Local historian Ian Spensley uses extracts from wills and inventories, together with other evidence, to look at the history of some of the district’s iconic bridges.
The information the documents give is often vague, but the details do give a fascinating insight into the importance of the crossings in Renaissance Richmondshire.
Before local authorities took responsibility for the crossings, local residents would pay for them to be built and maintained.
How many of the first bridges were built of wood is unclear, but the wills tell of a gradual move to stone and/or the rebuilding and enlargement of the existing stone bridges.
Catterick Bridge was one of the most important bridges, but must have been in poor condition in 1556 because John Fulthropp, of Hipswell, said in his will “if therbe anye good man within the countrye that will tayke upon him to amende Catherigge Brigge I will give to the mending iijli vjs viijd” (£3 6s 8d).
Building work was underway or at least planned in 1562 when Joan Wycliffe, of Richmond, gave 20s. In the same year, William Loftus, of Richmond, gave 3s 4d and the same sum to the mending of Grinton Bridge. In the will of Ralph Gower, of Richmond, in 1567, he said “I bequethe to Catterick bridge xls. “
Aysgarth Bridge was repaired in 1550 and George Chatter, of West Bolton, gave 3s 4d and Robert Birkbeck, of Carperby, gave 40d. Thomas Buckle, of Thoresby, gave 20d in 1576. More repairs were carried out in 1584 when Adam Wray of Thoresby gave 12d. A little bit down the road towards West Witton, Hestholme Bridge was being planned in 1559 when John Middleham, of Aysgarth, gave 3s 4d toward its building.
In 1535, Kilgram Bridge, near Thorton Steward, was damaged by floods. Another flood caused damage in Elizabethan times and the bridge was repaired at a cost of £30. In 1573, Robert Langbarre, of Thornton Steward, gave 3s 4d “when so ever the saed bridge Schalbe tackin in hand to be mended”. In 1583, John Jackson, of Thornton Steward, gave 12d towards building the bridge. Repairs to Ulshaw Bridge, at East Witton, are mentioned in the will of Alice Conyers, of Danby upon Yore, in 1558 when she gave 13s 4d.
The earliest reference to Grinton Bridge is in 1522 when Henry Snawdon donated the value of a stirk for the bridge. Sir Thomas Aubrowe of Reeth gave 10s in 1565 and Margaret Parke of High Smarber gave 3s 4d in 1569 towards the repairs of the bridge too. A new build or widening must have been planned a decade later because Matthew Hall, of Storthwaite Hall, gave 3s 4d toward the building of the bridge, as did Abraham Waine, of Low Whita, in 1577. The following year, Leonard Arundell and Thomas Milner both gave 2s and Anthony Arundell, of Healaugh, gave 3s 4d.
Further up Swaledale, James Milner, of Dikehouse, said in his will of 1596 “I do geve to the inhabitantes of Mewker towardes the building of one stone bridge over Trope becke yf any be builded”.
He added: “I do geve towardes the building of one stone bridg over Swaill about Ivelett yf any be bulded 10s.”
Of the smaller bridges in the district, John Brochall, of Richmond, left 3s 4d in 1558 for making a bridge at Incrofte Head. A proposal to build Cotter Force Bridge is mentioned in 1588 and mending the Town End Bridge at West Burton in 1577. At Redmire, Agnes Atkinson left 12d for building the North Bridge, 4d for the Fleak Bridge and 12d for the Hippings. The Fleak Bridge is a footpath bridge and the Hippings may have been stepping stones.
Only two wills in the 17th century mentioned bridges. In 1620, Henry Gristhwaite, of Thoralby, left 40s towards building Littleburn Bridge and in 1677 Thomas Gibson, of Blean, gave 40s towards building of a bridge “upon the foot of Symerwater”.