NOSTALGIA: The first bridges in Kendal

The Westmorland Gazette: An 1860 illustration of Kendal’s Nether Bridge An 1860 illustration of Kendal’s Nether Bridge

Historian Arthur Nicholls describes the first two bridges built in Kendal

 

Kendal is a town divided – not by political or social factions or by economics, but by the river Kent.

The river was an important source of power for mills and factories and a provider of water for domestic and commercial use – and was also a convenient sewer!

In days gone by there were political and social rifts and in the 19th century elections brought rioting in the streets. According to the old legend, the area east of the river became known as Doodleshire and there was hatred between the people on either side of the water.

The first settlers inhabited land beside the river where a church was built, so they had water for their bodies and their souls.

As the settlement grew into a town it spread to the other side of the river and there came the need to cross. At first, this was by means of fording at shallow places, but it was dangerous at times of flood, causing carts or carriages to be overturned, so the bridge was introduced.

The first two bridges were constructed in the 14th century – Nether and Stramongate Bridges at the south and north ends of Kirkland and the town.

Nether Bridge was known as Caps Pontus or Head Bridge and Nether indicates the furthest downstream.

In 1376 a grant of ‘pontage’ was made for the repair of the bridge, which was only wide enough for one cart at a time. Wider carts continued to use the ford.

With the coming of the turnpikes, the bridge was widened on the southern side in 1776, the work being washed away three weeks later in floods and rebuilt again quickly. It was widened again in 1911 when the motor car caused an increase in traffic. The three sections of the bridge can be seen under the arches.

In 1379, the Bishop of Carlisle offered an indulgence towards the building of what became Stramongate (or Northern) Bridge. It is of typical mediaeval design with arches causing a steep approach on each side.

Horses drawing heavy loads often had difficulty and there were constant accidents.

By 1572 it seems that both bridges had become weak and it was enacted that no-one should draw or trail any timber or other draught by horse or cattle over either.

By 1706, Stramongate Bridge had become decayed and repairs were ordered – but arguments went on for years about who should pay.

When work started in 1791 it was found that the mediaeval structure was so substantial that it was easier to build new bridges on each side to form one bridge.

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