will serve the wider community with modern changing facilities for use by the local football team as well as the cricket team and also any other sporting groups or clubs that may be interested. 

Funding for the new facility is likely to come from three sources being a combination of Sport England, SODC Community Grant and private donations. 

In order to qualify for Sport England and SODC funding it will be necessary to meet four key criteria being:

  • Need and demand
  • Delivery

  • Partnerships

  • Sustainability

Local consultation is also important to identify what interests the local community may have and to take feedback on the proposal so that this can be worked into the final scheme. 

To that end there will be a meeting in the Village Hall from 8-9pm on Thursday 10th July to which any one is welcome. This is intended to be an informal gathering to solicit feedback and share views and is being hosted by the Village Green committee so feel free to come along at any time. 

If anyone has any feedback that they would like to pass on but cannot make the meeting on 10th July then please do so to any member of the Village Green committee as soon as you are able. This would include new groups who might be interested in using the proposed replacement. 

It is intended to make the applications for funding in 2015 so while this is a little way off it will be necessary to obtain planning permission beforehand which is why it is important to obtain feedback now. 

Several pledges of support have already been made by local members of the village and from the cricket club and the Village Green committee would be grateful to receive any further pledges – the more money that can be raised locally the greater the chances of success for the Sport England and SODC funding.”  

The picture above shows one possible design for a pavilion.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 25th June 2014 08:25

Bridge beams reconnect us with Berkshire

Another milestone for the bridge project was achieved today when the final pair of heavy rust-coloured beams was hoisted into position, completing the arc of steel which now reconnects the banks of the river. 

Bridge company director Geoff Weir said that the historic lattice girders would be returning from Great Yarmouth next week and would be lifted on to temporary supports which are now being built. The concreting of the deck is then expected to be done in a single day, working from both ends. 

The bridge is expected to reopen in September.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 24th June 2014 09:39

Punch appeals for return of Greyhound pub sign

As reported here two days ago, the owners of the Greyhound, Punch Taverns, said in response to an enquiry from parish councillor Laura Lucas that they have no knowledge of where the missing sign is.  They now think that someone, believing that the pub was going to close down, may have taken it away as a souvenir. 

Punch Taverns has called for the return of their sign.  They say that whoever has it will be allowed to return it anonymously.  They also say that they would far prefer this to occur than to have to refer the matter to the police. 

Regarding the future of the pub, Partnership Development Manager Richard Pask of Punch Taverns said yesterday: ‘It is not pre-determined that the site will be sold as residential and it is in our best interests to ensure the site trades well - this will potentially push back the sale and/or ensure the site retains as a pub.  Any local support to ensure the trade is grown would be greatly appreciated.’ 

(Editor's note:  the photo shows the pub sign of several years ago and may be different from the one that has gone missing.)

Date/Time : Friday, 20th June 2014 10:24

The first Goring & Streatley Festival starts next week

A festival of 46 events spread over 10 days is being held in Goring and Streatley from 27th June to 6th July.  This is the first of what is intended to be an annual cultural festival and it is on an ambitious scale, including jazz, art, drama, poetry, printmaking, opera, dancing, drums, tai chi, pop/rock, dance, theatre, singing, circus skills, classical music, tango, origami, bell ringing, organ recital and a book quiz. The day-by-day programme can be seen here.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 18th June 2014 16:14

Publican frustrated by phone company (updated)

Ruan Keegan, who has taken over as tenant of the Greyhound, says his business is being affected by the absence of a phone line, which is needed for card payment.  He is disappointed at the performance of the phone company TalkTalk which has several times promised dates to make the connection and let him down each time.  He applied in mid-May, shortly before taking over the pub from Bob and Carole North, and was promised a line on 4th June, and now expects it on the 24th.  He says he has lost count of the hours he has spent on his mobile to call centres, trying to get things moving.  Meanwhile, some groups who wanted a meal at the Greyhound have had to go elsewhere when he has explained that he can take cash but not cards. 

Ruan wants the community to know that in spite of this temporary difficulty he’s getting the business going and hopes they will be tempted to come along for Pie night (Tuesdays), Curry night (Wednesdays) or the Pub Quiz (alternate Thursdays).

He said that a Punch Taverns representative has visited recently to talk about the missing pub sign, after the issue was raised by parish councillor Laura Lucas recently. 

Update, 18 June:  Richard Pask, Partnership Development Manager of Punch Taverns, replied to Laura today: 'We at Punch Taverns were not aware that the sign had been removed, currently we are investigating the location of the sign to investigate costs to see if it is viable to replace.' 

Date/Time : Tuesday, 17th June 2014 17:09

New bridge now heading for Berkshire

In contrast to the slow progress in the early months of the project and the complete halt while the Thames was in flood, construction work has now visibly speeded up.  In recent days steelwork subcontractor Mabey Bridge of Chepstow has erected six new bridge beams across the span nearest to Whitchurch, together with two of the six needed for the next span heading towards the Pangbourne bank.  The other four were today on a pontoon nearby, ready to be hoisted into position. 

