Although many miles from the coast in rural Worcestershire Eastham Bridge played its part in WWII.
Bridges were strategic locations during wartime, and controlling crossing points would have been important for any defender. In World War II Eastham Bridge was no different and was included in the huge efforts to create defences across the country in the event of invasion. Pill boxes, checkpoints, anti-tank defences, and gun emplacements sprung up across the country. Worcestershire was heavily defenced as it was the place where everyone would have retreated to if invasion had come, and the Government and Royal Family would have been evacuated here.
Today it can be hard to imagine the extensive efforts to create defences across the country. To ensure that this part of our history was not forgotten a major project took place from 1995-2001 called Defence of Britain, run by the Council for British Archaeology. The aim was to train volunteers to go out and record what had existed and what could be seen today, and to bring it into an archive to preserve the record. This was important as much that had survived was fast disappearing, and people’s memories of what had stood were fading.
In Worcestershire there was a fantastic group of individuals who came forward, who worked with Worcestershire Historic Environment & Archaeology Service (now Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service). They went out and recorded thousands of sites and spoke to many people. They helped ensure that the county was one of the best recorded and showed how extensive the preparations were here. The results are held nationally, but also in the local Historic Environment Record at the Hive.
Although nothing exists at Eastham Bridge today, we know that there was a pill box on its north side. It was thought to be square, made of brick with a concrete roof, although, at the time of the visit in 1996, nothing existed apart from the odd brick. There was some evidence of holes on the south side of the bridge where barriers could be slotted in. It would have been dismantled soon after the war ended, and faded into history.
On the record sheet someone has noticed the different bricks on the bridge near the site of the pill box and wondered if the Home Guard blew it up! It was not unknown for the Home Guard to be rather exuberant. However as we’ve mentioned in a previous post this will relate to the repairs that took place in the 1890s rather than any wartime damage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The new Eastham Bridge is now open, and is the latest in a series of crossings over the Teme in the area (hence the name of this blog – Eastham Crossings). The first bridge was created in 1793/4.
Why was the bridge built? Rivers are difficult obstacles to cross, but people need to cross them to visit people, transport goods and livestock, buy produce and many other reasons. On early maps bridges and fords are often highlighted as they were important local landmarks people would want to know about. Local people we’ve spoken to in Eastham have identified some possible fords near Eastham, but these could be dangerous and to negotiate safely would sometimes be dependent upon the weather and height of the river. Parish registers record two drownings at crossings in the 1790s, but there may have been other travellers who died too.
We are fortunate in knowing a lot about the story behind the bridge through the survival of an amazing set of documents which were kept in the church chest, and from the investigation of local historians.
In 1790 Eastham residents were discussing the possibility of creating a bridge. It may be that it had been talked about for many years, but 1790 is when Rev Christopher Whitehead arrived in Eastham as Rector. Not only did he join in the discussion but he took an active role and kept the letters and minutes produced which means we know what happened. They also reveal the local politics and concerns and hint at the characters of the people involved.
Building a bridge (and approaching road) required the support and permission of the landowners, just as it does today. The main landowners were Sir Edward Winnington, MP and Lord of the Manor, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Sir Edward was in support of the project and said he was happy to gift the land for the benefit of the local community.
Constructing a bridge is never cheap, and money would be needed to pay for it, even if the land was given. It was estimated that it would cost £300, with another £300 for a toll house. Christopher Whitehead drew up a proposal for local people to gain their support and to encourage them to support the project financially. In it he stressed the benefits of the bridge, and how it would increase the value of the land of the southern (Eastham) side of the Teme, as villagers would have easier access to the road on the other side so they could transport their goods easier and cheaper. It was also said that the only current crossing for five miles was starting to become impassable. The document included the proposal that people buy shares for not less than £50.
