Temporary Building Closure from 6 June for Seismic Strengthening Work
Our Cambridge Collection has changing exhibitions about Cambridge. Much of our collection is in storage to ensure its preservation for future generations.
Karapiro Creek Bridge
The first Karapiro Creek Bridge, built by Mr Greville, was swept away in a flood in 1869. It was replaced in the same year by one built on a much higher level by Philip Cooper.
The third bridge was built in 1882/83 with totara timber, 14 feet wide and 12 feet higher than the previous one. Cooper again was the overseer.
The Town Board finances went £1000 in the red, even with a Government grant of £600 and cheap labour from the Armed Constabulary. The AC men were in their winter quarters in Cambridge and received 11d a day over their military pay for this work. When spring came they were due back to work on the main Rotorua Road but 55 men stayed on to finish the bridge.
In October 1938 the 24 men working on the fourth Karapiro bridge were about to be increased to two shifts. The frame of the main arch was in position and the two cantilevers were being prepared.
New steel handrails replaced the concrete in July 1960 and the four concrete light pillars were cut down to the same height as the rails.
A Tree Trail has been created here by the Cambridge Tree Trust.
The idea of another bridge linking East and West was first proposed in 1899 and a government engineer, C W Hursthouse was commissioned to investigate possible sites. Three sites were looked at – the Red Bridge site, Souter’s old wharf (at the end of Bryce Street ) and the Victoria Street site. In 1901 the present site was decided upon. When Sir Joseph Ward came to open Te Waikato Sanatorium in 1903, the Borough Council took the opportunity to reaffirm the government promise of £3000 towards the erection of the bridge.
The first plans submitted by the engineer James E Fulton were for a cantilever bridge but as the arch span was a stronger, more graceful design, he subsequently recommended the latter. And so the Cambridge Victoria Bridge became the first hinged braced arch bridge in Australasia.
In March 1906 the tender of the United States Steel Products Export Co was accepted at £5078 for the supply of the bridge material. The bridge pieces were constructed at the company’s works at Ambridge near New York and then shipped to New Zealand as a kit set and railed to Cambridge and Te Awamutu on both sides of the river.
The builder, G M Fraser’s contract was for £5692. Construction started in May 1907. J E Fulton was engineer in association with John A L Waddell of Kansas and Mr Hedrick whose firm superintended the design and manufacture of the steel. It was erected by cantilevering – building out from each bank – over the river without scaffolding, until connection was made in the centre. (This happened in October with Mr M Lindell, the government inspector of bridges, setting the pin which joined the arches.) The anchorages at the banks were then slackened off, allowing the full weight of the bridge to settle on the arch, making the structure rigid. This was a pioneer work for New Zealand.
The total length is 462 feet (140.8 m) and 17 feet wide. The decking was six inch thick heart totara which was tarred and sanded.
The steel weighed 330 tons and there were about 20,000 rivets driven by pneumatic hammers. The concrete pillars were made with both New Zealand and English cement, Te Kuiti limestone and Cambridge sand. The whole of the ironwork was painted with Gohen’s carbonising coating and it was estimated that it would only have to be painted every twenty years.
The total cost was £14,305 4s 8d, which was shared with the surrounding counties of Waipa, Piako, Waikato, Pukekura Road Board and Cambridge Borough Council.
There were no serious accidents while the bridge was being built although one workman did fall a considerable distance down the west bank and landed on the sand bank. On another occasion a large bluegum davit crashed against the abutment and nearby workmen had a narrow escape.
The Waikato Independent newspaper on 21 December 1907 recorded the opening ceremony – ‘The town was gay with bunting, and streamers were hung across Victoria and Duke Streets, and flags were flying from the clock tower of the new Post Office building, Fire Brigade station, the flag-staff in Jubilee Gardens, and from a number of business places. During the morning a large number of country people flocked into Cambridge , and the town presented a very lively appearance. His Excellency the Governor, Lord Plunket arrived by special train from Auckland at 1pm. The D Mounted Squadron escorted the Governor’s carriage from the station along Queen Street , Victoria Street, Duke Street and over the two lower bridges to the west side. During the procession there was a light drizzle but not enough to dampen proceedings. A large crowd had assembled at both ends of the new bridge and gaily coloured streamers at either end of the structure waved in the breeze.
In the course of his speech Lord Plunket paid flattering tribute to the designer of the bridge and congratulated the local bodies and all concerned in its erection, saying the structure was a beautiful ornament. He also said, “The Victoria Bridge was not only a means of communication for the present settlers, but also for their children’s children.”
The Governor cut the ribbon held at either end by Mrs Elizabeth Buckland (the Cambridge Mayor’s wife) and Mrs Marion Fisher (wife of Robert Fisher, chairman of the Pukekura Road Board). Headed by the town band the procession reformed and proceeded over the bridge’.
It was recorded on 14 December that the first motor car to cross the bridge was driven by Miss Jeffries, with the mayor W F Buckland, Robert Fisher and John Ferguson having the honour of driving the first buggy across.
In August 1913, from the 3rd to the 9th, a survey showed that there were 2422 motors, 3831 adults, 687children, 485 bikes, 384 dogs, 1346 vehicles, 326 sheep, 809 cattle, 2 traction engines and 2 wagons which crossed the bridge.
By 1922 motor traffic had increased considerably. For ten years the matter of a footbridge had come up at the Leamington Town Board meetings as it was ‘positively dangerous for children to cross the bridge, to say nothing of the inconvenience and danger to ladies with perambulators’. Finally in 1924 footways were added at a cost of £2100.
In 1939 it was painted in gleaming aluminium but in nine years this had almost worn off. Ferrodo grey bridge paint was again available in 1948 and the six workmen employed on the 5 month job were camped in Public Works huts in the bluegums on Williamson Street. The cost of the work was borne by the Main Highways Board, with contributions from the surrounding local bodies.
Re-decking, carried out in 1950, reduced the weight by about 90 tons.
In October 1958 the local branch of Federated Farmers voiced their concern at the Cambridge Borough Council’s proposal to spend £30,000 on strengthening the Victoria Bridge to lengthen its life another 30 years. They favoured the erection of a new bridge at £100,000.
With the Fergusson Bridge built in 1964 the Victoria Bridge’s wooden decking was replaced with 4¾” reinforced concrete and heavy traffic restrictions were imposed. A 17 foot carriageway was made with provision under the bridge for the water mains and telephone cables.
In 1978 the bridge got a $400,000 facelift with sandblasting and repainting. Again in February 1983 $30,000 was allocated on rust repairs and spot painting. In July two cross braces were found to be corroded and replaced for $22,000.
The NZ Historic Places Trust placed the bridge on their register as being a national structure worthy of preservation for its historical significance and architectural quality.
A third bridge was suggested, with the Victoria Bridge in the future perhaps to be restricted to pedestrians, cycles and motor scooters.
In 1995 a weight limit of 2,000kg and speed limit of 25km was imposed and a new three metre height restriction barrier, with a swinging base, was erected.
By 1998, with a round-about at the Cook Street end, the traffic would bank up over the bridge in peak traffic times, but it was still deemed to be safe.