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Oct 14, 2014

Coldingham Luckenbooth wins Berwickshire Civic Society 2014 Architectural Award:

Oct 14, 2014
Tell us what you think.  The Society would like its members to give their views on how they would like to see the Society develop.
Oct 14, 2014

The 2014 AGM was  held on Monday 22nd September  at the newly restored Bughtrig House by kind permission of Mr and Mrs William Ramsay.  

 

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Mouth Bridge

A Civic Society Battle Honour - by Major-General Sir John Swinton of Kimmerghame, Lord Lieutenant of Berwickshire (1989–2000), and former Chair of Berwickshire Civic Society

Mouth Bridge Berwickshire

Mouth Bridge spans the Blackadder Water a short distance downstream from its confluence with the Langton Burn or Verta. It was built around 1795 - no one is quite sure exactly when, as it bears no date. In the days before the Whiteadder was bridged west of Chirnside, Mouth Bridge carried the main road from Duns to Berwick, which previously had gone across the Mouth Ford. In a county which, due to its turbulent history, does not possess a wealth of old buildings, Mouth Bridge is an important part of our built heritage.

As a Category B Listed Building it was the responsibility of Borders Regional Council who in 1977, by their own admission, realised its geriatric state; did they place a weight or width restriction on the bridge, or speed limit? They did nothing, despite the fact that 32ton vehicles from the recently opened Craigswalls grain depot were regularly using the bridge. In September 1983 they reacted. They closed the bridge.

The question of what to do with what one Councilor called ‘ a silly little bridge’ was now debated by the Council. The Roads Department produced a list of five options of which No.3 was ‘to demolish’. The Council voted for No.3. The correspondence columns of the Berwickshire News erupted in horror. A total of 244 people signed a petition against such vandalism, and later on a further 446 signatures were added.

Your Chairman wrote to the Secretary of State - then George Younger - to our MP - then Archie Kirkwood, who wrote to Michael Ancrum the Minister for Home Affairs at the Scottish Office - all of whom seemed to have written to each other and, as a result, Borders Regional Council were told to stay their hand until a Public Local Inquiry was held.

No one could remember the last time that a Public Inquiry had been held in Duns and so Berwickshire District Council, in whose Council Chamber it was to be held, had no idea how many of the public might turn up and so very few chairs were provided. When on 29th November 1983 the doors were opened, the press of people anxious to attend quite overwhelmed the seating and the proceedings were delayed whilst the building was searched for more. It was a case of standing room only for many. The Reporter was clearly much impressed by this example of local interest which cannot have done our case any harm.

The Society’s case was led by your Chairman, supported by, amongst others, Professor Hendry of the Department of Civil Engineering in the University of Edinburgh, Mr Robert Smith, Director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland and Mr John Gerrard, Technical Director of the Scottish Civic Trust. Between us we managed to make Borders Region look fairly foolish, egged on by a room full of support.

As part of the proceedings, the Reporter was taken for a tour of the local by-roads which could be affected if Mouth Bridge was ‘stopped-up’. This was organised by your Society, and I cannot believe that even the most urban of Reporters cannot have been surprised by the number of combines on these narrow roads in November and the squadrons of tractors which ‘just happened’ to impede his progress.

We had to wait seven months for the result of the Inquiry, but it was worth waiting for. Banner headlines in the Berwickshire News said it all ‘Mouth Bridge Reprieved’. A letter to the Chairman from Michael Ancrum set out the result officially ‘that listed building consent for demolition should be refused and the "stopping up" order on the road was not confirmed’.

Hardly had members of the Society stopped congratulating themselves, when someone went down to the river and discovered, to their astonishment and incomprehension, piles of boulders dumped at each end of the bridge which would have stopped a tank. Your Chairman’s correspondence to St Andrew’s House to a new Secretary of State, Malcolm Rifkind, began all over again, as did Borders Region’s assault on the Secretary of State to get him to change his mind, particularly about ‘stopping up’, on the grounds that they could not afford to mend the bridge.

And so the matter dragged on into 1986. On 20th August, almost two years since the Public Inquiry, your Chairman wrote again in exasperation to the Secretary of State. ‘I would draw your attention to the action of Borders Region who have placed a Public Notice in the local press announcing their intention to stop up the road crossing Mouth Bridge permanently, not only to vehicles, but to pedestrians as well. This Society cannot understand how a decision of the Secretary of State, arrived at after consideration of the findings of an expensive Public Inquiry, and so recently confirmed, can be so arbitrarily disregarded and set aside and we ask for your urgent intervention to uphold your authority in this matter’.

This seemed to do the trick and a second Public Inquiry, under a different Reporter, was ordered for 19th October 1987 to be held in Duns. As before it was extremely well attended and our Society had the support of Professor Hendry, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) and the Scottish Civic Trust. Whereas the 1984 Inquiry was reported in great detail on a full page of the Berwickshire News, not one word of those proceedings received a mention, nor was the fact that the Inquiry had even taken place. Had someone nobbled the Tweeddale Press? I have often wondered.

The Report, when it arrived in August 1988, ran to fifty-six pages, but the conclusion was short and to the point; ‘that the stopping up order should not be confirmed’. Victory again, but this time we were wary of too much celebration too soon. And we were right.

Absolutely nothing happened for months, except that the area of the bridge became more and more decrepit and the Berwickshire News published a photograph captioned 'Basra - after the battle'; and the road remained blocked.

In December 1988 a demand was received from the Scottish Development Department for detailed costings for the repair of the bridge, to be produced within twenty-one days a period which contained both Christmas and New Year. Despite this astonishing request on a technical matter upon which no member of our Society was qualified to express an informed opinion, a three page reply was returned within time pointing out that at both Public Inquiries expert advice by Professor Hendry, supported by APRS and the Scottish Civic Trust, had estimated the cost of repair for vehicle use at £50,000, whereas the estimate from Borders Region was £187,000.

Another year went by with little progress to report. In December 1990 your Chairman wrote to Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Minister of Home Affairs, asking him to persuade Borders Region to accept the Secretary of State’s offer to them of grant aid, and to encourage his Historic Buildings people ‘to attend more expeditiously to their consideration of the tenders for work on the bridge which had been in their hands since July’.

We were not the only ones to be frustrated. In January 1991 the Chief Executive of Borders Region wrote a furious letter to the Scottish Development Department complaining that Listed Building Consent had still not been given six months after it had been applied for and that as a result tenders could not be accepted. For once we seem to be on the same side,

On 15th March 1992, nine years since the bridge became an issue, Mouth Bridge was officially opened and a plaque, approved by your Society, but sadly in 2011 looking worn, unveiled. In a magnanimous gesture the task of declaring the bridge and its road open was given to the Lord Lieutenant, who is his earlier capacity of Chair of the Civic Society had caused Borders Region such aggravation.