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.
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.
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.
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.
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.