The River Esk at Whitby
has been crossed at this point for centuries. In 1351, Edward III granted his bailiffs
authority to collect tolls to maintain a bridge.
In 1407 John Schilbotyll left an oak tree in his will for repair of the bridge’ In 1629, the North Riding justices agreed to replace a wooden bridge with a structure which included moveable parts, drawn by ropes, blocks and pulleys.
This was later replaced by a structure - the earliest pictorially recorded image of which is a drawbridge erected in 1766 - which was a cumbersome contraption of ropes and timbers which often tangled with the rigging of ships passing through.
By the 1830s the bridge was in a very poor state of repair and the busy shipyards up river were building ever larger sailing ships. Its replacement was considered long overdue.
THE FIRST SWING BRIDGE 1835 - 1908
Initial plans were drawn
up as early as 1813 for a new bridge "to be sited at the place of the present bridge
as being the most commodius (sic) both for the inhabitants of the Ridings at large
and also particularly for the town of Whitby".
It took until 1832 for the North Riding of Yorkshire to order the building of a new wooden swing bridge with leaves that swung horizontally to allow ships to pass through. It was designed by Francis Pickernell.
The first foundation stone was laid in January 1834 followed by a grand opening in March 1835. It was a pleasing bridge to look at, caught in many paintings and latterly photographed. It originally used manned winches to open the bridge, a system later replaced by water-driven engines. Unfortunately its total clearance to shipping of only 45 feet (13.72 metres) created problems for the even larger steel ships now being built up river.
THE SWING BRIDGE 1908 - PRESENT DAY
The present steel swing bridge, commissioned by Whitby Urban District Council in
1906 to carry the 'A' class road across the Esk, provided the maximum width possible
to river traffic. This vital dimension was 100 feet (30.48 metres) between the centres
of the two piers. The structure was designed by Mr J Mitchell Moncrieff, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
and constructed by engineers Heenan and Froude of Manchester (whose most iconic
structure is Blackpool Tower). Total costs of the bridge are put at £22,582 14s
The © two leaves are moved by electric motors controlled by the bridgemen from positions on the bridge itself. The original roadway was paved with wooden blocks and the specification was that the bridge must “carry a traction engine weighing 15 tons’ The current bridge has spanned the river Esk longer than any of its predecessors and is a rare example, in the UK, of a twin leaf bridge carrying an ‘A’ class road, Whilst ship building on the Esk is now more limited, the need to maintain navigation to and from the upper harbour remains.
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