Explosives buried under Harrow Bridge during the war only came to light in 1948

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In 1948 the Harrow Bridge, built in about 1840 to cut three miles from the eight-hour coach ride to London, was the focus of a drama that brought a brief period of excitement to the small village of Baldslow.

Hastings Police received an urgent telephone call from a unit the Royal Engineers stationed in North Sussex. For some time they had been engaged in checking that all anti-invasion demolition explosives had been cleared away. They had discovered that high explosive charges buried under the foundations of the Harrow Bridge had never been cleared.

A section of Sedlescombe Road North and the Ridge were immediately closed and the occupiers of properties nearby were kept at a safe distance while the explosives were safely removed.

In the mid-1960s, Red Lane at Baldslow, formerly little more than a bridle path, was re-made into the busy Harrow Lane we know today and developed with housing and business units. The mud created by the major works caused the locals such misery it became the topic of letters and articles in the Hastings Observer.

By January 1971 the Harrow Bridge, or Harrow Arch as it was known locally, was under demolition. Its mere 15 feet-wide opening across the A21 was causing traffic bottle-necks.

There was some hostility to the destruction of the bridge from locals, who felt that a simple widening of the arch would solve the problem. They were amused to observe it proved to be no easy matter to remove, even with modern demolition devices. The work was impeded by heavy winter rains that loosened the soil on the steep banks at either side of the bridge creating yet more mud. The waste soil was removed to Hole Farm at Westfield.

The new bridge, weighing 700 tons was completed at the cost of £104,000. It had a span of 150 feet, with a 24-foot wide carriage way and two six-foot wide pavements. It was declared open on 20th October 1971.

The Harrow Inn, which stands close to the bridge, on the junction of The Ridge and Maplehurst Road, was built in 1808.

The first registered owner of the Harrow Inn was Thomas Breeds and Company, who no doubt sold their own locally brewed beer. The Harrow Inn was a landmark, not only for London stagecoaches but later as a stopping place for the local tram service.

The spot achieved short-lived international fame when, sometime before the First World War, possibly 1906, the balloon ‘Banshee’ made an emergency descent into the market garden of Leslie Gower, a few yards from the inn. This event occurred during the James Gordon-Bennett, Paris-to-London balloon race. It was the adventurer Gordon-Bennett who gave us the expletive.

In 1936 the German Airship the Hindenburg passed over Baldslow.

FURTHER READING:

The Long Road to Lavender Cottage by Victoria Seymour price £9.99: Available from Hastings Tourist Information Centre Breeds Place, the History House Courthouse Street, Waterstones and from www.victoriaseymour.com