EARLIER this year, I took my old Seamaster cruiser Terra Nova up the Thames from her mooring at Shepperton towards Staines – and as I passed Dumsey Meadow, I was struck by how beautiful Chertsey Bridge looked in the morning sunshine.
About time, I thought, that I did a piece for Riverwatch looking into the background of this structure because, as I’ve said before, I think we all take our bridges over the Thames very much for granted these days.
The bridge which carries the B375 road connecting Shepperton and Chertsey stands just below Chertsey Lock and consists of a seven arch tied-arch white stone construction. It was built between 1783 and 1785 and, these days, it is a grade II listed building
We know that the first bridge on the site was built some time after 1299 because in that year King Edward I – otherwise known as ‘Longshanks’ – and his family were carried across the river by a ferry-woman called Sibille. (Why can I not get Basil Fawlty out of my head hearing that name?)
Having scanned the history books, the first reference to a bridge at Chertsey dates back to 1530, when it was described as a “goodly bridg of timber, newly repaird.” (They weren’t that hot on spelling in the 16th century, apparently). By 1580, however, it was dilapidated and the Crown, which had acquired responsibility for the maintenance of the bridge from the monks at Chertsey Abbey, was trying to find someone on whom they could pin the bill for repairs. The documents record the dimensions as “210 feet in length and 15 feet in breadth”.
Presumably, the Royal purse was eventually prised open to fund the upkeep of the bridge but the restoration work did not meet with the approval of all who used the crossing. Indeed, in a report in 1632 the bridge, which slanted upwards from the Middlesex bank to Surrey, was described as being ‘like the work of a left-handed man.’ (My apologies to all left-handed craftsmen reading this column…) Watermen, too, complained that trying to get their barges under the old bridge was dangerous so in 1780 plans for a new stone bridge were drawn up. Replacement of the old one began in 1783. There were 184 piles for the old bridge, which were cut off six feet below high water mark, and the materials of the old bridge fetched £120 at auction in August 1784.
The architect of the new bridge was James Paine and his vision became reality by 1785 at the somewhat exorbitant cost of £6,813 4s 11d. Perhaps there was a big row about the cost because the contractor built the number of arches specified – seven – but they did not reach from one bank to the other and Middlesex and Surrey had to stump up extra cash to link the bridge to the banks?
One point of particular interest can be found on the southern end of the bridge – namely a late 19th century square cast iron coal tax post complete with its cornice and capping. These were marker posts, erected around 1850, in a rough circle about 20 miles from the centre of London marking the points were taxes on coal and wine due to the Corporation of London had to be paid.
Chertsey Bridge facts
- The current Chertsey Bridge was opened in 1785
- It consists of seven arches with five piers fixed into the river bed
- The bridge was designed by James Paine and is built of white stone
- The maximum clearance at the centre arch is 19 feet and one inch (5.82m)
- It is a grade II listed building and is maintained by Surrey County Council