Ever since it was immortalised in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, playing Poohsticks has seemed a quintessentially English activity.
But a piece of literary history may be lost to foreign shores as the bridge where AA Milne and Christopher Robin first played the game is to be sold at auction.
Pooh’s global appeal means that the wooden bridge, which carries an estimate of £40,000-£60,000, is expected to attract international bidders. Buyers from the US have already expressed an interest.
Originally constructed in 1907, what was originally known as Posingford Bridge was a sturdy crossing for pedestrians, horses and carts over a river in the Ashdown Forest, East Sussex.
Christopher Robin played on it as a child in the 1920s, and his father included their game in The House at Pooh Corner. In the story, Pooh accidentally drops a pine cone into the water and, after watching it reappear on the other side of a bridge, he devises the rules for Pooh sticks.
In 1979, the bridge was officially renamed Poohsticks Bridge, with Christopher Robin Milne doing the honours at the ceremony.
But 20 years later, the structure had become worn by the number of tourist visitors. It was dismantled and stored at the Ashdown Forest Centre.
Meanwhile, Disney funded the construction of a new bridge in the same spot, which remains there today.
The original Poohsticks Bridge in Ashdown Forest in Kent
Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA
Two buyers, who wish to remain anonymous, approached the council and offered a sum for the pieces of original bridge.
They have rebuilt it – using EH Shepard’s illustrations, which were likely a lovelier design than the original bridge itself – and replaced any missing elements with local oak. It is being offered for sale through Summers Place Auctions of Billingshurst, West Sussex on October 5.
James Rylands, director of Summers Place, said: “The dismantled bridge lay neglected for years until these two enterprising guys acquired it." It is fully assembled, but if a buyer is worried about how to transport it, “the sellers are quite happy to go and rebuild it. They have the plans, all the timbers are numbered, and they know how it all goes together.”
Mr Rylands said he hoped that the bridge would remain in this country, but acknowledged that it may go abroad. “We have had enquiries from the States already, and Winnie-the-Pooh is huge in Japan so there is likely to be interest there. Pooh is a global phenomenon.”
The prospect of the beloved bridge being taken abroad has dismayed some Winnie-the-Pooh fans. The original Pooh bear and his friends – Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Tigger – are already in the US, on display at the New York Public Library.
Christopher Robin and Pooh playing poohsticks
Credit: The E.H. Shepard Trust
Gyles Brandreth, who was a friend of Christopher Robin and officially opened the Winnie-the-Pooh Museum at Ashford Forest in 2019, said: “Those toys are the Elgin Marbles of English children’s literature and we need to see them back here.
“But if we also lose Poohsticks Bridge to America, it will be a double whammy disaster.
“Not since London Bridge was sold to Arizona has there been anything like it. Let’s just hope that a British buyer can be found.
“Of course, Pooh is global, but at the same time he is a very English creation.”
The Government has the power to impose an export ban on a cultural object if the reviewing committee deems it to be a national treasure of “outstanding significance” and “closely connected with our history and national life”.
Locals familiar with the dismantled bridge expressed surprise at its sale, but praised the ingenuity of the sellers.
“As far as I can remember, it was just bits of wood stuck behind a shed at the Forest Centre,” said one.
“A few years ago, a guy came along saying he thought he could rebuild it, but we just thought it was a bit of a pipe dream.
“It was a pile of old junk wood that nobody wanted – and if somebody has made something of it and can sell it as a bit of Winnie-the-Pooh history, good luck to them.”