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Stafford Bridge

Stafford Bridge and causeway looking north in 1815 [X376/40]
Stafford Bridge and causeway looking north 1815 [X376/40]

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website

The record notes [HER 14674]: “Site of a medieval bridge, approach road and foot causeway; on a slightly different alignment from the modern bridge”.  The record’s description of the current Stafford Bridge, which crosses the parish boundary between Oakley and Pavenham, is as follows [HER 207]: “Stafford Bridge is diagonally placed across the River Great Ouse, curving to the west at its northern end. It has three skew arches and is of concrete with a cladding of local and Weldon stone. It has chamfered voussoirs and a squared string course, and is deck paved on the west side and narrow strip paved on the east. The parapet is of squared limestone with roughly rounded coping; the column terminals have rounded capitals. On the west face are square "gun port" style drain outlets. The modern bridge was built in 1935-1936, when the old bridge was no longer suitable for traffic. The first references to the site suggest that there was a ford in the 13th century but no bridge; the first references to the bridge are in wills of the early 16th century, as bequests were left for its repair. There are frequent references to repairs from then until the bridge was demolished”. On the Pavenham side of the bridge was a long causeway for use in times of flood.

The name Stafford is first encountered in a coroner’s inquest of 1227 when Richard de Pabenham fell off his horse into the river and drowned. A number of 16th century wills leave donations for the upkeep of the bridge, the earliest being that of John Stowghton in 1505 [ABP/R1505 1 f.76], others including Thomas Knight [ABP/R2 f. 90 d.], Thomas Churche in 1542 [ABP/R11 f.1] and Thomas Walley in 1546 [ABP/R11 f.192d].

About 1630 a survey of all bridges in the Willey Hundred was carried out [P27/1/5]. It found that the two high arches on the Pavenham side were maintained by Lord Vaux, lord of the Manor of Pavenham Cheynys and by the Lord of the Manor of Stevington, who held Bury Farm, Pavenham. The two Oakley arches were in the Stodden Hundred and were maintained by the Lord of the Manor of Oakley Reynes [the Dukes of Bedford from 1737 to 1918] and by the inhabitants of the parish. The foot causeway in Pavenham, consisting of over thirty small arches, was repaired by the county.

In 1723 John Cumberland conveyed the Town House in Oakley, divided into four tenements, sixteen acres of arable land and two holmes to Simon Gale and Thomas Smith [R40/25/4] for “the Reliefe of the poore … the Repaire of the Churche … and … the Repaire of the Arche of Stafford Bridge next to the towne of Okeley”. As late as 1755 some of the arches in the Pavenham causeway were still made of wood and the Quarter Sessions in that year ordered them to be replaced by stone structures [QBM1/14 and QSR9 1755 65].

In 1819 the causeway was measured at 416 yards with thirty one arches and a width of 5 feet [PB6/1]. The surveyor of the highways for the county reported that the bridge was very dilapidated in its superstructure “it being by 8 feet 6 inches wide in one place and without sidewalls [QBM1/114-115]. The bridge was subsequently widened at the expense of the Duke of Bedford (for the Oakley section) and Mrs. Winstanley (for the Pavenham section) to a width of 10 feet 6 inches, the cost being £132/10/3, an additional £69/19/9 being spent to ameliorate damage caused by a flood in 1820.

At the Epiphany sessions of the Quarter Sessions of 1849 a plan was proposed for improving the approach from the Pavenham side [CRT130Pav4]. Under the direction of the county surveyor, Thomas Smith, the old causeway, by now consisting of thirty five dry arches of which two near the bridge were blocked up, was taken down and the materials used to construct a new embankment on a different line along which embankment the Pavenham Road was to run. The new line went over meadow of T. A. Green, who was to have the site of the old road and old causeway.

At first the embankment was planned to have only culverts to allow the passage of flood water, but protests from Thomas Bennett, the Duke of Bedford’s agent, brought an alteration, and the culverts were replaced by one land arch of about twelve feet and a flood arch of sixteen feet sited about three hundred yards from the bridge. These were in the place of the thirty three six feet arches in the old causeway. This reduction in space for the passage of flood water certainly seems to have been an error of judgement on the part of the county surveyor. The new embankment cost £370 and a further £50 for the arches and the proprietors of the time repaired the river bridge for about £120.

One of the Pavenham arches was washed away by a flood in 1853 [QBM1/357-360 and PB4/2] because the new embankment bottled up the flooded river sending it through the bridge with more force than when it had been able to flow through the thirty one arches of the old causeway. The arch was duly repaired. A new arch was added on the Oakley side soon after to relieve water pressure from the flooded river.

In 1899 an arch in the centre of the bridge was repaired using iron girders [Br/C15/193/2] and two arches on the Pavenham side were entirely replaced by girders in 1905. In 1923 the County Council assumed responsibility for the whole bridge, relieving the private individuals hitherto responsible.

By 1936 Stafford Bridge was no longer suitable for traffic and the current bridge was built alongside it [HiV137]. It has three arches and is built of reinforced concrete with a limestone cladding. On the Oakley side a new embankment was constructed to link the road to the new bridge. The old bridge was partly dismantled, leaving two medieval arches but these gradually fell into decay and little now [2011] remains to indicate they had ever existed.