Tadcaster Bridge has reopened more than a year after its partial collapse came to symbolise the destruction of the 2015 Christmas floods.
The North Yorkshire town was split in two for more than 12 months after the 18th-century Grade II listed structure crumbled on December 29 2015, as the River Wharfe rose to historic levels.
This afternoon, around an hour behind schedule, all the town’s primary school children walked over the bridge en masse to mark the opening as little Lydia Jackson, from St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, cut the ceremonial ribbon, flanked by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and local Tory MP Nigel Adams.
The bridge’s dramatic collapse happened as flooding hit large parts of northern England, leaving many communities - including homes in Tadcaster - under several feet of water.
The loss of the bridge, which had already been closed due to safety concerns, left the North Yorkshire town divided, with residents and visitors having to negotiate a 10-mile detour to get from one side of the river to the other.
The division has strained businesses in the town and North Yorkshire County Council said contractors have worked around the clock to complete a job that should have taken two years in just over 12 months.
Crowds packed Bridge Street, on the west side of the divided town, as the children advanced towards them.
Earlier, contractors worked until the last minute to surface the roadway and paint lines on the bridge under the scrutiny of hundreds of people.
Asked how he felt on Friday, Tadcaster’s mayor Don Mackay said: “Ecstatic would be an understatement. Very pleased with the huge numbers of people that’s turned up.
“It’s been on everybody’s minds for months and months - when are we going to get it opened?
“Here we are, it’s opened. Let’s get the town together. Onward and upwards.”
Martin Marner’s pet shop was first flooded 13 months ago and then stranded on the east side of the river when the bridge went down.
He said: “I thought everything was going to be OK but later that day the bridge fell down.”
Mr Marner said: “It was absolutely devastating. It’s been 13 long hard months.
“It’s taken an immense toll on the business. I’m probably 60% down. The larger population is on that side of town and most of my customers were on that side.
“Like every business in Tadcaster, we’ve managed to carry on with the help of the people of Tadcaster.”
He said: “The help has been mainly from the other people. We’ve all just banded together. The camaraderie was brilliant.
“While it divided the town, it’s actually brought it together.”
Mr Marner said he felt most sorry for those businesses which did not flood as they have had to weather the 13 months of the divided town with no insurance payout.
Melvin Pratt, who has run a furniture shop by the river for 20 years, said he was decorating after the flood when a friend came in and said things were dropping off the bridge into the river.
He said: “The lady making us teas and coffee said she thought she could hear something dropping in the river.
“Within a minute the whole thing’s just came down.”
Mr Pratt said: “We’re 13 months down the line now. It’s been very testing.
“It’s been a total nightmare but we’re a tough little town.
“It’s fantastic today. Everybody’s smiling saying ‘yes we’ve got there’.”
The reconstruction of the bridge, which has included a widening of the structure, has been funded with £3 million from the Government and £1.4 million from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership.
The reopening will be further celebrated in April when Tadcaster hosts the start of day two of the Tour de Yorkshire bike race.
The bridge collapsed four days after it was closed on Christmas Day 2015 due to safety concerns.
North Yorkshire County Council said more than 650 tonnes of water every second was hitting the bridge at its peak - the highest flow rate recorded in 30 years.
Mr Javid’s predecessor as Communities Secretary, Greg Clarke, walked across the bridge, inspecting the situation, hours before its dramatic collapse.
Mr Javid said: “The floods here in Tadcaster turned people’s lives upside down, and nowhere was that more apparent than with the closure of the bridge.
“Today’s reopening is a significant milestone, and is a clear sign that this community is back on its feet and open for business.”