Wilton Bridge from Vaga Crescent (Click for a larger image)
Wilton Bridge is on Wilton Road just outside Ross-on-Wye and was built between 1597 to 1599 out of red sandstone. It replaced a wooden bridge that had superseded the ford in the Wye that was originally there.
In his Itinery, Leland stated:
"There is noe Bridge beneath Hereford on Wye, untill a little above the Confluence of Wye and Mone River."
This seems to mean that there was no bridge over the river Wye between Hereford and Monmouth although he goes on to say:
"there is a Wood Bridge by Rosse."
so it can be assumed that he was referring specifically to stone bridges.
The problem was that although the River Wye was low in the summer, it's source in the the mountains meant that in the winter it was a raging torrent the ford was impassable and so during the high water periods a ferry ran across the river.
At one point the ferry sank and as a result of an Act of Parliament in 1597, it was ordered that a stone bridge needed to be built to stop this from happening again. This was funded by imposing a tax on every town and village in Herefordshire except for Hereford city itself.
After it was completed, the rights of pontage (as it was a toll bridge) were granted to Charles Bridges as a reimbursement for his loss of ferry rights1.
Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
The bridge may have initially called "Elizabeth's Bridge" as it was built in Queen Elizabeth's time but this was changed during repairs in the 1800's.
The view over Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
The south side of Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
The bridge has a span of 95 yards made up of six arches each of which has three chamfered ribs. The only exception is that one of the arches was reduilt after the Civil War when the span was destroyed. In 1914 the bridge was strengthened internally and the ribs bonded together. This was done in such a way that none of the additions were exposed.
Wilton Bridge Features
The sundial was commissioned by Jonathan Barrow, who was from Monmouth but lived in Bridstow, and was added in 1718 on the north side of the bridge but was moved to its present position when the bridge was widened during the Second World War.
It had an inscription around the top part of it saying:
Esteem thy precious time
Which pass so swiftly away
Prepare thee for eternity
And do not make delay
The sundial on Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
The voussoirs of Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
The bridge has an unusual feature that the stones making up the arches (voussoirs) are not the normal slightly tapered trapezium shape, but every they are a zig-zag shape on both sides (which can be made out in the photo). The exact reason for this is unknown but it maybe to lock the stones together due to the force of the water as the bridge also has very large cutwaters. [ More information ]
Other local bridges displaying this unusual feature are the Lugg and Mordiford Bridges.
Until the Second World War, the bridge had been fine for the horses, carts, carriages and the relatively few cars but it was decided that it needed to be
widened from its original 18½ foot width to allow larger vehicles (probably military vehicles in the event of invasion) to cross. As a result, the parapets on the north (upstream) side were removed and the bridge was temporarily widened. Then in the 1950's, the widening was made permanent with the addition of
a steel and concrete platform, meaning the parapets were never replaced, which can be clearly seen in the photo.
The extension on the north side of the bridge (Click for a larger image)
Below are two postcard views of Wilton Bridge. The left one shows the bridge prior to widening and the right one shows the temporary widening of the bridge.
Wilton Bridge prior to widening [Published: H.T. Marfell] (Click for a larger image)
Wilton Bridge with temporary widening [Published: T.Sergeant] (Click for a larger image)
Prior to the Railway arriving in 1855, the main method for the transportation of bulk materials into and out of the county was by boat via the Wye. Prior to 1661 the
River was was navigable but was impeded by a large number of weirs for use as fisheries and for feeding mills among other things.
In 1661 an act was passed for the making Navigable of the River of Wye and Lugg, and the River and Brooks running into the same in the Counties of Hereford, Gloucester
and Monmouth. As a result much larger barges could come up the river and so the river banks had dozens of quays and docks on them. Every village close to the river, for example, had its own Wharf for the loading and unloading of goods and materials. For many of these there are no or very few signs but their locations can be determined
from old maps and shipping records and Wilton was a particularly significant series of wharfs with many warehouses located in the area.
Wilton lower wharf (Click for a larger image)
Goodrich Castle & boats c.1834 (Click for a larger image)
The boats were hauled up the river by teams of men, often around ten per boat, pulling up to thirty tons of raw material from towns and ports such as Chepstow. The boats then returned carrying anything from lime and building materials to brewed products. Although horses could be used, their usage incurred significant tolls so even though one horse could do the same work as the men, it was more economic to use men. This meant that tow paths had to be created and maintained up the entire navigable length of the river. The Act stated that these should be four feet wide and be well maintained.
In the print from a steel engraving (left) four men can be seen pulling the barge up the river.
The hauling of the boats was fine until the point where a bridge was encountered. The ropes used to pull the boats were attached to the mast of the boat, often
located at its midpoint, which meant that getting upstream past bridges was not a simple task.
As a result the mast was folded down (as seen on the far right in the woodcut to the right) and the boats had to be manhandled past the bridges and the ropes run over the top of the bridge to allow it to be
heaved under. The marks from this are clearly visable on Wilton Bridge.
