Wednesday 5 January 2022

Old Days of Eton Parish - The Eton Bridges


FROM matters connected with the Church we turn for the present to other points of local interest. 

Eton seems to have been always subject to floods, and even at ordinary times the crossing of so many intersecting streams must have made the bridges not merely a con­venience, but in some cases an absolute necessity. The first mention of any of the Eton bridges occurs in a docu­ment called the Hundred Rolls, dated 1274, i.e., 167 years before the College was founded. In this it is stated: "The whole township of Eton from Baldwin Bridge to Windsor Bridge was accustomed to give toll of fuel in vessels and all the royalties appertaining thereto.1" This toll was probably in the form of blocks of wood or faggots cut from the copses in the parish. It was given in aid of the royal revenues, which were much impoverished in the time of the Crusades. Baldwin Bridge, for it was originally called, is again mentioned in the Founder's plans for the College.

1.         This was probably the earliest of the bridges and was naturally required to connect the town with its farms and woods in other parts of the parish.

At an early period several houses seem to have sprung up along Baldwin Shore,some of them of a substantial size, and from thence they extended along the right side or the long walk' to what is now Savile House in Weston's Yard.

Who Baldwin was is unknown, but it may be presumed that he was founder of the bridge and its endowment.

It is not called Barns Pool Bridge till the latter part of the sixteenth century. Barns Pool may have been a landing wharf. It has been suggested that it was so named from the barns in which goods were stored.

In Queen Elizabeth's reign steps were taken to secure, for the maintenance of the bridge, the title to certain property, consisting of a house adjoining the bridge, and other land. This, in 1592, was conveyed to thirteen Feoffees or Trustees, being inhabitants of Eton, "for erecting or repairing and from time to time amending and maintaining for ever the said bridge."

By the terms of the trust, the Feoffees are empowered, after spending what is necessary on this purpose, to bestow the remainder "in such ways as seem to be the best, and to the most advantage of the inhabitants and parishioners of Eton."

They are instructed to meet yearly at Pentecost at the Bridge House and appoint two of their number, called the Bridge Master and the Bridge Man, to carry out the objects decided by the majority.

In accordance with these instructions, we are told that in the year 1658 "the bridge called Barnspool Bridge, alias Baldwin Bridge, was pluckt upp and new built." In 1676-9 the house adjoining the bridge is described as the Town House, and the land all round, Town land. A commodious room was built in 1793 for the meeting of the Feoffees, also for the meeting of the inhabitants on the common business of the parish.

In 1687 the last mentioned bridge, which was made of wood, was superseded by one of brick, and in 1884 the present iron bridge was constructed.

By a careful improvement of the Bridge Estate property, its annual value has been considerably increased. In 1676 it was £4 10s; in 1876 it had become £311 10s. 6d., and in 1901 produced a rental of £554 11s., and many persons and institutions have received considerable benefit thereby.

II. In (303 a flood demolished Spitelbrigge, now known as Beggars' Bridge, close to Willowbrook.

In consequence of this an injunction was issued to the Sheriff of Buckingham reciting that the

A History of the
Baldwin's Bridge Trust
by F.I. Wilson
Published 1977

bridge was broken down and destroyed "to the injury of the adjacent country and manifest danger of travellers," and an enquiry was held at Eton, before two commissioners and a jury of twelve persons, to ascertain to whom the duty of repair belonged.

The bridge would seem to have been built about fifty years before by one Walter de Teb, with voluntary gifts collected in the town and neighbourhood, and the commissioners made return upon oath that the said bridge being one half in Eton and the other half in Upton, no obligation lay on the people of Eton to sustain it. It must be rebuilt by begging for contributions. Hence the name it now bears.

III. Long Bridge or Fifteen Arch Bridge is said to have had once fourteen narrow arches of brick, and one central arch of stone. Six of the centre arches were destroyed by flood in 1809 and replaced by three only. The present bridge dates from 1843.

IV. Windsor Bridge perhaps should not properly come into a history of Eton, as it has been always the exclusive property of the Windsor Borough, but for three reasons a short summary of its history can hardly be omitted altogether.

