The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
At the time of the Norman Conquest the area we now know as Plymouth was surrounded on three sides by water. To the south was the Sound, of course, but off that there were creeks at the Sourepool (now Millbay roughly), and at East Stonehouse, which stretched inland as far as the present Pennycomequick. To the west was the Hamoaze and off it were creeks at Keyham, Weston Mill and Budshead. And even over on the east, the river Plymouth had a creek at Laira Green and the river itself ran as far inland as the present Plympton Castle.
It was necessary to cross the river Plym to get to Plymouth from up country and the river Tamar had to be crossed to go further west into Cornwall. The only dry route out of the Town was north to Tavistock.
On the river Plym the nearest bridge was at Plym Bridge. To cross the river further down required a boat. The road into Plymouth ran from Plympton Castle along what is now Underwood Road and down to a ford, the Ebb Ford from which Efford is derived, at Crabtree. The nearest ferry was roughly where the present Laira Bridge is.
Over on the western boundary of Plymouth was the Hamoaze and the River Tamar. Here the nearest bridge was Horse Bridge until the turnpike period saw the construction of New Bridge at Gunnislake. The only way to cross the river was by ferry, for pedestrians only, at Cremyll and Saltash.
Within Plymouth the oldest bridge was Bilbury Bridge. This was located at the junction of two streams that met just to the north of Sutton Pool and which is considered to be the site of the original Sutton that gave birth to our modern City.
In 1525 local landowner Sir Piers Edgcumbe built Mill Bridge across Stonehouse Creek. As its name implies, this was to not just provide a crossing place but was mainly to hold a water-mill that was powered by the water flowing into and out of the creek. Originally passage across the bridge was free but in 1807, without warning, a toll-gate was erected. This prompted the Mayor and Corporation of Plymouth to march in due state to the bridge where, with the aid of a body of carpenters, they demolished the gate and threw the timber into the water.
A legal battle ensued until an Act of Parliament confirmed the Edgcumbe's right to charge a toll and the bridge was then rebuilt. Pedestrians were allowed to cross free of toll -- the only such one in the Plymouth area.
According to an article in "The South Devon Monthly Museum" for May 1st 1835, there used to be a beaten track across the marsh of the river Plym in the 17th century. In 1753 a bridge was built at the expense of the county across the river near the Marsh Mills on the Plympton side. This was known as New Bridge. It was only ten feet wide and in 1835 was about to be removed and rebuilt as it was 'ill-adapted to the increased number of acrriages and horses which now pass over it, and especially to the degree of velocity with which our mail and other coaches now travel'.
On some maps, and in some references, New Bridge has been referred to as Long Bridge but that is incorrect. The Long Bridge was the old raised road which ran from New Bridge across the marsh to the side of Marsh House in the parish of Eggbuckland. Older readers will remember the Rising Sun Public House stood at the Plymouth end of it. This causeway replaced the beaten track already mentioned and was built in 1758 as part of the new Turnpike road through the Ridgeway to Ivybridge. The Long Bridge gave its name to the area when the Tecalemit factory was built on the marshland and it remained in situ until the first roundabout was built in the 1970s.
In the 17th century passage across the lower reach of Stonehouse Creek to Plymouth Dock was either by pedestrian ferry or the long journey by track around Mill Bridge. In 1767 Lord Mount Edgcumbe, as Lord of the Manor of East Stonehouse, and Sir John Saint Aubyn, Lord of the Manor of Stoke Damerel, obtained an Act of Parliament authorising the construction of Stonehouse Bridge to provide a more direct link between Plymouth Dock and Stonehouse. The tolls were fixed by the Act at 2d return for a 1-horse drawn vehicle, 3d for 2 horses and 6d for wagons drawn by more than 2 horses. Pedestrians paid a halfpenny and the bridge was for ever known as "Halfpenny Bridge." The Act also absolved the owners from paying any public or parochial rate or tax.
The Bridge was opened in 1773, when the approach to it was via Stonehouse Lane (later known as King Street) and High Street rather than through Union Street, which was not built until 1815. Carriages began to ply for hire between Plymouth and Plymouth Dock in 1775.
In 1828 the bridge was raised and Devonport Hill lowered, which facilitated the use of hackney carriages to provide a public service between Plymouth and Devonport the following year.
Stonehouse Bridge Toll-gate
Several attempts were made by both Plymouth and Devonport to purchase the gate but the bridge, along with Stonehouse Mill Bridge, was eventually sold in February 1890 to the General Tolls Company Ltd for £122,000. The previous owners, the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and Lord Saint Levan retained shares in the new company, which was registered on February 12th 1890. Its original seven shareholders were all from the London area and the directors were Mr C J Stonor, Mr E C Stonor, Mr T M Witham and Mr O Lambert. The new owners were going to collect the tolls themselves rather than put them up for auction, as was the common practice. After prolonged negotiations, an Act of Parliament in 1923 allowed Plymouth Town Council to buy the toll rights for £100,000. Although the Act permitted the Council to charge tolls for the next ten years, it was decided to free the inhabitants from this burden and on April 1st 1924, the Mayor, Mr Solomon Stephens, and Council visited all the remaining toll houses and officially declared them free.
The creek above Stonehouse Bridge was filled in in 1972 when some 600,000 tons of ballast and rubble were used to help create 19 acres of recreational land.
The first Laira Bridge to be constructed was started in 1824 to replace a very unreliable ferry crossing. The Duchess of Clarence, later Queen Adelaide, opened the bridge on July 14th 1827. The replacement and present bridge was opened on Friday June 1st 1962 by Lord Chesham, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Transport.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Royal
The most famous of Plymouth's bridges is without doubt Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge carrying the railway across the river Tamar into Cornwall. It was opened in May 1859.
A road bridge across the river Tamar in the area of Plymouth was first mooted in 1823 by some local businessmen but it was to be over a century later, in 1959, before work started on the present structure. The Tamar Road Bridge was opened to traffic on October 24th 1961 and officially opened by HRH the Queen Mother on April 26th 1962.
|© Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK|
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