Deepings Heritage – The History of Bridges

The History of Bridges

At our final meeting this season, on Friday 13th May, retired civil engineer Brian Keegan will describe how bridges evolved from a simple tree trunk across a stream, to modern constructions of concrete and steel. He will illustrate his talk with some important examples from the Peterborough area.

In our fenland landscape of rivers and dykes, some means of moving animals, people and goods over water would have been needed from early times. Boats had limited capacity, so bridges became essential, especially for trading routes crossing the Welland.

The stone bridge between Deeping St James and Deeping Gate has the date 1651 carved into it – the year that Civil War fighting ended. It’s not known who paid for its construction, but Market Deeping had to wait another two centuries before its ancient wooden bridge was replaced by a stone one.

This aerial view shows the four alcoves incorporated into Deeping St James’ bridge, to provide refuge for pedestrians when horse-drawn vehicles came across. The structure has undergone various repairs over the centuries, and in 1904 its central arch was renewed at a cost of £343. It was then reported “The bridge is now sound and a great improvement has been made in the approach.”

There is likely to have been some form of crossing at that point since medieval times, and where travellers arrived there was inevitably an inn! In 1738 “a large and commodious public house known by the sign of the Axe and Cleaver” was situated by the stone bridge in Deeping St James. By the 1760s when William Ireland was landlord, the inn had acquired its present name of The Bell.

Even during the 1730s the pub had been described as old, and when the premises were sold in 1812, they were said to have been used as an inn “beyond memory”. Thomas Nurse became landlord in 1818, promising to give particular attention to the well-airing of beds. He also provided a horse and gig to forward passengers arriving on the Old Boston coach.

The Bell has since been substantially rebuilt, and is shown in the colour photograph in 2009.

Brian Keegan’s talk will begin at 7.30 pm in the main hall of the Community Centre. Entrance £2. Everyone is welcome.

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