The upper parts of the beams will be encased in concrete, to be poured on to lightweight panels resting on the lower flanges.  Hundreds of bolts protruding from the beams are there to ensure a good connection between the steel and the concrete. 

Some people have asked whether it is to be a two-tone bridge, as the new steel trusses at the piers seem to be cream coloured and to contrast with the white-painted capitals on the old piers.  Bridge Director Geoff Weir said that the colour issue is under discussion but the whole bridge will be in the same white colour eventually. 

Geoff confirmed that September is still the expected completion date. 

There are links to Nick Brazil’s latest videos of the project on the Toll Bridge Reconstruction page – see Menu at left. 

Date/Time : Tuesday, 17th June 2014 16:54

Greyhound’s sign has gone missing

People have been asking where the sign outside the Greyhound has gone – the village doesn’t seem quite the same without the traditional sign of the hound swinging in the breeze in its frame on a white post.  The painted sign, its frame and the supporting post disappeared from the forecourt of the pub a few weeks ago. 

Last week, parish chairman Harry Butterworth contacted the marketing agents for the pub, Drake & Company of Picadilly.  Mr Warren Drake said that he was unaware of any missing sign at the Greyhound but he would ask his client, Punch Taverns.  He also said that the pub had not been sold and that they were now undertaking a re-marketing exercise. 

Today he informed Harry: “I have now heard from our clients who have confirmed that the sign was removed for safety reasons and they are not intending to replace this in the short term bearing in mind the pub is currently for sale.”

The safety aspect is not fully clear but Nick Brazil believes the timber post was rotten and could have fallen on someone.  Harry has asked the agents to ensure that the sign, clearly shown on their brochure for the property, is kept safely for reinstatement if, as the village hopes, the property is sold as a public house or if Punch is persuaded to withdraw the pub from the market and the current tenants remain in place. 

The photo above, taken some years ago, shows the sign.

Date/Time : Monday, 9th June 2014 16:07

New tenants at The Greyhound

Last week, the village welcomed Ruan and Shea Keegan as they took over the tenancy at The Greyhound. With over 75 years in the business between them, the brothers are well-qualified to run this traditional pub at the heart of the village.

The pub now serves a selection of classic British dishes and will hold regular events such as curry nights and pub quizzes. Please check the What’s On section of this website or keep an eye on the blackboards outside The Greyhound. Sunday roasts are available from 12.30-3pm and are already proving popular. Whilst waiting for their freshly prepared, home-cooked meals, customers can continue to enjoy the award-winning Black Sheep bitter or the current guest ale, Doom Bar, the no. 1 selling cask beer in the UK.

Ruan and Shea would like to thank their valuable customers for their patience and support whilst they are settling in, and apologise that they can currently only accept cash payments until the phoneline for the card reader is installed – expected to be 4th June. Any feedback during this adjustment period would be very welcome.

Date/Time : Sunday, 1st June 2014 09:18

Night time working on bridge finished

The two piles for the northernmost pier have been successfully constructed in two nights of occupation of the navigation channel and no more night working is needed for now. 

Bridge Company Director Geoff Weir said that there would be one further night of working later in the year, to allow the bridge steelwork to be placed over the navigation channel. 

He said there was some good news for the project as hard chalk suitable for the base of the piles had been encountered at 21 metres, a lesser depth than the 30 metres allowed for. 

The photo shows the overhead concrete delivery pipeline reaching out from the Whitchurch bank today.  When it comes to concreting the central river pier, an even more far-reaching concrete delivery truck is expected to be used, working from the Pangbourne bank.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 21st May 2014 18:17

Reading Councillor suggests more toll bridges

Whitchurch residents, long familiar with the realities of a toll bridge, may be surprised to hear that Reading’s strategic planning chief Tony Page has raised the possibility of charging tolls on a proposed third bridge across the Thames. He says this would help to manage the traffic flow on the bridge and prevent it becoming a rat-run between the M4 and the M40. 

The idea of a third bridge at Reading, consistently opposed by councils in Oxfordshire for several decades, was given new life recently when traffic congestion developed in Reading after the road at Sonning bridge was closed by flood damage while Whitchurch bridge was also closed. 

Councillor Page said he appreciated that a toll would displace traffic on to the other Reading bridges.  It was possible that tolls might have to be introduced on all three bridges.  But Reading borough residents would be exempt from tolls, he said, which would only be paid by those outside the area. 

Thanks to Laura Lucas for drawing attention to this story - more information here.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 20th May 2014 16:20

Night time working at the bridge next week

Yesterday Balfour Beatty concreted the first of the three piles at the Pangbourne end of the bridge, a milestone event as it is the first element of the new bridge to be constructed on site.   A spokesman for the contractor said that next week the jack-up barge will be moved to the navigation channel in order to construct piles at the piers there.  This will block the channel to boats and therefore the work will be done at night.  Leaflets explaining this will be delivered to houses in both villages tomorrow.  The method of piling is by the relatively quiet process of augering rather than hammering. 