1. The opening of this means of communication with the Castle must have contributed very considerably to the trade and convenience of Eton.

2. Eton must always have helped largely, by the tolls taken from its inhabitants, towards the maintenance of the bridge.

3. The final freeing of this bridge was due to the determined and self-sacrificing efforts of an Eton townsman.

As far as can be ascertained, no bridge existed before the reign of Edward I. Previously to this, communication was by means of ferry. The river was most likely crossed ►se days from what is now River Street on the Clewer side to Meadow Lane in Eton, whence a road ran towards Cippenham, once an important place, and Burnham. On September 18, 1281, King Edward I. granted a charter for a bridge to the Burgesses of 'New Wyndesore,' as the town which had been rising for fifty years under the Castle walls was now called.

This charter carried with it the control and profits of certain waters and fisheries on the Thames, which in later days became the property of Eton College. It also gave the Burgesses the right to take pontage or toll for the upkeep of the bridge.

This latter right was renewed from time to time, and certain other grants were made by Henry VI. in the twenty-third year of his reign, when a new bridge was built.

In the time of the Great Rebellion (1642), which was largely supported by the County of Bucks, the then existing bridge was broken down to hinder the march of the Parliamentary Army.

In 1707 the Burgesses leased the bridge to John Herring, requiring him to repair and renew it whenever needed, but owing to complaints as to the heaviness of the tolls, and the dangerous state of the bridge, an Act was obtained in 1734 for a fixed schedule of tolls, with the power to enforce them and to use them for the purposes of keeping up the bridge. This was renewed in an Act, July 1819, George III., when power was given to build a new bridge of stone and iron, in place of the timber bridges built hitherto, and to continue and levy certain tolls for twenty-one years. This permission was subsequently extended and did not finally come to an end till 1872. Under this Act, tolls were only to be paid by the same vehicle once in the day and were to be diverted to no other purpose or use whatsoever than the necessary expenses of the bridge.

When the right expired in 1872, the Corporation was advised by Counsel, either to go back on the prescriptive right of the first charter, or to apply for a fresh Act of Parliament. They chose to take a course of their own, and adopted a modified scale of charges without applying for an Act, and meanwhile farmed the bridge and made about £500 a year, which was used to the relief of the rates. A few people disputed their claims, but no one was bold enough to oppose them till 1895, when Mr. Joseph Taylor took up the matter, and obtained Counsel's opinion to the effect that the Act of George III. finally destroyed the old prescriptive right.

In September that same year Mr. Taylor drove up to the bridge, and, refusing to pay the toll, it was barred against him.

On January 30, 1896, he renewed his attempt, and paid the demanded toll under protest. This led to a trial at Queen's Bench in May 1897, when the Lord Chief Justice gave judgment in favour of the Corporation.

Just when Windsor was congratulating itself on its victory, it was announced that Mr. Taylor had decided to appeal.

The case came on in the High Court of Appeal in October, and a unanimous judgment was given in favour of Mr. Taylor's contention. Whereupon the Corporation appealed to the House of Lords, and in November 1898 another unanimous judgment was given, and the case was finally won, and the bridge freed from toll for ever.

The bridges not on the high road are as follows: In the Playing Fields Sheep's Bridge, built 1563 to replace one of wood. On the river towing path Bargeman's Bridge and Cuckoo Weir Bridge, both over streams from Cuckoo Weir. Higher up the river at Upper Hope is Long Bray Bridge—and higher still, opposite Eton Wick, Boveney Bridge, which crosses the stream separating Eton from Boveney.

Note 1 Hence, in Lysons' Magna Britannia, 1813, the town is designated ‘Eton Gildables,' or more correctly ‘Geldable,' or liable to tribute, as distinct from some land which was free from taxation.

OLD DAYS OF ETON PARISH by The Rev. John Shephard, M.A. was published in 1908 by Spottiswoode and Co Ltd. The text is has been copied from the original book that is now out of copyright.


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