This photograph was taken in the Summer of 1968 just before the Benfleet road bridge was closed to navigation. The ‘Celeste’, a 27 foot wooden gaff cutter was owned at this time by Richard Yetton who was at the helm. The boat was later sold in 1971, its new owner lived in Ireland.
Shortly after this the Benfleet Yacht Club Boathouse was towed to the Thames side of the bridge, that was the last boat to pass through before the bridge was closed to navigation. There is a notice on the bridge in this picture which states ‘Bridge closed to navigation from July 30th.’
One of the reasons why the bridge needed to be replaced with a fixed structure was that river traffic had right of way. This caused long tailbacks especially on bank holidays when lots of people would take a day trip to the beach at Canvey Island and road traffic would be heavy. Quite often the bridge keeper would put the black ball up the mast on the bridge to show boats the bridge motors were broken and the bridge couldn’t open, however this had been done before.
‘We came into Benfleet Creek and the black ball was up the mast. We rowed ashore and told the bridge keeper we would wind the bridge open by hand, which would take a long time, suddenly the bridge worked again. All the bridge keeper had wanted was to keep the traffic flowing.’