Historian Arthur R Nicholls recounts the history of some of Kendal’s bridges

Kendal has always suffered from being a town divided by a river. This is more noticeable today with the town’s convoluted traffic flow.

The first settlers founded a community on one side of the river and, as it grew and prospered, it was found necessary to travel to the other side to conduct trade and farming.

Fortunately the river, though fast flowing, was fairly shallow and there were two places where it could be crossed in relative safety, except in bad weather.

These were fords on the north side of what is now Nether Bridge and a similar ford near the present Stramongate Bridge.

After a time, with increasing horse-drawn traffic and the hazards of crossing by the ford in wintry or stormy weather or times when the river flooded, something better was needed and bridges were the answer.

The ability to cross the river more easily and safely contributed materially to the prosperity of the town and, in 1376, a three-year right was given to charge pontage for the repair of Stramongate Bridge “which is broken down”.

This was a tax on landowners on which highways ran and users of bridges to assist in their repair and maintenance.

The abbey authorities saw that it would be advantageous to them also to assist in maintaining bridges to encourage people to visit religious sites, offer their prayers and make gifts.

Bishops considered it to be a pious act to help maintain bridges and, in 1379, the Bishop of Carlisle offered indulgences to anyone who would contribute a suitable amount towards the re-building of Stramongate Bridge.

An indulgence was bought for the remission of the punishment for a sin or sins after the Bishop had granted his forgiveness.

It is clear from this that Stramongate Bridge had been built some time in the twelfth or thirteen century.

In 1421 pontage was again charged, this time for one year to repair two bridges over the Kent, Stramongate and Nether.

The mediaeval Stramongate Bridge is steep and horse traffic often had difficulty in passing over it. Flatter arches came with improvements in design over the years.

Time, usage and the weather naturally took their toll on the bridges and in 1582 Kendal Corporation ordered that heavy loads such as timber were not to be carried over Stramongate and Nether Bridges and only one horse was allowed to a cart.

In 1706 it was reported that Stramongate Bridge was in decay and should be repaired. Nothing seems to have been done except report and talk.

No-one could decide who was responsible to pay for the repairs. Eventually, in 1970 it was decided to go ahead.

They found the old structure so strong that nothing short of wholesale blasting could shift it so it was decided to build an extension on each side of the old bridge to form one new bridge. The bridge still carries even greater traffic to this day.