There was a question as to whether it was legal to charge a toll without an Act of Parliament, or whether it should be free once the costs were paid off. It was reported that people already paid one shilling per team of animals to cross the ford, so they shouldn’t mind paying to cross the better bridge. The legal aspect was overcome by asking the Turnpike Trust to take charge, and they split the money from the tolls 50:50. The tolls would pay for repairs, ensuring that those involved wouldn’t be responsible for upkeep and repairs, a big consideration and one which meant many roads around the county were never properly maintained.
Whitehead also drew a sketch plan of the proposed new road, and where the bridge would be. It would cut across land called Mr Barnes Hopyard, owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (it is thought Mr Barnes was the agent) and farmed by Mr Whitcomb, whose family had farmed in Eastham for a number of generations and rented land off Winnginton too.
A list within the documents shows the subscribers, which consisted of the main local residents, recorded by Whitehead who was treasurer. Contributions started at two guineas, with the largest payment £50, by Whitehead himself. As shares were supposed to be at least £50 it is not known if they changed the rules or if lost documents show subsequent payments. A share entitled someone to free passage, although this led to some future disputes as they tried to clarify what had been originally agreed.
Now the bridge had the go ahead and the funding to build it. James Brasier and Joseph Harris, agents of Sir Edward Winnington, took on the role of finding an architect. Mr Rose was appointed, and with his help they sought a builder. Thomas Nelson of Newport St, Worcester, tendered, and it was offered to him when his quote came in at £283, just under the estimate. In the days before good roads, lorries, and B&Q, materials were sourced locally whenever possible. Once again we are fortunate in having the documents to help us identify where the materials came from – stone from Jack Green’s Quarry (known as Quarry Hill even today), bricks made from clay dug close by, and lime also found locally.
The building appears to have gone smoothly. There is a drowning at the location, Whitcomb’s Ford (probably names after the local farming family), just after the work began. Roger Morris, when writing the history of the bridge, wonders if this is an accident by one of the labourers, or whether it might just be an unfortunate traveller. A couple of letters from Brasier to the Rector suggest that Whitcomb, who rented the adjacent fields, was becoming a bit frustrated by the effect of the works, and was having to pay for fencing himself. Brasier says he’d like to pay for this so the matter is resolved quickly and Whitcomb isn’t inconvenienced.
The bridge was due to be completed September 1793 according to one letter, and this date is often used in books. The documents may tell a different story as there are receipts throughout 1794, the last being 27 December 1794 for lime, suggesting it was finished later 1794 or early 1795. The impact on Eastham must have been great, as crossing the river was now so much easier.
The fantastic collection of documents which Whitehead left behind were passed on the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service last year as a deposit, and are kept in The Hive for safekeeping and are available for people to use. They have already been well used by the archaeologists who were recording the remains of the bridge and much of the archaeology matched the historical record.
In future posts we’ll look at the later history, including arguments over the tolls, and the partial collapse in the 1890s.
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.
Sylvia Breakwell has lived in Eastham since 1961 and Averil Opperman moved to the area in the early 1980s. Some years ago (for the Millenium Project) they worked together with many local villagers and friends to produce ‘Eastham – Within Living Memory’ (an abstract from the poem at the end of the book, ‘Holiday Memory’ by Violet Poulton, appeared in our blog ‘Eastham in Literature’.
The following clips give some interesting insights into the character of the village and landscape.
In which Sylvia talks of her husband Clive, his father and his grandfather, and a curious affect to be avoided in the often high river levels of the Teme and the resulting high water tables.
In which Sylvia speaks of her own family, moving from mid-Wales as farmers to farm in Berrington, near Little Hereford.
Sylvia re-tells the local story of how Death’s Dingle (close to the River Teme and to Piper’s Brook, known locally as the Spout) got its name.
Nayker’s Hall, in Highwood, within Eastham Parish, was once known as ‘Knacker’s Hole’ and is deemed to be so named for the, perhaps obvious reference to the fate of many farm horses and their final resting place. In this clip Averil recounts another, romantic but attractive theory about how the name came to be.