Work continued today on a second test drill hole, in mid channel beneath the barge.  This will help to decide the depth of the piles in the river, which are currently expected to extend 30 metres below river level.

The picture shows the concrete pump with ‘elephant trunk’ on the Pangbourne side of the bridge.   Another pump is expected to be delivered shortly and used next week on the Whitchurch side.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 14th May 2014 11:10

Bridge piling work stops – chalk ‘softer than expected’

Piling activity on the river has ground to a halt after encountering problems.  Bridge Company Director Geoff Weir said today that at the southern abutment water had been leaking beneath the temporary steel casing of the first pile, making the excavated chalk too soft to remove by auger.  The contractor had then moved the piling rig on to the jack-up barge to work on the first of the deeper piles in the river.  Here, after augering down about 10 metres, the quality of the chalk was found to be weaker than expected.  In both cases longer casings are expected to be needed to provide the right conditions for construction of the full length piles. Exploratory boreholes will now be drilled at each location to test the ground conditions and this is expected to be done in the next two days. 

Geoff Weir said that these were minor setbacks and they would not affect the scheduled date of September for re-opening.  The project’s geotechnical consultants Atkins said that problems of this type are not uncommon in piling work and it is not yet clear whether the conditions encountered are different from those predicted on the basis of the 2008 site investigations. 

Today’s newspapers make bad reading for the contractor Balfour Beatty.  The company’s chief executive Andy McNaughton issued a third profit warning and resigned yesterday.  The share value of the company dropped by a fifth.  However, it is a large company and the effect on the Whitchurch bridge project is unlikely to be significant.  Staff of Balfour Beatty will be at the Dolphin Centre exhibition tomorrow to answer questions on the project. 

Some Whitchurch residents have been wondering where banging noises heard in recent nights are coming from.  The source seems to be Network Rail’s electrification project which requires overnight working and involves installing piles to support the overhead power system.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 7th May 2014 16:39

Water problem in Pangbourne but not Whitchurch

Some Whitchurch residents have been asking about the water warning that went out today to many households in the RG8 postcode in Pangbourne and Streatley and also in Moulsford.  BBC Berkshire reported this morning that after a strange odour had been experienced by some customers Thames Water had issued a 'Do not drink' notice and bottled water was being handed out.  The company said that the source of the odour was a newly-repaired water pipe and they were now flushing it. 

Fortunately, Whitchurch is currently not connected to the Berkshire water supply, thanks to the absence of the toll bridge, and the warning does not apply to us.  Bridge Company Secretary Geoff Weir said that the temporary footbridge does not carry any water pipes.  However, the new bridge will contain ducts so that Thames Water can supply water to Whitchurch from Tilehurst in the future.  This would be a return to the time when our supply used to come across from Berkshire, before a burst pipe under the Pangbourne approach road some years ago led to a change.  Since that time our water supply has been from Whitchurch Hill. 

Thames Water has a statement on the situation here.   

Date/Time : Friday, 2nd May 2014 15:00

Bridge sees more action - exhibition on Thursday

A forest of crane jibs, barge legs and a piling rig now rises from the river and the contractor’s concentration on the reconstruction project is apparent.  Contractor Balfour Beatty is staging an exhibition at the Adventure Dolphin Centre next Thursday 8th May between 12 noon and 7 pm, to which all local residents are invited.  Personnel from the project team will be there to answer questions.  A second issue of Balfour Beatty’s monthly Newsletter has been delivered to many households in Pangbourne and Whitchurch this week. 

While it is clear that the unusually high river flows in January to March of this year caused most of the extension of five months to what was originally a six-and-a-half month project, many people remain puzzled about the faltering start to the project after they had been stopped from driving across the bridge in early October.  Whitchurch resident Stephen Trinder has written to the chairman of Balfour Beatty asking for an explanation on behalf of the many regular bridge users, inconvenienced every day, who observed the lack of progress on the site in the early months with incredulity. 

Site manager Bernie van Hoek said yesterday that he remained confident that the project would be completed by the currently scheduled date of September.  But he said he was surprised to find that the Environment Agency had re-imposed ‘red board’ status on the river last Sunday, after heavy rain, which meant that river work would not be able to re-start on the following day.  In the event the Agency cancelled its ‘red-board’ status on Monday morning and work was able to resume. 

Bridge Company Secretary Geoff Weir said today that he understood that work on the three piles at the Pangbourne end of the bridge this week had encountered unexpectedly wet ground conditions, which meant that longer steel casings would need to be obtained.  So the piling rig has been transferred to the jack-up barge in mid-river, where it can start auger drilling for the two 30-metre-long concrete piles at each river pier.  He confirmed that, away from the site, work had continued throughout the long Easter holiday weekend on the refurbishment of the main lattice girders in Great Yarmouth, an operation which is on the critical path of the project schedule.  

Information on the reconstruction project is regularly updated on the Bridge Company’s website.  

The photo shows work today on securing a 'spill tray' to collect the chalk material brought up by the auger.  The auger can be seen on the piling rig behind.

