Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service’s archaeologists have been helping in a number of ways at Eastham Bridge over the past year.
Soon after the bridge collapsed we were asked to go and record the remains. The bridge was a Grade II listed building, so Historic England & Malvern Hills District Council asked that a photographic record be taken before and after work was carried out on the remains to ensure everything was documented. Archaeologists were also required to be present during works, to record any parts of the structure revealed during the process, and to monitor the creation of a works compound to record any archaeological features that were uncovered.
Our buildings archaeologist Tim went up to the site to carry out the recording. The nature of site meant that recording the remains in the middle had to be done from a distance. As debris was cleared to allow what remained to be made safe, he recorded what was uncovered on the banks.
Although we have lots of expertise in recording historic structures, we often work with other specialists who bring their own skills. Aerial-Cam are a local company who provide specialist archaeological site photography via drones and telescopic poles. They produced a 3D image of the bridge which can be seen here:
We also carried out research in the archives, and spoke to local residents to build up a picture of the chronology of the bridge’s history and relate the physical evidence to what could be seen. Eastham is lucky to have some very dedicated local historians, who’ve carried out a lot of research on the history of the bridge and the crossing. Tim went to see some of these people and look at their sources, and was amazed with what he found. There were lots of letters and plans relating to the different phases of building and rebuilding the bridge, and he said that it may be one of the best recorded structures in the county! Some of these documents have since been deposited in the archives in The Hive for safekeeping.
The results of the survey of the bridge matched the documents well. The bridge was built in 1793, with the southern half rebuilt in 1898 after it collapsed. The “ashlar for the springing of the arches” and “backing up the arches with rubble stone work” mentioned in the documents could be seen in the remaining parts of the northern fabric, and Staffordshire Brindle bricks and concrete mortar with a concrete and rubble infill could be seen in the southern half. All of these were visible in the remaining fabric. The construction methods and materials seen as well the documentary evidence mean that we have a remarkably complete picture of the construction and development of the bridge. One exception were the tie rods which were added 19thC which we could find no reference to in the written record.
As the groundworks for the new bridge progressed, we were on hand to keep an eye out for any traces of earlier crossings: the research suggested that there was no earlier bridge, and the archaeology agreed. Digging was required on the north bank so we excavated the area first before work started. The 1839 Tithe map and 1903 OS maps showed the presence of a toll house, which could also be seen in a mid 19thC watercolour, and as we dug down we found the foundations. The bridge originally charged a toll (with a few exceptions as told in the archives) until the County Council took it over in 1898. It stayed as a house until around 1910 when it was demolished when the Tenbury road was widened.
Another part of our work was to carry out a watching brief when the compound on the south side of the river was created to enable a base to be set up for workers. The project team checked with our Historic Environment Advisors to see if there was any archaeology they should avoid. Records indicated that it would come close to the site of a possible medieval castle, so we advised where best to site it to avoid disturbing anything. Although building a compound only usually requires going down a small depth into the topsoil, there was a small possibility finds or features relating to the castle may still be uncovered, so an archaeologist was on hand just in case. Nothing was uncovered during this work, so any traces of the castle will be left safely for another day.
Everything which we recorded at the site will be made available for anyone to view. It is a condition of all archaeological work that it is fully written up, put onto the Historic Environment Record , and made publicly available. This means that anyone who wants to find out more in the future can discover what works were carried out, and what was uncovered. The painstaking process of writing-up our work isn’t often covered in the media, which tends to focus on the excitement of discovery, but it’s crucial to ensure that the knowledge gained is not lost. You can read the report here P4867 Eastham Bridge report rev2. In future posts we’ll look in more details at the history of the bridge, the archives we looked at, and the Toll House.