Last Updated on 1st May 2023 by Ian

I thought villagers would be interested in the following info, links and attached article on Aldwark Bridge:

Frequent users of Aldwark Bridge will no doubt be aware that it is now closed to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic until the end of October. What is less well known is that the bridge is a ‘listed’ building, or more properly structure. This itself is contributing to the time it will take to carry out the repairs and maintenance, according to Bridge Manager Dudley Valentine, who has kindly provided the attached article and following information.–

“A ‘glass blasting’ process to prepare the bridge for painting will be carried out in three stages, each involving scaffolding and the ‘shrink wrapping’ of each section, to prevent the old leaded paint and detritus getting into the river, whilst maintaining an open river channel. A new wooden roadbed will be laid, to provide more stability than at present, and the installation of the long-awaited traffic lights will be completed”.

Dudley set the wheels in motion by bringing largely local contractors to the project, which is designed to improve user experience, whilst maintaining the integrity of the bridge and its history.

Dudley is a fount of knowledge and has written a booklet on the history of the bridge which, subject to final proofing etc., will be published in the Autumn*. He has also become something of a celebrity, following a recent BBC interview for their Radio 4 series ‘Country Matters’, broadcast on 27th April, but can be heard via https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001l9dx?partner=uk.co.bbc&origin=share-mobile

The bridge also featured recently on TV. Some of you may be familiar with Rob Cummings’ excellent series ‘Canal Boat Diaries’. For those who missed it, the final episode of series three, which took him from Knottingley to Ripon past Aldwark which, from the underside of course, he likens to, “something out of an Indiana Jones movie”. One wonders if he will do so again after the repairs are complete – should he venture our way again. You can catch up on the episode via https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0015fbq/canal-boat-diaries-series-3-4-knottingley-to-ripon

More Information…..

The Aldwark Toll Bridge has just closed for the summer to allow for extensive renovations, meaning motorists will have to undertake a 19 mile diversion route.
It is one of just eight privately owned toll bridges in the country, most of which date back to the mid to late 18th Century when individuals were able to approach Parliament and ask for permission to build a bridge – or indeed a road – at their own expense and then charge people to use it. Because of the conditions in the Act which enabled them to be built, most of the eight bridges are, like Aldwark, free of any obligation to pay tax on the takings because in the 18th Century, the government, which didn’t have a network of councils and highways authorities, was keen to encourage private individuals to improve the national infrastructure.

In Aldwark’s case, the individual was John Thomson who operated the ferry rowboat that connected the villages of Ouseburn on the west and Aldwark on the east – the name Aldwark comes from the Anglo-Saxon meaning “old fort”, which suggests that the Romans kept guard on the river crossing which was on the road to York. The bridge is still approached on both sides by Boat Lane in a nod to the centuries of ferrymen who plied their trade across the river.

One day, bad weather prevented Mr Thomson from operating, so he rode to London to seek Parliament’s permission. It was granted in 1768 and the bridge was in operation by 1772.
Not that travellers can today see much of the original structure because there’s an undocumented story that it was once damaged when it was struck by an iceberg, and it was almost entirely rebuilt in 1880 when its central section was swept away by a flood, so the lattice iron parapets date from then.

In 1962, the bridge’s then owner, a company called Yorkshire Farmers Ltd, put it up for sale and the North Riding County council refused to buy it and so bring it into the public network. To astonishment, it was revealed that the toll collector, Mrs Wright, worked 105 hours a week for which she was paid £3 – less the £2 she paid for the rent of the tollkeeper’s cottage.

To raise the toll, the bridge’s owner, currently a private company registered in Derbyshire, has to get Parliamentary permission. In 1980, the toll for cars was doubled to 1p; in 1997, when 700,000 vehicles a year used it, it was 8p; by 2005, it had reached 15p and there was more astonishment as it rose to 40p. Last year, a planning inspector refused permission to raise it to 80p.

Now the Aldwark Bridge is closed for repairs until the end of October, so beware if you get stuck on Boat Lane on a smaller bridge over an unnamed stream to the east of the Ure. This misty, marshy spot is said to be haunted by a restless ghost which may, or may not, be connected to the Witch of Hollows Hole.

Aldwark is Yorkshire’s last remaining private toll bridge.