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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Bridges over Rivers and Centuries

A  multi-arched bridge is this week's photographic prompt from Sepia Saturday, so here I am taking you on  a journey over  bridges that span two centuries and cross  rivers and moorland.  Hear about the Marriage House at Coldstream used by runaway couples from England, the riots at Kelso Tollhouse, the heavy loss of life in building bridges,  and the place where poet Robert Burns first set eyes on England. I  finish by looking at  bridges with links to my family history.

What  struck me in writing this post  is the length of time - i.e. 200 years - that many of these old bridges served their  community, before replacement structures were built  - progress sometimes seems very slow! 

The Three Leaderfoot Bridges, near Melrose in the Scottish Borders 
Built 1776, 1865, and 1974

 A charming tinted postcard c.1900  of the rail viaduct.

An unusual view of the lower old Dryburgh road bridge built 1776-80.  It replaced a ferry crossing over the River Tweed,  on the route that is now the main A68 north to Edinburgh.  Its narrow structure, more used to horses and carts, remained in use for 200 years (conroleld by traffic lights) until  a new road bridge spanned the river in 1974. 

In the background is the famous Leaderfoot Viaduct built in 1865 and the major engineering feat of the Berwickshire Railway Line from the east.   The statistics are impressive -  the viaduct stands 126 feet (38 m) from the floor of the river valley, and  its 19 arches, each has a 43 feet span.  It was named after the meeting of the Leader Water with the River Tweed, though Interestingly it was referred to in a newspaper article of December 1864 as the Drygrange Viaduct. 

A local paper of 3rd September 1863 gives a graphic account of an accident to a work on the viaduct.  

The Berwickshire Railway was badly affected by severe flooding in 1948 and services to the east of the county were particularly affected.   The last train ran over the viaduct in 1965.  It  is  now  under the care of Historic Environment Scotland.  

A steam train crossing the Leaderfoot Viaduct, c. 1959
One of the last trains to  travel over the Leaderfoot viaduct in 1965. 
Copyright ©  Bruce McCartney All  Rights Reserved.     
at http://www.geoffspages.co.uk/monorail/bmcc01.htm  

The Viaduct  remains a  popular spot for  photographers today  - here a view taken from the old road bridge which is now only open to walkers and cyclists.  

A view of the three bridges, spanning two hundred years of history. 

Craigsford Bridge, Earlston, built  c. 1737.

Craigsford Bridge over the Leader Water at Earlston   was built around 1737.  Until the building of the new toll road (the later A68) at the end of the century, it was the main route to Edinburgh.  It was sometimes referred to as the Mill Brig,   being close to the Simpson & Fairbairn Mill that produced textiles until its closure in 1969.

A modern view taken from my daughter's cottage. 

The Leader road bridge at Earlston  carrying traffic on the main A68 route to Edinburgh.  You can make out in the background the arches of the old Craigsford Bridge,  and the tall chimney of Simpson & Fairbairn Mill.

Carolside Bridge,  late 18th century. 

The graceful late 18th century bridge spanning the Leader Water  links the neighbouring estates of Carolside and Leadervale.

"The Statistical Account of Scotland" of 1834  gives us a beautiful description of Carolside  
"Poised on a green plateau beside the River Leader and sheltered by surrounding slopes of its own extensive woodlands, as a sweet and secure asylum from the toils and troubles of the world'."
Two views of the bridge in more recent times:

A view of the Leader valley, looking down on the little Carolside Bridge. 

With thanks to the Auld Earlston Group for the use of photographs in their collection 

Coldstream Bridge, built 1767
Coldstream Bridge02 2000-01-03.jpg
The bridge over the River Tweed  marks the boundary between Scotland and England  and opened in 1767, built at a cost of £6000  - £725,000 in current values. (www.measuringworth.com).  It was paid for  by a government grant, local subscriptions and loans from Edinburgh Banks, to be paid back from the bridge tolls.  

But Coldstream Bridge Tollhouse at the north end of the bridge,  was more than just the location for collecting taxes.  For it was akin to Gretna Green towards the west as  the location for a Scottish  "Irregular Marriage".  This was in the form of a verbal declaration by the couple  giving their consent  before witnesses and did not require a clergyman, but anyone who took on the role for a fee.  No notice, such as banns,  was required, no parental consent  and no residency requirement.  Such marriages were valid in Scotland but were increasingly frowned upon and became less  and less acceptable. 

In the meantime, however, many English couples in particular,   eloped to places just across the Border,  to escape the stricter English marriage laws and obtain a quick, easy  and cheaper marriage.     

 It was on the bridge that Scottish bard  Robert Burns had his first glimpse of England, as marked  by a plaque.  (Wikipedia)   


The Rennie Bridge at Kelso - 1803

Another crossing of the River Tweed with the Rennie Bridge at Kelso. It was built in 1800-3 to replace one washed away in floods of 1797. Designed by John Rennie, it was an earlier and smaller scale version of the Waterloo Bridge, which he designed for London. 

The Toll House, where the payment had to be made, was the scene of a riot in 1854, when  local people   objected to continuing to pay the tolls when the building costs had been long cleared. It still took three years for tolls to be withdrawn. For nearly 200 years, this narrow bridge  remained the only bridge across the Tweed at Kelso until the building of a new one in 1998 to the east of the town.  

