Theresa May, as MP for Maidenhead, took a break from Brexit on Monday (14 September) to open the bridge in honour of Margaret Bowdery, the tireless Ramblers’ campaigner in East Berkshire, who died in 2016.
The bridge is over the stream called The Cut, and links Braywick Park with Oldfield School in Bray Road, creating a safe and pleasant route for walkers, riders and cyclists. It was funded by money from developers in mitigation for nearby building.
The event was organised by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) in conjunction with the East Berkshire Ramblers, and I had been invited to speak in my capacity as chair of Ramblers GB. Margaret’s husband Bernard and son Nigel were there.
Because of security requirements, I had no idea that Theresa May was coming until I arrived—and it was a great tribute to Margaret that she took the time to join us.
We were introduced by the Mayor, Paul Lion, then I spoke of Margaret’s contribution to the Ramblers, some of which I have recorded here.
When Margaret moved to Maidenhead in 1964 the public paths were in a dire state. When an officer from Berkshire County Council told her that the paths were not needed and should be extinguished, she was furious and immediately set to work, forming the Ramblers’ group to clear, waymark and sort out the paths.
She strongly believed in connecting missing links in the path network—which is why it is particularly appropriate that she should be honoured with a bridge. She won the footbridge over the River Thames at Temple, which opened up 16 miles of the Thames Path, and claimed 3.7 metres of missing path under Cookham Bridge, using paintings by Stanley Spencer as evidence of its existence.
And after a long fight she won a footpath under the lethal A404 dual carriageway at Bisham—which was opened by Theresa May in 2005. Until now the Bowdery Arch was the only public monument to Margaret.
I was told before we started that Margaret’s Bridge is made of extremely strong material, from waste. Like Margaret it is tough and long-lasting: she fought for paths and open spaces for more than 50 years. She would have been delighted to have learned, as we did last week, that the government’s Agriculture Bill contains provisions for farmers to be rewarded for providing access after Brexit—but she would also expect us to lobby hard to ensure that the access becomes a reality.
Simon Dudley, leader of RBWM Council, talked of the difference that Margaret had made in the borough, and Theresa May then spoke of her persistence and determination, saying that she was the most frequent visitor to her surgery. ‘Margaret Bowdery’s tenacity meant something to me because she ensured that spaces were opened up for people to be able to enjoy the countryside and their local environment; I think Margaret’s bridge is a fine addition to Maidenhead,’ she said.
She then cut the ribbon and declared the bridge open to all: a fitting memorial to a great campaigner.