A Barrier and a Highway
Poole is a magnificent natural harbour, and the town is surrounded on three sides by water. Anyone with a suitable boat can easily cast off from Poole's quaysides and head for Newfoundland, the Channel Islands, or the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain and Portugal.
Before the bridges were built, however, anyone without a boat (or the money to hire one) was set for a long, long walk if they just wanted to get to Hamworthy. The same water that acted as a highway for shipping was a barrier to road transport.
The early maps show a ferry service providing a crossing between the two settlements. Building bridges across a navigable channel was a big challenge in the age of sailing ships as they had to be made high enough for the masts to pass under.
The first bridging solution was a privately funded wooden toll bridge built by the local MP, William Ponsonby, in 1834. The design was too steep for horses and carts, however.
An iron swing toll bridge replaced the wooden one in 1885, with a section in the middle that could rotate 90 degrees sideways to open a route for ships to squeeze by. It cost a penny for pedestrians to cross.
The swing bridge was bought by Poole council and replaced with a free bascule lifting bridge in 1927. The first opening was a major event, and everyone turned out to watch. Local woman Lil Hale recalls the event in the audio below.
In 2012 an additional lifting bridge called the 'Twin Sails' was opened, giving Poole a landmark structure which references its maritime connections, and fulfilling Lil's prophecy that a second bridge was needed.