The next big occasion in the history of the bridge was its transfer from private ownership to public ownership, followed by major repairs at the end of the 19th century. As mentioned in previous posts the bridge was set up in 1793 to be run by the Turnpike Trust which ran the Tenbury road on the far side, with the tolls levied used to pay for upkeep. The sale of shares paid for the bridge, and if you invested a certain amount you could cross for free.
By the late 19th century many turnpike trusts had gone bankrupt as they were overtaken by railways and their assets taken over by the new county councils. By the early 1890s in Worcestershire only Holt Fleet and Eastham remained as toll bridges. It was suggested in a council meeting in 1890 that some arrangement should be found for freeing these bridges from tolls, which would be in the interests of Worcestershire people. The two bridges were a little different from each other, Eastham being mainly for local traffic, whilst Holt Fleet bridge linked county roads and was busier. The owner of Eastham Bridge at this time was Edward Wheeler, who must have bought the majority shares, and he indicated he would be willing to sell subject to payment of the value of the bridge and the tolls. Five years later the newspapers reported no progress had been made. New suggestions were made for the freeing of Eastham bridge, which it was said would prove a boon to local farmers and tradesmen. Again Mr Wheeler said he would be willing to discuss the matter. The exact details of the acquisition are unknown but just after 1895 the County Council and Mr Wheeler evidently came to an agreement and the bridge was transferred.
When the County Council took over the bridge there was a survey, followed by major works. As part of the Highways Department the bridge is documented in the archives as with other bridges they owned. These include details of the works undertaken, along with specifications, costs and diagrams. Scarlett Miles transcribed these and are printed below.
Eastham Bridge Specifications 1898 BA5512 ref:250.1
Signed by the County Road Surveyor on the 18th July 1898.
This is the specification for rebuilding a portion and repairing the remainder of Eastham Bridge in the Parishes of Eastham and Lindridge in the County of Worcester.
“Take down the whole of the Southern arch to the spring lines as…on elevation and the parapet and spandrel walls and flood culvert in some south of the centre of the central arch. Also the wing walls at the southern end of the bridge to the foundations and all other portions of the bridge which are coloured pink on the accompanying plan and elevation excepting a portion of the wing wall at the south west corner of the bridge where built to a batter which appears to be sound.
Stanking and pumping…keep work dry.
Take down the perished parts of the face of the abutment wall at the south end of the bridge and reface same with brickwork 18” wide and well bond same to the old masonry. The face of this abutment when restored to be 2 feet longer than the central piers exclusive of the outwaters and finished at the same level.
Rebuild the spandrel walls and flood culvert between the central and southern arches. Also the spandrel walls at the south end of the bridge. These walls to be 2’ 3” thick to the level of the centre of the culvert 1’ 10” to the crown of the culvert and 18” to the string course. The space between the spandrel walls to the crowns of the arches and culvert to be made solid with concrete, proper drainage being provided for.
Rebuild the Southern Arch to the same dimensions as the Northern Arch excepting that the new arch shall consist of 18” brickwork instead of 14”.
The abutment and wing walls and terminal piers at the south end of the bridge to be entirely rebuilt from the foundations excepting a portion of the abutment or wing wall at the south west corner of the bridge which appears to be in a sound condition.
Rebuild the parapet walls 14” thick from the centre of the bridge to and including the terminal pier, the some wall and piers to be built up to a height and dimensions to accord with the parapet walls and piers of the Northern half of the bridge.
The tie rods (five) now existing in the portion of the bridge to be reconstructed to be repaired if necessary and fixed in the new construction as directed by the County Road Surveyor.
Good sound new Staffordshire brindle bricks to be used in the outer sides of the whole of the work excepting the coping of the parapet walls and terminal piers which is to be of stone to be approved by the County Road Surveyor. The old coping stores and caps which are sound and perfect in shape to be re-used.
All old bricks in the portion of the bridge to be taken down after being properly cleaned to be used in the inner parts of the new work. All bricks to be laid to a close joint, all inside work being solidly flushed up with mortar and grouted.
Cement mortar only consisting of one part of best heavy Portland Cement to 2 pairs of washed sand to be used in the new facing of the South Abutment also in setting the coping and cap stones of the parapet walls. One part of best heavy Portland Cement to 3 parts of washed sand to be used in the lower ring of the new arch and outside courses of the whole of the new brickwork and lime mortar consisting of one part of good fresh lime to 3 parts of clean sand to be used in the remainder of the new work.
All concrete to be used in the works to be composed of bricks, slag or stone broken to pass through a 2 ½” ring & screened, six parts, clean sound one part of best heavy Portland Cement one part, all to be thoroughly well mixed with a proper quantity of water.
Carefully rake out all perished joints at least one inch deep in the remainder of the bridge and well repoint same with one part of best heavy Portland Cement to 2 parts of washed sand.
Remove from the river the timber, boughsticks and rubbish which have lodged against piers of the bridge.
Construct a temporary footbridge 2 ft. 6 inches wide that will allow persons on front to safely cross the river while the works are being carried out.
2 months from receipt of order.
£2 a day for every day of excess.
£75 per cent on the value of works when the arch has been reopened and the road reopened for the traffic, £15 per cent when the whole works have been completed, £10 four months when certified by County Road Surveyor.
When the archaeologists were recording the bridge after the collapse they referred to the plans along with the earlier documents from the original building. One mistake on the plan is that east and west on the plans were transposed. Other than that the plans are very accurate, and corresponded very well to what was recorded.
The majority of bricks were recovered after the bridge fell, with many used as cladding of the new structure. The split between the two types was 70:30, indicating around 70% of the bricks dated to 1790s, and 30% of the bricks were replaced as part of the rebuild in the late 19th century.