John Dunn

John Dunn original writing
Book sales
Thought Pieces
Oxford to Cambridge
Something said


Next Entry

Turnpikes and bridges

Thursday, 26 November 2020 at 09:25

Irthlingborough Viaduct on Dr John Dunn. Turnpikes and bridges

Irthingborough Viaduct at sunset

I started at a road off the main thoroughfare called Tollbar - the site of the old toll gate at the junction of the Higham Ferrers Turnpike, a major north-south route (later the A6) and the Kimbolton Turnpike, a major east-west route, (later the A45).


c1910 - The road junction

The toll house right

1920s The toll house (right) looks directly down Northampton Road

toll house

The toll house right and the birthplace of a famous son of the town, Archbishop Chichele on the left

Above are old photographs of the junction. The thatched cottage on the right,with the small bay window at road level, is the toll collectors cottage. The oldest photograph is from 1910, thirty years after the ending of the turnpike system, but you can still make out the old turnpike information boards on the wall which would have set out the various tolls to be paid.

Consider, the A6 before the motorway era was the main London route to the north-west of England. Similarly, as a major east west route, the A45 ran from one of England’s major manufacturing centres in the Midlands all the way to the port of Felixstowe.

At this junction and former toll bar these two roads met and shared the High Street through Higham Ferrers, before going their separate ways after about half a mile.

Travellers down the High Street still pass through the market square, which gained its market charter way back in 1251. The market cross in the square originates from this time.

Of course two major arterial roads sharing a road through the market square was not sustainable, but it is quite a surprise to discover how long the arrangement was tolerated.

Plans for a by-pass were discussed many years ago, but only in 1993 did they come to have any substance, and even then it was still a decade before the by-pass was finally opened in 2003. The road through the town has now been re-designated as the A5028.

With a small diversion because of road closures and improvements, I followed the route of the old A6 to the object of my ride, the Irthlingborough Viaduct in Northamptonshire.

Built in 1936 the viaduct still bears the traffic of the current A6 over the wide River Nene. With a mix of classical and Art Deco features, the great concrete structure must have made a huge impact when completed, especially when compared to its predecessor.

Before the 1930s viaduct, the A6 traffic had to negotiate a very narrow medieval bridge.

This viaduct was built because lovely old bridge just downstream was unable to support the volume of traffic because its foundations were unstable.

The old bridge, originally built in Medieval times to carry pedestrians and horse drawn carts, has ten ribbed arches with "refuge cutwaters”. Thereis a stone bearing the Arms of Peterborough Monastery - suggesting monastic involvement in its construction.

Over the years it has been repaired - one date stone is 1668. It was widened on the upstream side in 1754 by adding red brick semicircular arches. A central plaque with an inscription relates to a restoration of 1829.

A1920s attempt to widen the bridge and its approaches was abandoned half-way through when it was found that the entire bridge was on the move seawards!

The growth in motor traffic meant that the replacement of the old bridge was inevitable and the concrete viaduct of 1936 was the result. Sadly, there is no information on the internet about its actual planning and construction. However, you do not need the technical details to be impressed by this noble river crossing from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Having ridden across the viaduct, I pulled in to park at the site of the long gone toll gate on the Irthlingborough side of the medieval bridge. Walking across the old bridge I videoed and photographed the great viaduct just as the setting sun emerged from the clouds.

© John Dunn.

Zenith of a market town

Tuesday, 17 November 2020 at 21:02

Hoskins Midland England on Dr John Dunn. Zenith of a market town

W. G. Hoskins wrote about the zenith of the country town, with all its astonishing bustle and business, in his Midland England, published in 1949 as one of Batsford’s Face of Britain Series. He argued that the later decline of the market town reflected to a large degree the decay of the countryside around them brought about by the parliamentary enclosures of George III’s reign.

About the market town Market Harborough Hoskins wrote:

In a trade directory like Pigot & Co’s National Commercial Directory for 1828-9, one sees the rich and varied and intensely local life these compact country towns enjoyed.

Take Market Harborough for example… The directory begins with the gentry and the clergy, who all lived in the town and not in large houses outside it: the academies and schools, the professor of music, the surgeons, thebankers and the lawyers. There were bakers (one milled his own corn), blacksmiths, booksellers and printers, boot and shoe makers, braziers, builders, butchers, cabinet-makers, carpenters, joiners, wheelwrights; “chymists”, confectioners, coopers, curriers and dyers; grocers and tea dealers, ironmongers, linen and woollen drapers, tailors, milliners and dressmakers, furriers, straw-hat makers, hatters, hosiers, clothiers and lace manufacturers; saddlers, slaters, stonemasons, timber merchant, turner, brush manufacturer, and some excellent clock makers whose grandfather clocks still tick on in houses round and about the old town; brewers, maltsters, wine and spirit merchants, inns and taverns; plumbers, glaziers, painters, cutlers, seedsmen, tanners, coal merchant, flax-dresser, hairdressers, and a veterinary surgeon. Coaches called every day to and from London, Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester and Sheffield. There is a whole list of carriers to London, Birmingham, the east of England, the north of England and to strings of villages down in Northamptonshire and back in Leicestershire; and as if that were not enough “Pickford & Co.’s and Worster & Stubbs’ Fly Boats to all parts of England daily” along the canal. There was a weekly market and two great annual fairs and other lesser ones. And all this tremendous array of professions, trades, crafts and services, and all this daily traffic and commotion, in a town of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants.
Posted by John Dunn.

Water End

Sunday, 15 November 2020 at 10:53

Water End Bridge on Dr John Dunn. My photograph of the bridge at Water End

Water End

Whilst reading H. J. Massingham’s more than a guide book Chiltern Country (1940), I came across this photograph of the old bridge at Water End, just north of Hemel Hempsted. I was much intrigued by the sylvan scene even though Massingham writes nothing about it specifically (that is not the style of his book) and indeed only makes a passing reference to the Gade Valley and the river which this pretty little bridge spans.