Date/Time : Thursday, 1st May 2014 16:38

Rescue practice at Mapledurham on Saturday

(Link to pictures added) The Environment Agency will be holding an emergency river and weir rescue exercise at Mapledurham Weir on Saturday 26th April.  It will involve the Fire Service, the Police and a Royal Air Force helicopter.  The exercise has been prompted by a recent incident and involves rescuing people from various positions above and below the weir.  Access on foot to the lock area will be restricted between 10 am and 4 pm.  The helicopter is expected to be in action at some time between 1 and 2 pm.

Update, 3 May 2014:  Pictures of the rescue exercise here.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 17:11

Remembering Sheila Hill of Hillside

Sheila, seen here with Jane Yamamoto at a recent village fete, arrived in Whitchurch from Worcestershire in 1974. She died on 26th March this year, a few weeks short of her 90th birthday, the oldest resident in both senses of Hillside in Hardwick Road. Though she loved the peace and quiet of Hillside she was always active in the village: arranging the church flowers, as well as the flowers at Basildon Park, delivering the parish magazine, setting up the local NSPCC branch, supporting other charities and local societies, and keeping in touch with many friends and neighbours over the years. Many thought of her as the heart and soul of Hillside and she will be much missed.

Until four days before she died Sheila took a daily walk, usually down to the cricket field, latterly using two sticks made by Peter Woolhouse, and accompanied by her cat Oscar.*  She was a nature lover and particularly enjoyed watching the beech trees come into leaf.  The River Thames and Hardwick, with their ‘Wind in the Willows’ connections, were both favourites of hers.

There will be a Service of Thanksgiving at St Mary’s Church, Whitchurch, at 2pm on Friday 9th May. All are welcome to attend. 

Sheila's daughter Sarah, who lives in Kintbury, and Jim Donahue jointly contributed this appreciation.

*Oscar has arranged to stay in Hillside by joining the Donahue household.

Date/Time : Thursday, 17th April 2014 18:16

Extra bridge cost estimate £1.2 million

At yesterday’s Annual Parish Assembly, Bridge Company Director and Company Secretary Geoff Weir read a statement about the way the company had approached the reconstruction project and then answered questions from Whitchurch residents about the severe delays to construction and on the decision to start work in the autumn rather than the spring. 

Mr Weir said that the cost of the project had increased from £4.4m to £5.6m, mainly as a result of the exceptional river conditions this winter and that this had inevitably brought nearer the need for an application for a toll increase.  Mr Weir said that the company would be reviewing the need for an increase next September.  If one is needed, an application would be made in October, probably followed by a public inquiry.  Last time the process took about a year, so tolls are not likely to rise before the autumn of 2015.  He also said that whenever the next application is submitted the company intends to give an undertaking that the discounted toll for regular users will not exceed 75% of the full toll. 

One resident demanded compensation for users, in the form of free crossings of the bridge for a period equal to the delay in construction.  Mr Weir said that there was no legal basis for such compensation and a reduced toll revenue would lead to the need for a greater, or earlier, toll increase than otherwise. 

Another resident criticised the acceptance by the company of the Environment Agency’s requirement that the work should be done during the winter, saying that the inconvenience to holiday makers on the river would have been small compared to the major disruption caused to bridge users by the delay.  Mr Weir said that the flood statistics had been examined in detail by their consultants but they had been unable to influence the Agency’s decision. 

The Bridge Company's statement can be read here

Date/Time : Wednesday, 9th April 2014 12:11

Colourful cranes come to the aid of the bridge

There has been a flurry of construction activity down by the river.  Last week a bright blue 120-tonne crawler crane arrived from Ireland on several low-loaders and was put together with the help of a more modestly sized yellow mobile crane.  Then a second fleet of low-loaders arrived, passing under the railway bridge by the narrowest of margins, carrying the components of a jack-up platform.  Equipped with four legs, this is bigger and more stable than the floating pontoon used by the red 50-tonne crane which has done all the work so far.  The blue crane assembled its own platform in the river and at 4.30 this afternoon the massive machine crawled gingerly on to it, rocking as it crossed the gap between land and water. 

The reason for changing to a crane with greater capacity and longer reach, explained Bridge Company Secretary Geoff Weir, is the difficulty in reaching the northern end of the bridge from the river and the requirement that the navigation channel now has to be kept clear for boat traffic. 

More action is expected tomorrow, according to contractor Balfour Beatty, when the platform will be set up near the Whitchurch bank and the new crane will remove the northernmost pair of white girders. The final pair of girders are expected to be removed on Friday.

A start was made today on removing the first pier capital by oxy-acetylene cutting.  Some of the capitals have cracks, first noted during the Second World War after tanks crossed the bridge, which have been repaired and monitored in recent years.  The six capitals are to be refurbished in Coventry and then returned to their present positions where they will have a solely decorative role.

