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Girtford Bridge

Girtford Bridge around 1920 [Z1306/99]
Girtford Bridge around 1920 [Z1306/99]

Girtford Bridge was listed by the former Department of Environment in December 1979 as Grade II, of special interest. It used to bear the Great North Road and dates to 1783 and was designed by John Wing. It is built of ironstone and has three slightly flattened arches. A hump in the roadway is enclosed by solid parapets.

The name Girtford is first recorded in 1247, the name meaning gravel ford and the earliest mention of a bridge at Girtford is in an undated but 13th century charter of Newnham Priory, as noted in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume 43. A number of 16th century wills leave money or goods for the repair of the bridge, the earliest being the will of Ralph Brunsale of Sandy of 1504 as noted by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume 45. He left three shillings and fourpence. John Underwod of Girtford left twenty shillings in 1542 [ABP/R6/147].

The bridge is mentioned as abutting a parcel of land in 1633 [P10/25/15]. How the bridge was built is problematic. A map by Ogilvy of 1675 showing the road from oxford to Cambridge, through Bedford describes a stone bridge [Z236/3] whereas another map he drew showing the road from Saint Neots to London (the Great North Road) shows a wooden bridge [Z236/2]. The bridge named on the Great North Road map seems to be shown north of Sandy near an embankment and may actually show a bridge somewhere north of Girtford, leaving the stone bridge on the other map as the one on the site of today’s bridge, carrying the Great North Road at the junction with the road to Bedford.

In 1725 the road from Biggleswade to Alconbury Hill [Huntingdonshire], today’s, the Great North Road, today’s A1 was turnpiked. In other words a group of trustees took over maintenance of the road, collecting tolls from users towards its upkeep [Z417/26]. In 1736 three bridges, including Girtford, were repaired by the trust [T47/19].

In 1756 a road from Hitchin through Shefford to Bedford was turnpiked – today’s A600. As part of this “the high-road from the Turning out of the aforesaid Road into Henlow Field, through the Parishes of Henlow and Clifton, and through Hill Lane, Caldecot, and Hatch, to Gerford Bridge, in the County of Bedford" [HA1211] was also turnpiked and the roads measured [HA1217-1218].

Between 1780 and 1782 the turnpike trustees rebuilt the bridge to the designs of Rutland architect John Wing, for which he received £600. In 1822 the county undertook repairs on GirtfordBridge [QBM1] and in 1833, under threat of indictment, acknowledged it and “the old bridge over back stream” to be county bridges [QBM1]. In the following year measures were taken to protect the bridge from lighters, a type of river craft [QBM1].

More modern records show that in 1919 a summer house and rockery belonging to Ivel Cottage were deemed to be a hazard to water traffic at the bridge but could not be removed [WW1/AC/DR8]. The bridge parapet was damaged in 1926 [Hi/RS1/1/4] with more damage occurring in 1928 [HiV36] and 1929 [HiV75]. Bridgeworks were undertaken as part of the widening and re-routing of the A1 in 1961 [Hi/PH2/1]. Today [2010] the bridge still bears the road leading through Mogerhanger and Willington to Bedford from the A1.

Girtford Bridge and Ivel Cottage rockery in 1919 [WW1/AC/DR8]
Girtford Bridge and Ivel Cottage rockery in 1919 [WW1/AC/DR8]