Ribblehead Viaduct, North Yorkshire,  built 1870-1874. 

Image from Picabay

A striking view of the Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire on the  scenic Carlisle to Settle railway line.  It took over a thousand  navvies over four years (1870-1874) to build it.  On the wild windswept moors of the Ribble valley,   they established shanty towns for themselves and their families. Around 100 men were killed during the construction, and illnesses were rife in the harsh living conditions.  The graveyard at nearby Chapel-le-Dale has around 200 burials of men, women and children who died  during the time of the viaduct's construction. 

Bridges with Family History Links

 My parents, John Weston and Kathleen Danson - taken in 1937  at Kirby Lonsdale, where they got engaged.  This remained one of their favourite spots to visit.

Kirby Lonsdale in Cumbria on the edge of the Lake District is a fascinating small town  with   a mix of  18th-century buildings and stone cottages huddled around quaint cobbled courtyards and narrow alleyways with names such as Salt Pie Lane and Jingling Lane.  The town is noted for the its three span Devil's Bridge, first built across the River Lune c.1370. You catch a glimpse of it here.


These photographs comes from my father's album.    During the war, Dad  served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch and was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ.  He was stationed in Luxembourg in winter 1944 prior to  the Battle of the Bulge. Dad  had fond memories of the city and the people he met there. The Bridge, built between 1900 and 1903,  became an unofficial national symbol, representing Luxembourg's independence  and  was named after Grand Duke Adolphe who reigned Luxembourg from 1890 until 1905.   

My  brother standing in front of the cast iron arched Ironbridge over the River Severn   in Shropshire,  where our father spent his childhood.  It was the first ironbridge built In 1781  and often described as "the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution".  It is now a World Heritage  Site.  

Although Dad was born in Bilston, Wolverhampton, he moved to Broseley, across the river from  Ironbridge, when he was five years old  and he regarded it as his happy chidlhood home.  He went to school there, sang in the choir from the age of seven and began his working life at a grocer's shop, delivering goods by pony and cart.  Dad's father had a 35 minutes walk across the bridge  each way every day to get to his work at the Coalbrookdale Power House in the Severn valley.


Sepia Saturday gives bloggers an opportunity to share 
their family history and memories through photographs.

Click HERE  to see what  bridges other bloggers have come across. 



  1. You certainly have some wonderful old bridges and viaducts in your area, and I see we have both included the Iron Bridge, although we have different dates for its opening.

    1. My mistake, Jo, and I can't think where I got that date from or whether it was a typo - certainly different websites give different dates. However I have altered my post entry to 1781 which is the date for the formal opening, as noted by English Heritage and the Ironbridge Gorge who are as authoritative as you can get.

  2. I'm very impressed with all these bridges! My favorite (being a romantic at heart) was the one where people got married! Thanks for all your work!

  3. Such lovely bridges. Where I live, you have to cross bridges to get just about anywhere at all because we have so many rivers emptying into the bay and ocean. However, not a one would anyone consider beautiful or worthy of photographing.

    1. The Scottish Borders is similar, Wendy, in that there are so many bridges, with the 90 mile River Tweed flowing through the region to the North Sea, and so many tributaries coming off it - but many of the bridges are now centuries old and keeping them repaired is a continual headache for the Council.

  4. I guess that poor man who lost a foot wished he'd come for a job an hour later. Very nice photo of your parents and bridge.

  5. The Leaderfoot viaduct is one beautiful structure. It's interesting - and a little sad - to see how less attractive each newer bridge has become in your three bridges view.

  6. Beautiful bridges and amazing photos

  7. I've had the good fortune to see some of these splendid bridges. The viaducts seem a very British construction, as I don't know of many similar American bridges. The classic arched brick design may last for centuries, but Ironbridge is my favorite.

  8. I am not sure if there is a collective noun for bridges (maybe a "span of bridges"), but this is a perfect "blog of bridges". Ribblehead I know well, but the others were mostly new to me. Thanks for introducing them to me.

    1. I like it, Alan - a span of bridges as a new collective noun.

  9. As with Alan,many of the bridges are new to me too.Although I know Berwick's quite well.Infact it's image defines the town for me. Ribblehead i know also.Though to apreciate it ,you have to be on the ground looking up at it .Ironically ,actually being on the train travelling on it doesnt do it's grandure justice.
    Thanks for reminding me of Kirby Lonsdale.Somewhere I havnt been to in years.
    Hey! A Splendid photograph of your parents.Thank you for sharing it.

  10. Thank you all for such lovely comments - I was spoilt for choice on what to feature, so this was a great prompt for me.

  11. So many of these bridges look like one I have in a painting done by my great-uncle John who was born in Scotland. It's a watercolor of "Moffat Water at Roundstonefoot" which I'm guessing is an old footbridge. It always hung in my folks home. Lovely old stone bridge with a bench nearby.

  12. Some beauties here Sue, and I can ony agree with Krisin re ‘the poor fellow’ who had the accident. What a view your daughter enjoys too!


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