Update, 8th April:  All of the girders have been removed from the bridge and their temporary bracing has been taken down.  Watch Nick Brazil's latest videos here and here.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 2nd April 2014 19:11

Youths muck in on Whitchurch projects

An enthusiastic team of teenagers from Path Hill Outdoors finished their fourth session of community work here on Friday.  Laura Lucas, a volunteer with the organisation, had suggested that as a part of their educational programme they might be able to make a useful contribution in the village.  The photo, left, shows some of them – more photos in the gallery. 

Sally Woolhouse reports:  ‘They offered to do some practical jobs that would benefit our green public spaces and we gratefully took up the chance of some young manpower!  John Southey and I agreed a list of suitable tasks with Charlie Collins, their Group Programme manager.  Over the past four Friday mornings, they have tackled the mulching of the holly hedges at the Village Green, planted hazel saplings at the Maze, and cleared the undergrowth for the new pathway on the south verge at the Hardwick Road village entrance.  They have really enjoyed using their different woodcraft skills and seeing the obvious results of their labours.  We are holding a Thank-You gathering with refreshments for them on Friday 4th April at 11am at the Village Green.  If you would like to meet them and see the work they have done for our village, you are welcome to join us.’ 

Path Hill Outdoors works with The Teenage Wilderness Trust, and is run from a converted farm building on the Hardwick Estate.  To find out more click here.

Date/Time : Monday, 24th March 2014 17:49

Paddington crash survivor’s story published

A book by Whitchurch High Street resident Pam Warren, ‘From Behind the Mask’, has just been published.  It describes how Pam’s life was turned upside down by the Ladbroke Grove crash on the Reading to Paddington train in the early morning of 5th October 1999.  She was in an induced coma for three weeks and woke to discover that she had extensive burns on her face, hands and legs which would need many skin grafts.  She had to face many challenges in the course of her remarkable recovery.  One was the need to wear a Perspex shield on her face for 23 hours a day over an 18 month period to reduce the scar tissue. In the course of her courageous battle towards recovery she helped to found the Paddington Survivors Group and became a spokesperson for rail safety, and has been involved in helping others with disfigurement through the Healing Foundation and with Falklands veteran Simon Weston. 

There is more about this inspirational book, including a review two days ago by Sir Roger Moore, on her website.

Date/Time : Friday, 21st March 2014 19:28

Bridge girders to go through Pangbourne on Monday

Little has happened on bridge reconstruction this week, despite the removal of the Environment Agency’s red-board warning to boaters.  One of the demolition subcontractors is understood to have had difficulty in remobilising its workforce from other sites.  However, the first two white lattice girders have been placed together in the contractor’s compound and on Monday (24th March) they are expected to begin their overland journey by low-loader slowly through Pangbourne towards the M4 and on to Great Yarmouth for restoration. 

During the red-boarded period from 20th December to 15th March there was activity on the manufacturing side of the project.  The photo above (courtesy of Geoff Weir) shows one of the recently fabricated support trusses.  These will be installed (the other way up) at each bridge pier to transfer roadway loads to the new concrete piles.  These and other components now manufactured in the Mabey Bridge factory at Chepstow can be seen in the Bridge Company's photo gallery.

Date/Time : Friday, 21st March 2014 15:10

Bridge opening put back from July to September

The Whitchurch Bridge Company announced today that agreement had been reached between their project management team, contractor Balfour Beatty and the Environment Agency on a plan to continue working on demolition and reconstruction of the bridge after boat traffic resumes at the end of March.

The statement says: “We expect that the improving river conditions will enable us to restart work by the end of March.  Subject to this being so, and there being no further delays due to river conditions or other unforeseen events, we expect the Bridge to re-open for road traffic in September 2014.  A more precise date will be announced later.”

The full statement can be read here.

Update 14.3.14:

Some people have expressed concern that extended hours of working may cause disturbance.  Bridge Company Secretary Geoff Weir said today: "As regards night working, the type of work we do has to be agreed with the local environmental health officers.  So there will not be any noisy activities at night or at the weekend, nor will we be working every night.  The type of work being looked at for night working is, for example, positioning the main piling rig in the navigation channel (during a temporary closure agreed with the EA) so that all the day time can be used for the noisier task of piling."

BBC Berkshire published this article today.

Date/Time : Thursday, 13th March 2014 16:39

Bridge work expected to restart soon as river falls

After the wettest winter since records began, the level of the Thames and its speed of flow are now returning to more normal conditions, prompting people to ask when work will resume on the bridge and when it will re-open.  The Bridge Company has promised an announcement in the coming week, following recent contractual discussions with Balfour Beatty.  The contractor and the two demolition subcontractors will now be remobilising staff who have been deployed elsewhere since Christmas. 

The Environment Agency is still showing ‘red-board’ status for the whole length of the river.  This indicates that boat use is not advised by the EA but it is not binding on the contractor, who can choose to resume whenever he considers it safe, according to the Bridge Company. The EA’s reach-by-reach status can be seen here

As the river level falls, some flotsam including tree trunks can be seen trapped at the piers and near the crane barge.  A build-up of silt can also be seen on the island upstream of the temporary bridge, suggesting possible changes to the river bed.

