In 1602 the West Riding Justices named 48 bridges which were to be kept in repair by the County – a relatively small number considering the size of the county. A century and a half later Robert Carr and John Watson produced for the Quarter Sessions a “Book of Bridges” with plans and descriptions of 120 bridges and the extent of the obligation of the Riding for the maintenance of each. At the same time a survey of all the bridges in the county was undertaken by John Westerman and John Gott, which included 308 bridges which were repaired by bodies other than the county – wapentakes, parishes or individuals..
In addition to the actual bridge, the County’s responsibility extended also to the highway for 300 feet from each end thereof. County bridges were marked by stones and several of these survive, even where the bridges themselves have been widened or rebuilt. Usually the stone is sited at the bridge, but sometimes they can be found 300 feet from it. Examples of the latter can be found at Holmbridge, south of Holmfirth, and at Dunford Bridge.
There are three main types:
- round-topped stone ones, presumed to be the oldest, with WR carved on them – often now badly eroded – the example above is at Cooper Bridge near Mirfield;
- triangular cast-iron plates, marked WR on each side; the example at the bottom left is at Grassington on the Wharfe.
- and a third, less common, type consisting simply of a vertical cross on a round-topped stone. There are examples of these in the Dales at Hebden (on Hebden Beck where there is also a triangular marker) and Skirfare Bridge (illustrated bottom right) also over the Wharfe. There is a theory that these bridges may have had a monastic origin, though the stones are much later.
We do not know when the bridge markers were erected, but one theory is that they could date from a later bridge act (1803) as an indication of a bridge’s fitness for purpose.
Sources: West Yorkshire Archives; Milestone Society Newsletter (17, 2009, p 10).
RWH / updated June 2020.
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