The present Langstone (Road) Bridge was opened at noon on 10 September 1956 by the Rt Hon AHE Molson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, using a solid gold key. It was the biggest venture in Hampshire since WW2 and an outstanding example of a pre-stressed concrete bridge. It was designed by the County Surveyor, Brigadier AC Hughes. Its construction had been a mammoth task. All the beams and piles had been pre-cast at Langstone Quay car park which was levelled for the purpose, and an on-site laboratory had been built to test the materials. The beams were taken out to the bridge on a small gauge railway with a diesel locomotive and the piles were rammed into place using a 100-ton pile driver which ran on rollers. The contractors, Christiani and Neilson, completed the project 5 months ahead of schedule, its estimated cost being £311,000.
At the opening ceremony the bridge was blessed by the Assistant Bishop of Portsmouth. The first vehicle to cross the new bridge was a black and yellow coach and two, which carried the official party and was driven by Sir Dymoke White, Vice Chairman of Hampshire County Council. The dignitaries then lunched at Warblington Secondary School, where they were served by senior girl pupils.
At 3.50 pm the contractors drove the first car across the bridge and gave it the thumbs up. A queue of cars at Langstone then moved forward to the toll hut. The first driver over the bridge, from Madehurst, was there by accident, as he had taken a wrong turning. Soon came the first double-decker bus to mark the start of a through service from Havant Station to Hayling. The first lorry to cross the new Langstone Bridge was loaded with 10 tons of roofing tiles. The driver explained, “Last time we crossed with a large load we had to make five journeys over the bridge to get all the tiles to the other side.” This was due to a 5 ton, 10 mile-an-hour restriction on the failing 132 year-old bridge.
The first penny pedestrian ticket was bought by Mr E Edwards, Havant’s Station Master. He was followed by Mrs Etherington of Old Mill House, Hayling, with her Cruft’s champion Russian Borzoi, Tsar of Astonoff. Mrs Dodsworth was proud to be at the opening. As a councillor, she had collected 7,500 signatures in one week in 1954, to present to Winston Churchill at 10 Downing Street and had also been to see the Minister of Transport to press for a new bridge. She had pointed out the problems associated with the weight restriction, which could even mean having to get off the bus and walk over a bridge that had never had lights.
At 4.30 pm on the day of the opening 21 veteran cars, which had driven to Beachlands that morning for an Old Crocks Rally, returned for the final crossing of the old bridge. One of the veteran cars was a 1924 Standard 14 Tourer which had been owned for 28 years by Ben Sharp, a Hayling builder, another was a 1910 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce driven by SJ Skinner. As the cars went over the old bridge they were passed by the first of the cars to travel to Hayling on the new bridge. In the evening there was an informal party for the workers and their wives, at which the contractors’ 16mm film of the construction of the bridge was shown.
The demolition of the old bridge began on 11 September. The handle of the old swing bridge was presented to Alfred Stanford of Northwood Lane, whose father had been a former toll collector for some 25 years. It was, however, 1960 before the residents got their way and the toll was abolished.
(Sr Dymoke Whiite’s coaches were donated to Arlington Court Carriage Museum. See page 10 for his four-wheeled Park Drag http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-arlington-carriage-list.pdf)