The Bridge Company has said that work is now expected to concentrate first on completing the navigation span, which is the second span from the Whitchurch bank, in order to provide safe conditions for passage of boats at the earliest date.  Construction work will continue in the river after the EA's original date of 31st March for the start of the boating season.  The announcement this week is expected to say how construction and navigation can be managed together, a situation the EA had aimed to avoid by insisting that the project should start in the autumn.

Date/Time : Sunday, 9th March 2014 15:34

Application to delay Greyhound sale

The owner Punch Taverns, which has put The Greyhound on the market for £475,000 plus VAT with a closing date of 18th March, has said that the sale is a commercial decision and it hopes to sell the pub, in its grounds of 0.11 acre, as a going concern.  The company is known to have incurred financial problems following an ambitious period of expansion.  However, there is a possibility that the pub could be bought for conversion to a private house.  With this in mind, the Parish Council has applied to South Oxfordshire District Council to have the pub listed as ‘an asset of community value’ which would give a six month moratorium for a bid to be made by someone in the village. Parish Chairman Harry Butterworth said most people would regard it as a serious loss to the community if such a key feature of the village were to be lost.  It was therefore important to give the community a reasonable chance to consider its options.  However, the process of applying for the listing takes several months and it will not be known for some time whether the application is successful. 

Meanwhile business continues as usual at the popular village centre pub. 

The selling agent's details of the property can be seen here.

Date/Time : Monday, 3rd March 2014 15:13

Village stalwart dies aged 94

Katie Smith, who had lived in Whitchurch since 1972, died in the Royal Berkshire Hospital on 17th February at the age of 94. The tribute which follows has been provided by her family. 

Kathleen Eva Bolton was born on 18th March 1919 in Sheffield, the youngest of three daughters. After leaving school she became interested in steel production and joined the English Steel Corporation. There she was the only woman on her technical courses in metallurgy. 

In 1942 Katie married Richard Smith, a trainee golf professional at the Hallamshire Club. He had managed to arrange 48 hours leave from the RAF into which he had been drafted. The couple agreed not to have a family, Katie preferring the freedom and fulfilment of a career. But she had a great rapport with other people's children and her nieces and nephew all adored her. 

Katie worked in English Steel through the war, surviving the bombing of the Sheffield steel-producing area, and continued to do so until 1972, when she and Richard moved to Whitchurch. She was well suited to the quasi-rural life of the village in its idyllic setting on the Thames, with her abiding love of gardening, interest in garden birds and the other small animals that visited the garden – apart from the grey squirrels which she despised with gusto. Friendly and outgoing, she soon made inroads into village life, becoming a member and then treasurer of Whitchurch WI until it eventually closed due to the steady decline in membership – we were then in the era when most women were obliged to pursue a career in order to pay the mortgage!   She also, for many years, collected the entrance money for the annual Whichurch Fete and helped with the monthly delivery of the Whitchurch Bulletin. She was a mainstay of the British Legion Poppy Collection. Many people in the High Street will recall Katie's annual progress up and down the street, punctuated and lengthened by frequent stops for cups of coffee and the occasional sherry! She insisted on continuing with the collection even after she had suffered a serious stroke in 2009. At the age of 90 she carried out her role in the Appeal on her zimmer frame, accompanied by her carer who carried the collection box. Her determination and staying power have to be admired. 

Both she and Richard had many friends in the village, though lately Katie bewailed the fact that she was going to more funerals than sherry parties.  Sadly Richard died in 1999 from complications following a hit-and-run accident in the High Street, which left him incapacitated for several years.  With the support of many loyal friends, Katie continued to enjoy her retirement and her garden which she faithfully opened to the public once a year for Whitchurch Gardens Day.  Her stroke in 2009 meant that she could no longer live alone.  She has been supported by carers for the last five years and this enabled her to spend the last years of her life where she was happiest, among friends and looking out over her beloved garden.

Date/Time : Sunday, 2nd March 2014 18:59

Consultation on amending bridge tolls

(UPDATED 14.3.14)  The Department of Transport has launched a six week consultation on its proposals to simplify the process for amending toll levels at local tolled crossings.  There are 11 such crossings, one of which is the Whitchurch Toll Bridge.  The full list is shown below*. 

The consultation document, issued on 27th February 2014, can be read here

The Department explains in the document: “Operators are required to apply to the Secretary of State for any increase in tolls, regardless of how big or small. This process can be costly and time consuming for the operator, will often involve a public inquiry and these costs are likely passed on to the user through higher tolls. … Government has decided the process needs to be simplified to reduce the administrative burden on operators and government whilst ensuring the interests of users continue to be protected. This consultation is aimed at operators and users of statutory tolled undertakings and seeks views on what form the simplification of this process should take.” 

