The River Teme has been crossed at Eastham for centuries. The earliest evidence we have for a crossing point is the faint outline of a castle motte, 50m in diameter and surrounded by a ditch, located just to the south-east of the bridge in a field recorded as ‘Castle Tump Meadow’ on the 1839 tithe map. It’s probably medieval in date, although no conclusive archaeological or documentary evidence has yet been discovered. ‘Medieval castle’ conjures up images of elaborate stone towers, great halls, and knights in armour, but the fortification at Eastham is more likely to have been a modest watchtower guarding a river ford.
Although virtually invisible on the ground after centuries of erosion, the remains of the mound show clearly on the LiDAR image of the field.
The village of Eastham also dates back to at least the medieval period. It may once have been a larger settlement before shrinking, like many villages in the region, with the impact of the Black Death and economic decline in the 14th century.
The river crossing seems to have been a ford up until the late 18th century, at which point a bridge was proposed, to be built at ‘Whitcombes Ford’, where people had been “going through the water at the hazard of their lives”, according to contemporary documents.
Built in 1793, the bridge is recorded in minute detail in archive material carefully preserved by local historians, including the cost (around £600!), the number of bricks required (130,000), and the details of the contract with builder Thomas Nelson.
By the late 19th century, the bridge was evidently in dire need of repair. At some point, iron reinforcing ‘tie-rods’ had been inserted to strengthen the structure, but more substantial works were needed and the southern half of the bridge was rebuilt between August 1898 and May 1899. Upon completion, ownership of the bridge passed to Worcestershire County Council, and it became a public highway, free from tolls.
In the Worcestershire Photographic Survey collection, we have some photos taken by the County Surveyor around 1930, including this image. Look carefully and you’ll spot an angler in the river beneath the bridge:
Over the course of this project, we’re hoping to collect much more archive material relating to the crossing’s history, so if you have any photographs or information, please get in touch.