The Pont Colbert in Dieppe now threatened

1. Pont Colbert, 1889
Photo : Paul Bonmartel

28/2/11 – Heritage – Dieppe, Pont Colbert – Three years ago, the Passerelle Eiffel in Bordeaux was saved at the last minute by a legal suit applying for listing (see news item of 29/6/08), which finally resulted in an official listing issued almost exactly one year ago on 22 February 2010.
Today, another metallic art structure, the Pont Colbert in Dieppe (ill. 1) might be destroyed by a project proposed by the Syndicat Mixte for the port in Dieppe. This organization wishes to “replace” the obsolete architecture of this bridge, considered to be in extremely poor condition. This opinion is contradicted by supporters of the Pont Colbert, all the more concerned since no selection has been made among the bids received since the summer of 2010 and no deadline has been set. The only official statement which has been made is to confirm the fact that the current structure will indeed be replaced. The defense of the Pont Colbert is therefore now an urgent matter.

Designed by the engineer Paul Alexandre and opened in 1889, the Pont Colbert is the last hydraulic turn bridge still in use in Europe and the longest of its kind with a 70 metre long roadway. Its very original and rare machinery (ill. 2) is also unique. The men who operate it avail themselves of a knowledge which is over one hundred years old applying great precision and care in manipulating the mass of over 800 tons. In its own way, the bridge illustrates a sustainable environmental method by using water, not to mention the requisite winter manure – the only way to keep the jacks from freezing ! The operating cabin, designed by Jean Prouvé, is an elegant complement to the very characteristic silhouette of the Pont Colbert and is also of historic and aesthetic interest (ill. 3).

2. Machinery of the pont Colbert
at the Quai de la Somme
Photo : Sébastien Abot

3. Pont Colbert and operating cabin by Jean Prouvé
Photo : Sébastien Abot

The Pont Colbert is an essential part of Dieppe’s social history. It is constantly used, and serves as a link, over the channel, between the downtown and the fisherman’s district, Pollet which is now a protected neighborhood. As such it has contributed enormously over time to the collective identity of the local inhabitants. This explains the fact it appears as an important landmark in all of the tourist guides and brochures alongside the Château museum. Painted by Harold Gilman, photographed by Olivier Mériel, and a significant element in Georges Simenon’s The Man from London (with a film version by Bela Tarr), the Pont Colbert continues to inspire modern day artists. For all of these reasons, France-Culture recently highlighted it in one of its programs, the Jeudis de l’architecture by François Chaslin.

The situation is now extremely serious : the bridge runs the risk of disappearing very soon perhaps, taking with it a part of our technical and navigational heritage as well as an important part of Dieppe’s history. It is absolutely necessary to restore and maintain the bridge. However, it does not benefit from any kind of heritage protection. There exists in fact a list of 19th century bridges, besides the Passerelle Eiffel, which are registered or listed as Monuments Historiques, some of which are also metallic and have been restored. The Pont Colbert should now be included. An application for listing has been submitted to the Comité de Sauvegarde du Pont Colbert which needs all the support it can get to achieve its goal. A petitionhas been posted online on the association’s website where readers will obtain all the pertinent information concerning the case.

Sébastien Abot et Valérie Auclair

P.S. This new affair is another illustration of the unfortunate fact that a considerable number of monuments are not protected in any way. We will soon begin a series of articles on the subject.

Didier Rykner, lundi 28 février 2011

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