The consultation document states that between 2006 and 2012 the Department processed eleven applications for toll increases, submitted by operators of the eleven undertakings.  Six of these involved public inquiries. For all these applications the Secretary of State eventually agreed the increase.  The associated impact assessment document gives the cost of providing an Inspector for each of the six public inquiries.  The highest was for Whitchurch Bridge in 2009 at £9,895.  The statement also estimates the cost to a crossing operator of progressing a public inquiry at around £50,000.  The Department concludes: “Overall, we consider that the procedures for the revision of tolls are cumbersome and time consuming.” 

If you wish to comment on the proposals the details for doing so are given on the link above.  The consultation closes on 10th April 2014.

Update, 5th March:  The Parish Council is currently studying the proposals and taking advice with the object of formulating a response on behalf of the community. 

Update, 14 March:  BBC News published this article on 12th March.

 

*The 11 crossings of the type with which the consultation is concerned, which include ferries as well as bridges, are:

Aldwark Bridge (North Yorkshire)

Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry

Clifton Suspension Bridge (Bristol)

Dartmouth-Kingswear Higher Ferry

Dunham Bridge (Lincolnshire)

Rixton & Warburton Bridge (Greater Manchester)

Shrewsbury (Kingsland) Bridge

Swinford Bridge (Oxfordshire)

Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry

Whitchurch Bridge (Oxfordshire)

Whitney-on-Wye Bridge (Herefordshire)

Date/Time : Saturday, 1st March 2014 15:27

The Ferryboat supports fire and rescue services

Many fire and rescue teams have been drafted into the area to help in the work relating to the recent flooding in and around Reading. The Salvation Army centre in Reading is providing numerous volunteers to 'man' the kitchen at the command centre based in Whitley.  Here over 200 packed lunches are being prepared and distributed on a daily basis, in addition to many hundreds of cups tea and coffee and other hot dishes 

In response to a request for support, The Ferryboat has donated 300 'pukka' pies and will be providing a similar number of lasagne portions later this week to help feed the crews during the course of the day. These will be cooked by chefs Ramon and Teresa.  The landlord of The Ferryboat, Graham Dednum, has also cooked numerous rashers of bacon and sausages in the kitchen at the Whitley centre.

It is expected the additional crews will be needed for at least another ten days and, of course, the voluntary work will continue for that period or until the crews are stood down.

If anyone in the village would like to contribute to the work being undertaken, please call into the Ferryboat to talk to Graham.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 19th February 2014 19:49

Flooding and Waste Collections

Extensive road closures due to flooding, particularly those near the waste depot, are causing delays to the waste collection crews. SODC is currently advising residents via the website that some collections may be carried out later in the day than usual, even if their street is not closed or flooded.

They expect that delays will worsen over the coming days, particularly in riverside locations. Later in the week when they have a clear idea of the extent of the disruption, details will be communicated on the website - www.southoxon.gov.uk - on Twitter, via Binfo and via the waste text message service.

Date/Time : Tuesday, 11th February 2014 17:08

Dolphin Centre pontoon swept down to Mapledurham

The pontoon provided for the use of the Adventure Dolphin Centre while the bridge contractor Balfour Beatty uses the Pangbourne meadow has had an adventure of its own.  Escaping its moorings on the river bank at some time in the last few days, the pontoon floated away and was carried downstream by the fast flowing river.  After a journey of two miles it came to a halt at Mapledurham, where it has been secured. The pontoon is likely to remain there until river conditions are calmer and it can be towed back.  Thanks to Diana Marriott for sending the photo.

Work on rebuilding the bridge is still thwarted by the fast flows. The Henley Standard has this article in its current issue about the delays.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 5th February 2014 11:41

Rapid response vehicle pays a visit

Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service showed off its Goring-based four-wheel-drive vehicle in the village today.  Parish Chairman Harry Butterworth reports: 

“This morning a couple of officers from the Goring fire station turned up in their rapid response vehicle.  It has four-wheel-drive to cope with all conditions and is small enough to get to where it is needed more quickly that a full size fire tender.  Obviously its pump is much smaller than that carried by the big version, but it can do a useful holding job until a bigger machine arrives.  As I understand it, it has been made available to help with emergencies during the period in which the bridge is closed.  It is equipped to attend road traffic accidents and carries basic medical gear for first aid which the crew are trained to use.  In a medical emergency it can get here more quickly than an ambulance.  Living near the bottom of the hill as I do, I am all too familiar with the way in which snow and ice can stop the traffic in and out of Whitchurch from the north and it is reassuring to know that this vehicle is available from Goring.”

Date/Time : Friday, 31st January 2014 14:10

Whitchurch cyclist will represent GB this weekend

(UPDATED) Ben Sumner (20) from Eastfield Lane, who recently won the Under-23 Cyclocross National Trophy, has been selected to represent Great Britain at the Cyclocross World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, on 1st-2nd February.  Around 70,000 spectators are expected to attend the event.