In which Sylvia describes her mum’s skills of self-sufficiency, often required in farming life.
In which Averil reflects on some of the changes in the village of Eastham and its environs.
Here are four snippets of literature which, in contrasting ways, pay homage to the Teme Valley through the centuries. The first is taken from Camden’s ‘Britannia’ (first published in Latin in 1586) and appears to be a description of the Teme Valley from Lindridge; the second is an extract from ‘Eastham Hill’, written in 1796 by T Davis; the third from the 1820s by Richard Gardner ‘the poet of the Teme’; and the fourth from Violet Poulton’s ‘Holiday Memory’ a poetic description of summers spent near Eastham in the 1930s.
From Camden’s Britannia
“Here hills do lift their heads aloft, from whence sweet springs do flow
Whose moisture good, doth fertile make, the valleys couched below
Here goodly orchards are, in fruit which do abound
Thine eye would make thine heart rejoice, to see so pleasant ground”.
From T Davis’ ‘Eastham Hill: a loco-descriptive poem
“……..The place I stand, near six score yards doth rise
Above the valley where the TEME’S current lies,
Far to the left, the ridge extending bends,
And, high projecting, over ROCHFORD ends:
The right, a line almost direct appears,
And its proud brow o’er dirty ORLTON rears……..
…….The willow-crowned TEME, with thund’ring force,
Adorn this valley takes its winding course;
Its glossy face reflects th’ impending wood,
The madd’ning cattle seek th’ umbrageous flood;
With taper rod the angler throws the fly,
And the poor finny race is doom’d to die.
At a vast distance, o’er SABRINA’S flood,
Crown’d with rough rocks, and skirted round with wood,
The scarce-seen, sky-topt WREKIN’S summit stands,
A dread ascent above the river-sands:
As some proud Monarch on a conquer’d foe………”
Depiction of the Roman Goddess Sabrina
From Richard Gardner’s opus of poems
“There is Eastham Horseham & Newnham
Lands in the form of a Gammon
The wood near Clifton & two Hams
Would equal the forest Lebanon”.
‘Holiday Memory’ by Violet Poulton; taken from A D Opperman’s: ‘Eastham-within living memory’
In this entry we present two audio clips from an interview with Celia Adams whose family business farm at Eastham Court, to the immediate south of the Bridge, and at Doddenhill Farm to the north.
In a fuller interview Celia passionately depicted the effects of the collapse of the Bridge to the surrounding communities of Rochford, Hanley Child, Hanley Williams, Stoke Bliss and Kyre and further afield and she shared her excited anticipation of the impending completion of the building of the new bridge structure.
Here are two edited clips from the interview. In the first Celia talks of the church and the need for transport links and in the second, she illustrates the local, national and international appeal of Eastham parish.
Clip 1: Celia talks of the church and the need for transport links.
Clip 2: A summary of the local, national and international appeal of Eastham parish.
In our last Blog we mentioned that the River Teme is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), protected by law to conserve the wildlife or geology and we talked of bats, kingfishers, dormice and otters. Two local people who hail from families resident in the Teme Valley for several generations have shared their memories, including a possible explanation for the former plight of the otter and of another ecological marvel.
In the following audio clips David Spilsbury of Eastham Park Farm celebrates the return of the otters to the Teme and Roger Morris relates that, in 1819, Edward Whitehead, a botanist and son of the Reverend Christopher Whitehead (who commissioned the first construction of Eastham Bridge in the early 1790s) discovered three rather rare species of orchid in woodland waterside banks of the Spout Brook at Death’s Dingle: the Ophrys Insectifera (fly), the Ophrys Apifera (bee) and the Orchis Morio (green-winged).
In the third clip David (whose family have farmed in Eastham Parish since the 1680s) describes, in relation to Eastham Bridge, how, for over 200 years, the resident smallholders would cross it to transport fruit to the former Newnham railway station in order for their produce to be sold at markets in the Midlands and beyond.
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.