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Tempsford Bridge

Tempsford Bridge about 1820 from a painting by Fisher [X67/934/60]
Tempsford Bridge about 1820 from a painting by Fisher [X67/934/60]

Tempsford Bridge, which lies partly in the parish of Roxton, was listed by the former Department of Environment in October 1966 as Grade II, of special interest. The bridge and its attendant flood bridges was designed by James Savage and built by Johnson and Sons, ending in 1820. The bridge is Mostly constructed of dressed sandstone quarried at Sandy, but the cutwaters, arches and south face band of the river bridge are of Bramley fall stone. The river bridge is about 50 metres long and 10 metres wide, with three broad segmental arches with projecting keystones and cutwaters both up and downstream. A round arched bridlepath tunnel lies on the east bank. Flood bridges lie to west and east, both are similar to main bridge but with seven smaller and lower segmental arches.

In their Bridges of Bedfordshire, published in 1997 as a monograph of Bedfordshire Archaeology, Angela Simco and Peter McKeague state that there was a ford at this point of the River Great Ouse in the early 10th century. In 1675 river navigation, until that point only as far as Great Barford was opened up as far as Bedford and the increasing traffic found the ford difficult to deal with. The solution, a staunch below the ford, kept the channel clear but resulted in flooding of the fields to either side and made the ford harder to use by wheeled traffic.

In 1725 the road from Bedford to the Great North Road (today’s A1) became a turnpike. Tolls were taken to help maintain the road, which was run by a group of trustees. One of their first resolutions was to build a bridge across the Great Ouse at Tempsford [X261 page 3]. No bridge was built until the Turnpike Renewal Act of 1736 was passed, allowing trustees to raise capital. A six arch wooden bridge designed by Thomas and Edward Franks was then built for £430 [X261 page 147] and completed in the late summer of 1736. In 1770 the approach road to the bridge was raised on a causeway which had three flood arches let into it.

By 1814 responsibility for the bridge had passed from the turnpike trustees to the Quarter Sessions and in that year Bedford architect John Wing reported the bridge unsafe [QBM1, 68]. The “Bill for rebuilding Tempsford Bridge in the County of Bedford” [H/WS1190] notes that by this stage the old wooden bridge was “in great decay, broken and ruinous”. The bill went on: “and whereas the said bridge is constructed of Timber, with an elevated causeway, and dangerous for Passangers and Carriages, … it would be of considerable public utility if a new bridge were to be built near the said present bridge, and the present Bridge taken down and removed”.

Robert Salmon drew up plans for a stone bridge to Wing’s specification [PB5/5-6]. This would have cost £17,850. The Quarter Sessions invited Wing to enter a cheaper design, which he did. At £15,090 this was still far too expensive and alternative designs were advertised for. The winning design, by James Savage, ran in at just £7,300 [PB5/1-4].

Unfortunately, the selected contractor, William Allen of London, was tardy in his work and, although begun in 1815 (following royal assent of The Act for rebuilding Tempsford Bridge [H/WS1192])by 1817 the bridge was still far from completed, the builders were also constructing the new road along a different alignment to that called for in the plans. By 1818 the relationship with the contractors had broken down irretrievably and Johnson was brought in the following year, completing the bridge in 1820 [H/WS1849].

In 1827 the woodwork on the bridge was painted white [QBM1 page 204]. A number of repairs have been carried out on the bridge. These were initially undertaken by the Quarter Sessions but, from 1889 by the newly formed Bedfordshire County Council. Major repairs took place in 1994.

Tempsford Bridge about 1920 [Z1306]
Tempsford Bridge about 1920 [Z1306]