Fordingbridge is a small riverside town which grew up close to a ford on the River Avon. The first Great Bridge was built in medieval times and is upstream from the ford.
The bridge is a major feature of the town. It has seven graceful arches, which can be seen very easily from the town’s large riverside park. The bridge is 40 metres long and is one of only two bridges with seven arches in the UK.
Fordingbridge was known for cloth making, producing sail cloth and hessian.
Today, it is the northern gateway into the New Forest and a tourist destination.
Fordingbridge and smuggling
Fordingbridge was involved with the smuggling activities that were widespread in the New Forest and down to the coast.
The infamous Captain Diamond, spent some time at The George next to the river at Fordingbridge. Diamond was a member of the brutal Hawkhurst smuggling gang from Sussex.
A contemporary report tells of an encounter between Diamond’s gang of smuggler’s at the George and Custom’s men, who were pursuing him.
” the notorious smuggler Captain Diamond was on his way to Salisbury laden with an illegal hoard of tea, rum and coffee smuggled from Guernsey. On reaching Fordingbridge, Captain Diamond and his gang gathered in the yard of The George Inn and used wool scales to divide the booty of tea, each smuggler getting about a hundredweight. Customs men and soldiers then arrived on the scene and a bloody battle ensued.“
A bronze statue of the painter Augustus John (1878 to 1961) stands on the banks of the Avon near the Great Bridge. By the 1920s, Augustus John was Britain’s leading portrait painter. John painted many distinguished contemporaries, including T.E. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy.
Throughout his life, John was particularly interested in the Romani people. He sought them out on his frequent travels around the United Kingdom and Europe. Later on, he became the President of the Gypsy Lore Society, a position he held from 1937 until his death in 1961
Augustus John lived and worked in Fordingbridge from 1927.