DOZENS of residents in Hankerton turned out to celebrate the re-opening of the bridge into the village four weeks ahead of schedule.

The bridge was closed on March 2 and the work was initially expected to take eight weeks to complete, with residents having to take a lengthy detour to approach the main road between Cirencester and Malmesbury.

But Wiltshire Council’s engineers managed to finish the job, which saw the bridge being reinforced, in a single month and it was officially re-opened yesterday.

After a brief speech from parish council chairman Jill Kearsley, the curate of the parish Reverend Sarah Wyman blessed the newly strengthened bridge, praying for good fortune and protection to all who crossed it.

A pair of the village’s oldest residents, Lawrence and Nancy Nurden, then cut the ribbon across the bridge and everyone present was given food and drink by volunteers.

Around 50 villagers lined the approach and celebrated with a glass of bubbly as a vintage car was given the honour of being the first vehicle to use the new crossing.

Cllr Kearsley, 61, said that she was delighted with the finished bridge and gave special thanks to the engineers from the council for their work and for attending the village’s celebration to mark the re-opening.

She added: “Without the bridge, getting around was a bit difficult. But it needed repairing, they kept to schedule and they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Assistant bridge engineer Emma Biggs, 36, said she had never seen a community give such a huge response to a bridge being re-opened.

“It’s a bit overwhelming, really,” she said, “This is a first for me. It’s really nice to see the community spirit here.”

Resident Bunny Lees-Smith, 83, who moved to the village in 1968 and attended the re-opening ceremony, said: “It was very nice to have such friendly people working on the bridge.

“This is a very community minded village and we have a very active wives group, history group and even a golf club.”

The bridge itself has a long and storied history, crossing what used to be a river but is now little more than a stream.

The original wooden bridge was constructed in the 1830s, and then rebuilt in stone in the late 1800s before being replaced with a concrete and steel structure in 1925.