Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Beggar’s Bridge to Crane Bridge

This is my family in 1988, on our holiday at Egton Bridge in North Yorkshire. We weren’t playing ‘Pooh Sticks’ just posing on a famous packhorse bridge called ‘Beggar’s Bridge’ over the River Esk at Glaisdale, not far from our holiday cottage.

I was looking for a suitable illustration of a packhorse from around the time that the bridge was built in 1619 by Thomas Ferris, but instead I found this one from,

 'Chambers’s  encyclopaedia; a dictionary of universal knowledge for the people’ published in 1871*

which also gives the following definition:

PACKHORSE, a horse employed in the carriage of goods, which are either fastened on its back in bundles, or, if weighty, are placed in panniers, slung one on each side across the horse’s back. The saddle to which the bundles were fastened consisted of two pieces of wood, curved so as to fit the horse’s back, and joined together at the ends by other two straight pieces. This frame was well padded underneath, to prevent injury to the horses back, and was firmly fastened by a girth. To each side of the saddle, a strong hook was attached, for the purpose of carrying packages, panniers, &c. Panniers were sometimes simply slung across the horses back with a pad under the band.

The panniers were wicker baskets, and of various shapes, according to the nature of their usual contents, being sometimes long and narrow, but most generally having a length of three feet or upwards, a depth of about two-thirds of the length, and a width of from one to two feet. The packhorse with panniers was at one time in general use for carrying merchandise, and for those agricultural operations for which the horse and cart are now employed; and in the mountainous regions of Spain and Austria, and in other parts of the world, it still forms the sole medium for transport; though the mule has, especially in Europe, been substituted for the horse.

I found the above image of Salisbury, in a book called ‘Vanishing England’ (1911)* which the book describes as:
‘A small Gothic bridge near the Church House, and seen in conjunction with that venerable building it forms a very beautiful object.’ I know that bridge, over the River Avon, very well from the many years I lived in Salisbury, and of course it looks very different today and has listed status. It made me wonder if it had once been a packhorse bridge. Apparently its first archival mention is in 1300, but the name Crane Bridge was not used until the 16th century.*** The bridge has seen various changes, additions and widenings over the years. The artist appears to have presented a somewhat foreshortened view of the bridge as, according to ‘A History of the County of Wiltshire: Vol 6’ written in 1962,***

 "The present bridge is part of one of six stone arches standing in Leland’s time, is a 15th century structure with four splayed arches, having traces of a smaller and lower archway at its Eastern end. The south side of the bridge was taken down in 1898 and re-erected to widen the road.”

Salisbury became an important centre of the wool trade among others, as well as holding regular markets and fairs, and so it’s reasonable to assume that a packhorse bridge would not serve at a time of growing commerce in an important cathedral city.

Vanishing England* concludes that:

“.......old Bridges are fast disappearing and are being substituted by the hideous erections of iron and steel. It is well that we should attempt to record those that are left, photograph them and paint them, ere the march of modern progress, evinced by the traction-engine and the motor-car, has quite removed and destroyed them.”

Fortunately, the hundred years since the book was written, have seen the massive advances made in technology and we now live in a digital age where seemingly everything is catalogued. Nevertheless I’ve done my bit here. I hope you’ll enjoy it, along with other contributions to this week’s Sepia Saturday.

To end where I began, here is Beggar’s Bridge again on a beautiful postcard** printed between 1890 - 1900.

*Internet Book Archive via Flickr Commons

**Public Domain: File:Whitby,_Glaisdale,_Beggars'_Bridge,_Yorkshire,_England-LCCN2002708348.jpg

***A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6, ed. Elizabeth Crittall (London, 1962), British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol6 [accessed 29 July 2017].


  1. Beautiful and interesting post. Those old stone bridges have as much charm as any historic building. Taking them down for progress isn't progress.
    Thank you for the info

  2. I agree - I love these old arched bridges. Modern concrete bridges just come don't have the same appeal. I enjoyed reading about the bridges you featured which were new to me, and the drawings and the interesting information on the packhorses. My kind of history!

  3. Yes,the woollen industry particulary ,
    pre-industrial revolution
    involved the movement of bulky /awkward materials & goods over quite long difficult distances.
    Packhorse Bridges were vital in the process.
    Strange how what now looks picturesque & idyllic are structures built originally for very hardedge & practical purposes.

  4. I hadn't really thought about bridges being made specifically for a packhorse. They may have been for a practical purpose, but I'm sure even back then, people found them idyllic.
    I enjoyed this read.

  5. I'm very fond of the older masonry foot bridges of Britain, some even from Roman times. I think it would be a real adventure to do a long walk across Britain with a pack pony or mule.

  6. I haven't heard of the term 'packhorse bridge' before now. They are lovely old bridges, and always look strong and solid even though not originally intended to take vehicular traffic. Hopefully they are preserved even when replaced.

  7. I got a kick out of the great sepia shots of these beautiful bridges, including drawings. Thanks for gathering them here!

  8. "Packhorse bridge" - such an interesting term. If a bridge was needed for a packhorse, then it was certainly needed for the citizens to get back and forth as well. Deferring to the packhorse is charming and selfless.