Five Arch Bridge
Image credit: Harry Jenkins
There would always have to have been some form of crossing over the River Cray in the area occupied since the 12th century by what became the North Cray Place and Foots Cray Place estates, what we know today as Foots Cray Meadows.
The sale details of Foots Cray Place in 1772, when offered up by the family of the late Bourchier Cleeve, indicate the existence of a one-arch bridge within the meadows, from the east side of the estate towards North Cray Woods.
The Five Arch Bridge was constructed in brick in the late 1770s and early 1780s when respected English landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown undertook an expensive revamping of the North Cray Place gardens.
A weir, some 25 metres across, was built to hold back the lake, and this supported the bridge that is still standing. At some time, a Teissert turbine was installed within the weir to drive a 6kw turbine to provide electricity for the house, according to Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre.
Alterations to the river are first apparent on the 1799 OS surveyor’s drawing. It has been widened into its current form to create a lake.
The North Cray sale map of 1833, as well as all Ordnance Survey maps until 1940, also show a bridge spanning the southern end of the lake, some 350 metres upstream from the Five Arch Bridge. It is unclear when this was demolished. These two crossing points would have provided an elegant circular walk.
It was reported in October 2001 that repairs to the Grade II-listed landmark were to cost more than £350,000. It had been closed some three months earlier following a partial collapse that damaged the structure and weir underneath.
Bexley Council provided money for the restoration. A channel was cut to divert the River Cray around the bridge and a ‘cofferdam’ was built to drain the area. Prior to the repairs, the bridge was shored up by scaffolding and a temporary weir created to take the pressure off the structure. There are detailed photographs at the Information Centre showing the ongoing work.
The restoration included reinforcements, with 4.7 metres long bars put in place and a culvert built to one side.
Credit: Willie Robertson
One side of the Five Arch Bridge was fenced off by officials in July 2020 when the area was being heavily used due to travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. A 16-year-old girl apparently broke her leg after an accident allegedly involving jumping into the River Cray from the structure.