Update, 3rd Feb:  The photo shows Ben competing in the event.  He came 41st overall and 2nd in the GB team and was happy with the result for his first race at this level.  He plans to go back next year and has high ambitions.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 29th January 2014 13:13

Village veteran dies at 97

Anne Bryant died on Monday 20th January at the grand age of 97.  She came to Whitchurch in 1965, living first in Swanston Field and then at Hill House, Hardwick Road. She loved the village and was well known to many.  She will be remembered as the Deputy Head of Woodcote Primary School and for her contribution to village life through her membership of the W.I. and the Cotton Patch Group.

Her funeral service will take place at St Mary’s Church on Tuesday 4th February at 1.30 p.m.

Date/Time : Friday, 24th January 2014 14:50

Sandbags deployed but river level is dropping

A pallet of filled sandbags was delivered to Eastfield Lane this morning by an Oxfordshire County Council team responding to requests from residents. But river levels were starting to ease and not all the bags were put to use. Only one house, Meadowlands, was reported to have been flooded and water had entered only into a low-level room, the rest of the house being raised above the floodplain.

Meadowlands and its neighbour, Pavilion Cottage, were built in the 1980s on the low-lying site of the old bowling green. Mrs Diana Hansen, who has lived in Meadowlands for 20 years, said that this was the first time this had happened since she bought the house from the original owners, who had converted the low-level room for living purposes. Her nephew had put in a fishpond pump this morning and this was coping with the water. 

The picture shows sandbags at Pavilion Cottage. Sandbags were also in place to protect the Greyhound and no flooding was reported there.

This afternoon the river had fallen by 3 cm from yesterday’s high.

Date/Time : Friday, 10th January 2014 17:24

A spring rises in Eastfield Lane

Some of the people out and about in the sunshine today enjoying the spectacle of the Thames in flood were surprised to see water flowing strongly out of a hole in Eastfield Lane (lower right of photo) near the house named Chiltern Edge. The water was pooling in the road and overflowing into the garden and beneath the floor of Pavilion Cottage, which is fortunately raised above the ground. 

A smaller spring could be spotted outside The Greyhound, where water was emerging from a manhole near the garage door, flowing for a few yards and then disappearing into one of the gullies which drain the High Street towards the slipway. 

The mystery can be explained, according to long term residents. The Thames is reasserting its use of an ancient channel, part of which was replaced long ago by a culvert. When the river is in flood, water flows from the higher level of the river, upstream of the lock, and crosses the farmland to a pond in the garden of the Walled Garden House. From here it flows in a culvert crossing under the High Street, then under the garage of The Greyhound (where the high pressure causes the smaller spring), and across to Eastfield Lane (the larger spring). The hidden culvert then runs south along the western boundary of Chiltern Edge and eventually becomes an open ditch which leads to the river. To prevent flooding the system needs maintenance from time to time. 

The unusual flow seems likely to continue for a day or two. 

(Thanks to John Southey, who lives next to the route, and to Geoff Weir who was Parish Chairman when it was investigated years ago, for providing information.  RW)

Date/Time : Thursday, 9th January 2014 17:19

High river levels present new bridge challenge

On Monday demolition work is scheduled to resume after the Christmas break but with river levels rising and strong currents near the Pangbourne bank the safe operation of floating plant may pose difficulties for the contractor. 

Bridge Company Secretary Geoff Weir was interviewed this week on BBC Radio Berkshire – listen here until expiry on 8 January, starting 48 minutes into the programme – and said that all parties are still trying to find ways of recovering lost time. For example, a faster way of concreting the new deck is being planned. But he said he could give no estimate yet of the delay to the original re-opening date of 14 April. 

The BBC programme includes an interview with Barbara at the Pangbourne Cheese Shop, who considers her trade is 15 to 20 percent down as a result of the bridge closure. 

The Environment Agency is understood to be insisting to the project managers, Oxfordshire County Council Highways Department, that boats must be able to pass safely under the main navigation span (second of the four spans from the Whitchurch end) by the end of March. 

Meanwhile, regular bridge watchers who have been hoping for signs that attempts are being made to recover from the delays by introducing longer working hours, or a shorter Christmas break, or an increased workforce and more machinery, have not so far detected any of these. The allowance in the programme for delays due to river floods is understood to have been more than used up already by the demolition delays.

Date/Time : Saturday, 4th January 2014 12:07

Wet weather walkers find another Eastfield Lane

Eric Hartley’s seventh New Year’s Day walk today was not for the faint-hearted, starting as it did with a slog straight up the hill in blustery rain. However, more than twenty people and four dogs decided to walk off their seasonal excesses by heading up to Great Oaks Wood and the other, muddier, Eastfield Lane near Woodcote, returning via Cray’s Pond, Blackbird’s Bottom, Coldharbour, Boundary Farm and Beech Farm, and down past the War Memorial for lunch in the Greyhound and talk of power cuts*. 

For anyone who stayed at home today but would like to try this excellent seven mile route when the weather is better, Eric’s walk note can be found here

*Houses in Hardwick Road and Swanston Field were lit by candles and torches from dusk till 6 pm, by which time a team from SSE, working near the northern end of Muddy Lane, had fixed the problem that had caused loss of power this morning.

Date/Time : Wednesday, 1st January 2014 18:59