Wilton Bridge and a boat (Click for a larger image)
On the parapets on the south side of the bridge are prominant marks, particularly on the second and fifth arches from the east (Ross) side, scored deeply into
the cap stones of the wall. These are clearly visible when standing on the bridge but are not so easy to show in a photograph.
Examples of rope marks on the 5th arch of Wilton Bridge. The red lines indicate the more prominent grooves.
The following are some photos of the fifth arch.
Rope marks on left side of the fifth arch (Click for a larger image)
The left side rope marks from above (Click for a larger image)
Rope marks on right side of the fifth arch (Click for a larger image)
The right side rope marks from above (Click for a larger image)
The second arch from the east side is more deeply scored and has a greater number marks on it than its counterpart on the western side. The fifth arch only seems to have marks on either side of the arch whereas the second arch has marks on both sides and directly over the arch.
A plan of the bridge showing where the marks can be clearly seen.
This implies that the second arch was the more commonly used arch for upstream passage (unless the cap stones have been replaced on the fifth arch). Presumably the
current was too strong in the centre arches so the edges were utilised and the inside of the bend was the slackest water thus the preferable side to use. Another reason could be that on the west side of the river both above and below the bridge were wharves; the upper and lower wharves. As a result the west side of the river
was much more conjested due to the wharves. The lower wharf can be seen in the woodcut above.
Rope marks in middle side of the second arch (Click for a larger image)
The middle side rope marks from above (Click for a larger image)
Wilton had wharves both upstream and downstream of the bridge on the western bank of the river. These allowed the products to be loaded and unloaded onto boats. The sides of the river were surrounded by warehouses used to store the goods.
There are very few of the warehouse buildings remaining and only limited signs of the wharves themselves except the wharf immediately downstream of the bridge has been restored. Photos of the sites of the upstream and downstream wharves can be seen below.
The site of the upstream wharf (Click for a larger image)
The site of the downstream wharf (restored) (Click for a larger image)
Wilton Bridge Toll House
Site of Wilton Bridge Toll House (Click for a larger image)
To the right of this shot is the approximate site of the Wilton Bridge Toll House (the corner of which can be seen in the drawing above).
This is now a garden that was planted by Bridstow Parish Council to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of the War (WWII).
This view, extracted from a Kingsway Real Photo (no. S 7208) postcard, shows the back and end of the gate house that used to stand
on the western end of the Bridge.
The side and back of the Wilton Bridge gate house (Click for a larger image)
About 50 meters below Wilton Bridge, opposite the Wilton Court Hotel, are the remains of the Ferry Cross. This cross marks the site of the former ferry across the River Wye and may well have been erected to commemorate the ferry sinking although the exact reason for it is unkown.
The top of the cross is now missing and only the socket stone and shaft remain.
The Ferry Cross below Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
The Ferry Cross and Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
In this shot of the Ferry Cross, Wilton Bridge and its sundial and the spire of St. Mary's Church can be seen in the background.
The "Ross Bridge"
Here we see a print from a steel engraving of Wilton Bridge, called "Ross Bridge". It first appeared in 'Our Own Country' which was a series of Victorian
illustrated topographical studies which was first published in the mid 1880s.
Views of the Bridge
Wilton Bridge pre 1950 (Click for a larger image)
Here we see the upstream side of Wilton Bridge (from a real photograph postcard by an unknown publisher) with the Sundial seen on the north side and the bridge has not been widened by this time so the parapets can be seen along this side of the bridge which have since been removed during the changes to the bridge.
This view shows the north side of the bridge before it was widened. The sundial can be seen on one of the upstream parapets and next to it are two people watching the photographer. On the sides of the bridge, at the bottom of the parapet walls, large amounts of vegetation (preumably weeds)
can be seen to be growing.
The Kings Head Inn and Gate House can clearly be seen to the right of the photo.
Wilton Bridge, Ross pre 1950 (Click for a larger image)
This is a postcard view of the "Wye from Wilton Bridge". The view of the Wye looking downstream through the first arch on the Ross side of the river. The zig-zag stones making up the arch can be clearly seen.
Wye from Wilton Bridge [Publisher: Judges (no.3438)] (Click for a larger image)
Wilton Bridge [Publisher: R.E.Davies] (Click for a larger image)
This R.E.Davies postcard shows the south side of Wilton Bridge with St. Mary's Church in the background. It is very noticeable how few trees can be seen growing on the bank.
This postcard shown the upstream side of Wilton Bridge from the West bank of the river. The sundial can be clearly seen as being on the north side of the bridge and being as the postcard makes reference to "Ross-on-Wye" then this dates the card to between 1931 and 1945.
Wilton Bridge, Ross-on-Wye [Publisher: Walter Scott, Bradford (R200)] (Click for a larger image)
Views off the Bridge
River Wye from Wilton Bridge Ross [Published by Kingsway c.1911] (Click for a larger image)
This is the view south off Wilton Bridge in around 1911. The view has changed greatly since then, as the wall has been removed, although there are still regularly canoes moored at this point when a break at the White Lion is in order.
