Wetherby Bridge

Picture of the arches of wetherby bridge with ducks

Wetherby Bridge is a scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II-listed bridge over the River Wharfe dating from the 13th century. The bridge connects Micklethwaite on the South bank to the town centre on the North. It formerly carried the A1 Great North Road but now carries the A661 Boston Road leading to Boston Spa and the south.

1829 engraving of Wetherby Bridge
1829. An early engraving of Wetherby Bridge, published in London by I.T. Hinton of 4 Warwick Square. It is from a drawing by Henry Gastineau and was engraved by H. Rolls. It is thought that some artistic license has been taken in depicting the bridge. The original bridge dating from c1220 was 11 feet wide and had a hump in the middle as seen here. The hump had gone by 1773 when the bridge was widened. The drawing is also thought to pre-date the second widening of the bridge which took place in 1826.
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The bridge has 13th-century origins. It was rebuilt in the 17th century and widened twice, first in 1773 and again in 1826 to a design by Bernard Hartley. The first arches are still to be seen under the bridge as can be seen in the first picture above. Originally a hump-back bridge, upon widening in 1773, the road either side was raised to aid horses pulling heavy carts. The line of the humpback can still be seen when viewed from upstream.

Old picture of the bridge

Undated View of Wetherby Bridge spanning the River Wharfe taken before the building of the War Memorial which now stands on the bridge parapet. The telegraph pole, left of centre, was erected in 1910 and now bears the Wetherby coat of arms. Bishopsgate, now Bridge Foot, is visible in the background.

The bridge was an important logistical link for the coalfields of Garforth and Kippax to the South of the town and settlements North of the Wharfe. Coal wagons caused the road surface to deteriorate while the fast rising nature of the Wharfe exacerbated structural problems. In more modern times the only damage has been due to speeding vehicles misjudging the corner of the road.

Old postcard showing mill and bridge

In the past the repair of the bridge has been a contentious political issue .

In 1315 Eleanor de Percy petitioned Edward II for pontage for the bridge that she had undertaken to repair for redemption of the soul. An inquisition in York declared that ‘nobody’ was bound to repair the bridge and in 1316 Eleanor was granted pontage. In 1599 a stone mason complained at quarter session that he was owed £4 13s 4d for its repair. The court ordered that £5 should be levied to pay him. In 1614 at the Knaresborough quarter sessions it was reported that the bridge’s pavement had decayed, the court issued a levy of twenty marks to be collected from the Wapentakes of Barkston, Claro and Skyrack to repair the bridge. In 1662 the bridge was described as being ‘hazardous to passengers and cattle’; repairs were estimated to cost £260 which was paid from county rates and two Wetherby residents were appointed as surveyors. Issues regarding the bridge were raised at the quarter sessions ten times over the following fifty years and £300 was expended on its maintenance.

Plaque at the base of the bridge
Photo of flood waters almost reaching pinnacle of the bridge arches.
Flood waters rising on Boxing Day 2015

Wetherby Bridge is around a hundred yards (90 metres) downstream from Wetherby Weir. When the Wharfe rises, the adjacent car park and low-lying land at the Wilderness often flood. The bridge’s arches can act as a barrier collecting debris and driftwood that can cause problems after the river level subsides.

Since modern day developments the area surrounding the bridge (when not in flood!) has become an attractive family favourite location to sit and eat fish & chips, feed the ducks, or listen to the band playing on the bandstand.

Bandstand

2003 Bandstand on parkland adjacent to Wetherby Bridge. A plaque on the bandstand has the initials of the Wetherby Wier Preservation Trust and date 2000.
Copyright: Leeds Library & Information Serviceswww.leodis.net