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Preston’s bridges and the Dickens effect

Posted on - 23rd July, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, Transport
The 1755 Walton Bridge Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The 1755 Walton Bridge Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston boasts a range of bridges from different eras. In fact, there are now seven. The River Ribble presented a major obstacle, with the first crossing being built in Roman times. The main north-south road ran from the fort at Walton-le-Dale towards Lancaster. The road is thought to have crossed the river at some point, close to the present bridge, shown above. However, the river has changed course over the last 2,000 years and the evidence for such a structure is long lost. The last bridge to be built was the M6 motorway bridge, which has been widened several times.

Preston’s seven bridges Pic: Google Earth
Preston’s seven bridges Pic: Google Earth

Walton Bridge

The present Walton Bridge is not the first to cross the Ribble at this point. A bridge at Walton-le-Dale is first mentioned in documents from 1302. However, this bridge was probably made of timber and destroyed by floods in 1400. The bridge in the image below was built around 1625 and replaced by the current structure in 1781. This was the only bridge to cross the Ribble until the Penwortham Bridge was built in 1755.

The Walton Bridge Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Old Penwortham Bridge

Penwortham Old Bridge in modern times Pic: Wikimedia
Penwortham Old Bridge in modern times Pic: Wikimedia

The second bridge to be built in Preston was at Penwortham. This structure is a five-span stone bridge and was the lowest crossing point on the Ribble until the early 20th century. It was opened in 1759 and is now a scheduled monument. Today Penwortham Bridge is no longer used for traffic. Perhaps the most impressive bridge would have been a huge aqueduct that was to be used to join the two halves of the Lancaster Canal. This was never built due to cost issues. As a result, a more modest tram road was constructed. Consequently, a bridge for the tram road was the next to be built. There are two more recent bridges that cross the river near Penwortham.

The Old Tram Bridge

The Old Tram Road Bridge Pic: Wikimedia
The Old Tram Road Bridge Pic: Wikimedia

The Preston tramway bridge opened in the 1790s. The tramway was five miles long and joined either end of the Lancaster Canal. The rails were L shaped unlike modern rails and the wagons were hauled by horses. Six wagons at a time could be moved and they weighed two tonnes each. The arrival of the railways ended the use of the tram road. However, the bridge survived as a footpath. Unfortunately, the structure was closed in 2019 due to cracking, and its future remains in doubt.

Read more: £20m Levelling Up cash boost for Preston will include Old Tram Bridge replacement

The North Union Railway Bridge

Postcard of the North Union Railway Bridge Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Postcard of the North Union Railway Bridge Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The main railway bridge in Preston was built in 1837/38 by the North Union Railway it has been widened several times and is now festooned with catenary supports. The width was doubled in 1879/80.

A tale of two cities

Preston had a reputation for being the smoke-begrimed “Coke Town” of Dickens fame. However, postcards were used to counter this image. This 1927 view shows the now out-of-use, East Lancashire Railway bridge. The East Lancashire line closed in the 1960s, and the bridge is now used as a footbridge. Unfortunately, pleasure boats are no longer seen on the Ribble.

Postcard of Preston from 1927 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Postcard of Preston from 1927 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The M6 motorway bridge

The M6 Ribble crossing under construction Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The M6 Ribble crossing under construction Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The last bridge to date carries the M6 motorway. This was built in the mid-1950s and opened in 1958. It has been modified and widened several times.

Follow Geoffrey on Twitter for more Preston history.

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