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Watercolour by William Lea, between 1830 and 1853, view north-west (reproduced in Douglas Opperman 2000; from Museums Worcestershire collections)

The original Eastham bridge charged tolls. This was in order to help raise the money for the upkeep of the bridge, which was an important consideration. In return for helping to pay for the bridge investors were to get free passage depending on how much they had invested.

A toll house was constructed for the toll keeper to live in, which would be run by the Turnpike Trust who owned the road on the far side of the river. Very little is known about this however, beyond the basic details. It is included in a watercolour but there are very few other images.

In the archives there is a deed relating to the bridge which has been transcribed by a student, Scarlett Miles, who has been working with us. At the time Edward Wheeler was the owner of the bridge.

Eastham Bridge Tollhouse deed 1883                                      BA10718/19

“Toll house with the garden there to belonging containing six perches or thereabouts situate in the Parish of Lindridge in the said county of Worcester at… contain Bridge over the River Teme called Eastham Bridge. Together will all and every the tolls and duties to be received and taken at the said bridge.

All which premises are now in the occupation of Thomas Price reserving until the (insert name) the right and privilege for him his companions and relatives and his and their servants and also for the Rector for the time being of Eastham aforesaid and his servants at all times and for the (insert name) whenever they shall have occasion to use the said bridge for the purpose of hauling materials for repairs on any part of the (insert name). Estate either with or without horses or carriages to pass and repass over the said bridge without payment of toll.”
Signed by “Edward Vincent Wheeler of Ripewood House in the Parish of Tenbury (County of Worcester Esquire)”

“James Frogatt of Bury Farm in the parish of Richards Castle within the County of Hereford”

“Elias Frogatt of Old Wood of the Parish of Tenbury”

The toll house became redundant when the tolls were abolished, but continued to be lived in. However we have been unable to locate it on the 1891 or 1901 census. It was eventually demolished around 1908. It was then uncovered last year during building work for the bridge, and so was recorded by the archaeologists.

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Remains of tollhouse recorded by archaeologists

There were a number of discussions over the years over who should exempt from paying to cross the bridge. Subscribers were to be able to cross free of charge, but the wording hadn’t been tightly defined at the time. Early on the question arose of whether Rev Christopher Whitehead expected that his contribution of £50 applied to his descendants, or to future Rectors of the parish. James Brasier, agent to the Lord of the Manor, Sir Edward Winnington, told Whitehead that Sir Edward never expected the right to be passed on. Whitehead was quick to reply that he expected his successors to continue the right to cross toll free. Sir Edward looks like he tried to smooth things over as he invited Rev & Mrs Whitehead for dinner and indicated he wanted to find a satisfactory solution.

The question came up again in 1853 when Charles Turner Farley came to Eastham as the new Rector. The relevant paperwork couldn’t be found, but it was decided that tollkeeper would greatly benefit from the many friends of Farley visiting, so was happy to allow free crossing to him and his servants. This was then confirmed in writing, and included in subsequent deeds such as the one above.

Towards the end of the 19th century there were discussions over the future of the bridge. Turnpike Trusts were going, often due to large debts, and from 1888 Local Government often took over the roads. In Worcestershire just two toll bridges were left, Holt Fleet and Eastham. There were suggestions that Eastham Bridge become toll free in the 1890’s, which one report said would be a great boon for local farmers and tradesmen (it also suggested providing allotments, posting weather forecasts in prominent places for farmers, and new footbridges). The current owner, Mr Wheeler, said he was open to passing it on, but only if the market price was paid to him.

Eastham Bridge transferred to County Council ownership in 1898 and the toll was removed soon after, with Holt Fleet following on soon after.

Jim Downes, a local historian, was Grandson of the last toll collector, Sara Downes. He used to stay with her and described it in his book, “the little cottage stood next to the turnpike of the left hand side of the bridge (upstream). It had two rooms downstairs and two bedrooms and the usual outbuildings.” A lantern hung from an iron bracket attached to the stone cap of the bridge. It was by the lock on the gate so the tollkeeper could count the money whilst keeping the gate locked. The last resident, when it was just a house, was Mr Mason. In 1908 it was demolished when the road to Tenbury was widened.

If you know any more about the Tollhouse or know of any pictures we’d be interested to hear from you.

Information comes from Eastham Bridge by Roger Morris, Eastham Remembered by Jim Downes (1978) and from local residents.

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