Bridge open­ing be­came ex­cit­ing fam­ily day out

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGA - Robin BROOKS nos­te­[email protected]

FOR some it was the civil en­gi­neer­ing feat of the cen­tury, a shining ex­am­ple of go-ahead mod­ern Bri­tain at its most in­ven­tive, a glimpse of the fu­ture.

For oth­ers it was their first ex­pe­ri­ence of a new phe­nom­e­non, the mo­tor­way ser­vice sta­tion, a strange new world of stewed tea, sand­wiches with curled-up edges and melamine- topped ta­bles, all served up with an air of im­per­sonal de­tach­ment.

We’re talk­ing about the first Sev­ern Bridge, which opened this week in 1966, and we’re talk­ing about Aust Mo­tor­way Ser­vices.

The lat­ter be­came fa­mil­iar to nu­mer­ous lo­cal folk who boarded Black and White coaches to take ex­cur­sions to see the for­mer. If you were one of them you’ll re­mem­ber how it was.

Leav­ing home, you trun­dled down the new M5 mo­tor­way, then onto the M4 to ar­rive at Aust Ser­vices where ev­ery­one left the bus.

Once in­side the cav­ernous in­te­rior, proudly claimed to be the largest public cafe­te­ria in Eng­land, the pic­ture win­dows framed a fine panorama of the new bridge, which on a mist­less day could be seen in its en­tirety.

But be­fore set­tling on a Fablonupho­l­stered stool to take in the view, you had to ne­go­ti­ate the nov­elty of self ser­vice, some­thing few peo­ple had en­coun­tered be­fore.

In the ex­pe­ri­ence of most, when you went into a café there was some­one with a wrap­around over­all on the far side of the counter who poured out tea and put cakes on a plate for you.

Not so at Granada’s Aust Ser­vices. You helped your­self to tea from a ma­chine, a con­cept that great num­bers of peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly men, found com­pletely baf­fling.

Next, if you fan­cied a snack (or Snax as they were la­belled) you had ap­proach a cabi­net, with a name like Food-o-matic, of glass and plas­tic with

» To share your pic­tures and mem­o­ries of lo­cal peo­ple, places and events, please email them to nos­te­[email protected] gmail.com

banks of lit­tle doors be­hind which were pre-pre­pared sand­wiches.

The ad­ven­tur­ous some­times man­aged to ar­rive at the cashier’s till with what they wanted.

Many more found the no­tion of serv­ing your­self too daunt­ing and gave up.

Next came the high spot of the ex­cur­sion as pas­sen­gers re-boarded the coach to drive over the Sev­ern Bridge, soar­ing aloft the mighty river to ar­rive on the other side in Wales.

And that was it. Com­pared to to­day’s taste for ex­treme sports, treks to Hi­malayan sum­mits and long haul breaks to the Antarc­tic, a coach trip to the Sev­ern Bridge seems tame in the ex­treme.

But it didn’t then. The Echo and Cit­i­zen pro­duced spe­cial sup­ple­ments in cel­e­bra­tion of the bridge’s open­ing, and from them read­ers learned that the idea of a cross­ing over the Sev­ern had been mooted for well over a cen­tury.

In the mid 19th cen­tury, Thomas Full­james sur­veyed the site later cho

sen for the Sev­ern Bridge as the lo­ca­tion for a rail­way viaduct.

Full­james lived at Ash­le­worth and had an of­fice in Bar­ton Street, Gloucester. He was also the ar­chi­tect re­spon­si­ble for var­i­ous public build­ings and churches in Glouces­ter­shire, in­clud­ing St Matthews at Twig­worth.

This project never ma­te­ri­alised, but a rail­way bridge at Sharp­ness did, along with a tun­nel un­der the Sev­ern.

The Sev­ern Road Bridge, which was opened by the Queen in 1966, was planned in 1946.

Op­tions, in­cluded a float­ing bridge be­tween Ar­ling­ham and Newn­ham, were sug­gested and aban­doned on grounds of cost, which gave rise to the idea of the scheme be­ing paid for by tolls.

Fi­nally on June 5, 1958, lo­cal news­pa­pers an­nounced “De­tails of a scheme for the pro­posed £15 mil­lion Sev­ern Bridge are re­vealed to­day”.

Amid the ju­bi­la­tion that ac­com­pa­nied the open­ing of the new bridge there was a touch of sym­pa­thy for a man whose life’s work it brought to an end.

Enoch Wil­liams launched a ferry ser­vice be­tween Aust and Beach­ley in 1931, giv­ing up his job as chief ar­chi­tec­tural as­sis­tant to New­port Coun­cil to do so.

The idea for his Old Pas­sage Ferry Com­pany came about when he worked as a lorry driver on a route be­tween Bris­tol and South Wales in the First World War.

He re­alised that a ferry ser­vice would save the trans­port time and costs in­volved in hav­ing to drive to Gloucester to cross the Sev­ern.

The ser­vice was an im­me­di­ate hit. The firm ran three craft named the Sev­ern King, Sev­ern Queen and Sev­ern Princess and be­tween them they car­ried some 25,000 cars a month.

The day the Sev­ern Bridge opened Mr Wil­liams’ ferry busi­ness was wound up.

He did re­ceive fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion, but there was some sad­ness that this long es­tab­lished ser­vice had been swept away in the name of progress.

A bird’s eye view of the Sev­ern Bridge

Enoch Wil­liams owned the Aust ferry

The bridge fea­tured in ad­verts

The bridge from Aust Ser­vices’ car park

A mes­sage from Bar­bara Cas­tle MP, the Trans­port Min­is­ter

A trip to the bridge was a fam­ily out­ing

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