Saturday, 9 June 2012

The unique historic New Bridges linking St Ives and Hemingford


Walk across the mediaeval bridge from the aptly named Bridge Street in St Ives, Cambridgeshire and you come to a lesser known but equally important monument, the New Bridges, London Road, Hemingford Grey.

I was on my way to the A14 coffee morning in the Taproom at St Ives today (http://www.nutcrackerdigitalproductions.co.uk/a14-coffee-morning/). Considering the torrential rain overnight, it was with some apprehension that I left the car in the Dolphin Hotel car park, after all, it does flood very nicely. However, I was reassured by the workmen repairing the brickwork of some of the 55 arches that make up the New Bridges. Naturally curious, I went over for a chat and was prompted to do a bit more internet research back home.

New Bridges, London Road, St Ives to Hemingford showing arches prior to repair work in June 2012


Constructed in 1822 within 23 weeks using 250000 bricks, even Thomas Telford considered the New Bridges an important structure when he visited in 1826 during his review of the turnpike trusts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnpike_trust) of Britain. At 700 feet/213m  it is “a unique causeway in the UK in that it is the longest road causeway with the greatest number of continuous brick arches” (English Heritage. More information at http://goo.gl/AUPlO).

New Bridges is a Grade II listed monument, yet the repairs are surprisingly superficial and decorative as the underlying arches are still relatively sound. The original brick was local yellow gault brick and it is being replaced with new yellow bricks. As they are as unweathered, they do contrast quite strongly with the old at the moment.

New Bridges, London Road, St Ives to Hemingford showing arches after repair work in June 2012


Apparently, according to the builders on site, the foundations of the causeway are built on wood.  This reminded me of the old Aberystwyth – Lampeter Railway which was built on a whole year's supply of wool fleeces where it traversed Tregaron Bog (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Davies_(industrialist)).

The greater hazard to the bridge is probably the bumper to bumper car parking along almost its entire length along the East side. The practically constant asymmetrical load of 30+ tons appears to be visibly causing the bridge to sink more on the east side than the West (http://goo.gl/XWhjx – looking South).

If you look more closely along the length of the bridge, closer to the far end of the Dolphin Hotel car park, you can see that the arches there are different (http://www.stives-town.info/album/detail.asp?GetAPicID=154). This is where the St Ives to Huntingdon stretch of the Railway used to cross the bridge after 1847 – with a level crossing!

A chance conversation and you discover another facet of our regions history!

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