EAST Kennett's 180 year old bridge is now back in use after months of painstaking renovation work.

The bridge was smashed after a car ploughed into the railings, before making off in a hit and run, despite leaving the front bumper, complete with number plate on the river bank.

The council, which says the drivers' insurance will pay for the £35k work, then went about tracking down a craftsman who had fixed the same bridge six years ago, when a tractor crashed into it.

Mark Ramplee runs a workshop in Devon, and leapt at the chance to fix the old railings.

"We were pleased to be trusted with the some what daunting task of restoring the mangled remains," said Mark. The original wrought ironwork dates from 1842 when the estate changed hands.The majority of the steel was saved and the two upright sections were repaired using the original tools and techniques that the blacksmith would have used in 1842.

"The uprights were stripped and new rivets were made and they were hot riveted back together.They are made of wrought iron which has a distinct grain. Everything was very badly bent, so its been straightened out and anchored back into the original stones. They were leaded in originally, and it is really hard to re-lead a stone, so we have done a join, where the original lead foot is still in the stone.

"There are some initials on the bridge stones - T.G. which we think is the original blacksmith - there are three bridges around here all made by the same person.

"It is nice to be trusted with work such as this. There are not many craftsmen left and it is only possible with the skills and desire to carry out the work."

The renovations also uncovered another mystery. The stone finials at each end have letters and symbols carved into the stone, which have now been highlighted with a lick of paint.

East Kennett village chairman Leslie Jenkinson said: “The village is pleased that our bridge has been sensitively restored to its former self and is looking great.

"The 3 weeks that the road was closed made us all realise how much the village benefits from the reduction of speeding traffic.We hope that our community speedwatch scheme will finally get going once we receive the equipment from the police, we have been waiting over a year!"

Parvis Khansari, Director for Highways and Environment said: “We wanted to ensure that this bridge was repaired sensitively and to return it to what it was before the accident, so we used the same metalwork company that last repaired the railings, some six or seven years ago.

“Where possible in instances such as this, we aim to use specialist contractors to carry out this work, and thanks to this craftsmanship, we hope that the bridge will remain as it is now for many years to come.”