History of Lostwithiel Bridge




Lostwithiel Bridge

A thousand years ago Lostwithiel did not exist as a town. There was a small settlement on the west side of the river, engaged in fishing and farming the few acres of level land. This was part of the Manor of Bodardle, recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. The river ran wide and deep at high tide, and seagoing ships regularly sailed by as far as Restormel (below the castle) where there was a small quay, used to load tin refined in Bodmin, for export to London, France and beyond.

 The course of the river at Lostwithiel was to the west of its present course and it was fordable at low tide. This provided a crossing place for travellers overland. It is believed that there was a small chapel or hermitage on the west bank,   near to where the church now stands.

 Between 1086 and 1189 the Norman   conquerors took over the Manor, built the Castle of Restormel and planned and developed the town (known officially as `The port of Fawi') as a port for the export of tin. The first bridge, built by the Normans, was probably constructed of wood. The town prospered and quickly grew into a thriving port and trading centre. It was acquired by Richard Earl of Cornwall in 1268 and from then became the administrative and commercial capital of Cornwall.

 The present bridge was probably built soon after this, together with the Great Hall (Duchy Palace) and the tower of the church. No records have been found which can fix the exact date of the building of the bridge, but the style, pointed arches supported by piers, and recesses along the parapet indicate the period. There were originally nine arches; the foundations of four of these are beneath North Street as far as The Globe Inn. The bridge is sometimes described as a Tudor bridge, but it dates back to more than two hundred years before the Tudor period. The four rounded arches to the east are of a later date, and have been added to the original bridge as a result of the river changing its course.

 By about 1400 tin streaming on the moors, which were drained by tributaries of the River Fowey, was causing the river to silt up particularly at the point where it met the tidal flow. It was probably at about this time that the most westerly arches of the bridge began to fall out of use. Certainly by 1533, when Leland wrote an account of the town for Henry VIII, the bridge had five stone arches in use. The river divided into two arms, the lesser going under the stone bridge because of the silt  and the greater quantity of water flowing under a wooden bridge extended to the east (later replaced by the rounded arched section of the bridge we know today). Canon Boger, writing in the 19th century, observes that “very little change seems to have taken place since his (Leland's) time, either in the bridge or the stream.”

 Until 1939 Lostwithiel Bridge was the only approach to the town from the east. When the Stage and Mail coaches brought eagerly awaited news into town, for example  at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and when the Reform Act of 1832 was passed, local people would go to the bridge to meet them, bands would play and there would be much rejoicing. Later, when the railway was built east of the bridge, the passage over it increased tremendously, as passengers and goods came and went to the station, and railway maintenance workers crossed to work each day.

 With the coming of the motor car and greater use of the railway early this century, scenes of hold-ups and frustration at the bridge increased. On market days, when cattle were driven from the market off North Street to the slaughter house across the bridge, or to be sent away by rail, there was sometimes complete chaos, and cattle have been known to jump over the bridge into the river.

 In 1939 the new road into the town was built, and a new bridge constructed to the north. Since then the bridge has settled into a more peaceful existence. It is still much used but there is rarely any urgency or pressure, and it is a place enjoyed and loved by all of us who live here.

 Throughout the centuries Lostwithiel Bridge, although undergoing repairs and strengthening from time to time, losing arches at one end and gaining some at the other, has remained essentially the same bridge, built by Earl Edmund, 700 years ago. 

Based on an original text by Barbara Fraser