Over the Bridge
Here we see a pony and trap coming over Wilton Bridge before it was widened. This is taken from a postcard published by H.T. Marfell from Broad Street & 12 Market Place Ross-on-Wye. The sundial is on the top side of the bridge and there are several people and horses and carts heading for the bridge in the background from the direction of Hereford.
Traffic on Wilton Bridge (Click for a larger image)
The two real photo postcards below, thought to have been taken at around a similar time, show the view over Wilton Bridge. This is prior to the widening of the bridge thus the sundial is still on the north side. The large number of telephone lines crossing at this point are also clearly visible.
The view towards Wilton [Unknown publisher] (Click for a larger image)
Wilton Bridge Ross-on-Wye (R202) [Published: Walter Scott] (Click for a larger image)
This is a shot of the "Wye Invader", from a postcard printed by Graham & Sons Ltd from a photo by Marcus Photos, and it reached Wilton Bridge on the 8th November 1989. This was the largest vessel known to have navigated the River Wye and is 38 meters long and weighs 230 tons and is now moored up towards Hereford. It was brought up river by local businessman Frank Barton, to use as a floating restaurant. This took nearly a year and the owner convinced Hereford council that it would bring economic benefits to the river and so a mooring was obtained.
The "Wye Invader" at Wilton Bridge [Printed Graham & Sons Ltd/Photo: Marcus Photos] (Click for a larger image)
The "Wye Invader" was built in Holland in 1930 and was first known as "Luctor" and was owned by Mr. K. Kamminga from Gasselternijveen. In the years around 1970 it was
owned by Mr. Klaas Hooiveld who named the ship "Zwerver" and the family Hooiveld lived on the ship for several years.
It then passed into the hands of Mr. Reindert Delhaas and in 1972 it was named "Petronella". In 1979 it became known as "Elsje-N" when Mr. Nieboer from Deventer
purchased it. At some point after this it was owned by Mr. Keizer from Grijpskerk who called it "Zilvermeeuw" until it was renamed for its trip up the River Wye
by Mr. Frank Barton3.
The Wye Invader below Wilton Bridge [Photo: J.C.Coombes] (Click for a larger image)
The Wye Invader passing under Wilton Bridge [Photo: J.C.Coombes] (Click for a larger image)
The bow of the Wye Invader [Photo: J.C.Coombes] (Click for a larger image)
This postcard, also by Marcus Photos, shows the Wye Invader after it had passed under the bridge and was making its way further upstream to Hereford.
The "Wye Invader" above Wilton Bridge [Photo: Marcus Photos] (Click for a larger image)
The boat was purchased by Mr. Frank Barton, an ex SAS garage owner from Hereford, with the aim of being converted into a floating restaurant
at Hereford. The trip from Chepstow to Hereford took from April to November 1989 and was skippered from Monmouth to Ross by Gerald Gardiner2.
When it got to Symonds Yat it was moored outside of Garth Cottage after its ascent up the rapids2.
It is reported that he made at least one trip to Hay-on-Wye2 probably as part of an ongoing dispute over the rights of navigation on the Wye1.
The request to use it as a restaurant was repeatedly refused so the boat remained beached just below the old bridge until at
least July 19951 and was eventually moved into a semi-dry dock at Hampton Bishop just south of Hereford on the Rotherwas
side of the river. It was then kept in good order and regularly maintained.
On the 29th November 2012 the Wye Invader, whilst the river was in flood, started its journey back down the river from the dry dock reputed at about 10 mph.
It had a crew of three and the cabin had to be removed in order for it to pass under the bridges. On the 1st December 2012 it arrived at Ross and at around
midday made its way under Wilton Bridge.
To do this a member of the crew was put on the shore and fixed a line so that the barge could be winched through the bridge backwards whilst maintaining control of its position in the channel. The passing of the bridge was highly successful with only a single small collision with the bridge.
It then travelled on down to Symonds Yat arriving at about 16:00 after getting stuck for a shortwhile somewhere between Wilton Brdige and Kerne Bridge. It was was
then reported to be heading onwards for a dry dock on the Severn.
In 1644, during the Civil War in England and Wales, Wilton Bridge was being defended by thirty Royalist musketeers from Goodrich Castle, who were under the command of Captain Caffy, when a party of Parliamentarian Troops attacked the bridge with two cannon. The Parliamentarians were possibly under the command by Colonel John Birch who later, in 1646, laid seige to Goodrich Castle and used the famous mortar 'Roaring Meg' to breach the castle walls and capture the castle.
During the battle for the bridge, the arch nearest to Wilton village was destroyed.
The Parliamentarian troops then crossed the river at a ford (or more troops came up from Goodrich or down the west bank) and attacked the Royalists from the rear which resulted in Captain Caffy and many of his troops being killed.
As a result the arch had to be rebuilt and hence its style is distinctly different to the other arches that make up the bridge.
1The Bridges of Wales and Western England by E. Jervoise, A.M.Inst.C.E. - pub 1936 The Architectural Press 2The Turbulent Story of Ross & Archenfield against the famout background of Ross-on-Wye - Sept. 4 and 5 1976