THE opening of Donnington Bridge brought much-needed traffic relief to Oxford city centre.

With the ring road still incomplete, most traffic between East and South Oxford had to travel via Carfax, causing long queues in High Street and St Aldate’s.

The decision to build the city’s first river bridge for 500 years meant a quicker route for motorists and less congestion in the central area.

These pictures show the bridge across the River Thames under construction in 1961 and on its opening day in 1962.

A road linking the two Oxford suburbs had been suggested in the late 1920s.

A footbridge over the river was eventually built in the 1930s, but the idea of a road bridge made no progress.

City councillor AH Kinchin summed up most people’s frustration when he told the council in 1954: “It’s an absurd fact that you could stand in South Oxford and throw a stone into Iffley, yet you have to go three miles by road to get there.”

At that meeting, the council backed the scheme, but in 1956, after the bridge had been designed, it became a victim of a credit squeeze. It wasn’t until 1960 that it got the go-ahead.

When work started on October 4 that year, it was perhaps appropriate that Mr Kinchin, then mayor of Oxford, should climb into a mechanical excavator and dig the inaugural scoop of mud out of the bank of a Thames backwater.

He told guests: “This will be a red letter day in the history of Oxford. Today we are starting a project which we have talked about for many years without anything being done.”

The bridge was completed two years later and was officially opened on October 22, 1962, by Viscount Hailsham, Lord President of the Council and Minister for Science, who, as Quintin Hogg, had been Tory MP for Oxford.

The mayor’s car, carrying the mayor and mayoress, Alderman and Mrs Evan Roberts, Viscount Hailsham, Ann Spokes, chairman of the city highways committee, and Town Clerk Harry Plowman, was the first to cross the bridge.

The cost of the scheme – first estimated at £180,000 in 1954 – had risen to £400,000 and city ratepayers had to foot the whole bill.

The Ministry of Transport refused to give a grant, because the road would benefit only local traffic.