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Bridge(s) over the River Torridge


Historically, where Sheepwash Bridge is now there was a ford across the river which was extremely dangerous, except when the river was very low (like it is at present). It was after a child drowned whilst trying to cross the river that the local landowners decided to construct a bridge. This was sometime during the seventeenth century. The Bridgeland Trust was set up to provide funds to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge.


Nowadays the Bridgeland Charity Trust is managed by nine trustees for the benefit of the Parish and its inhabitants, as its funds are no longer


needed to maintain the bridge - in the 1960’s Devon County Council took over responsibility for the structure and it became a County Bridge. An inspection of the bridge found that the foundations were insecure and work was undertaken to protect the foundations from scouring out.


At some stage it is likely the original bridge was replaced with the current bridge. It is unusual, as it has four arches as well as a “dry arch” -most of the smaller bridges spanning the Torridge only have two arches. Over the years the dry arch has been a haven for courting couples (so I am told!). Indeed the bridge used to be a favourite meeting place for the village folk and the huge number of initials carved on the stump of the old beech tree beside the bridge is testimony to this. Although the tree stump is now overgrown with ivy and brambles a close inspection reveals many of these carved initials. Perhaps this tree stump should be kept tidy and weed free, as the old beech tree and the carvings are very much a part of the history of the village.


To pay for the building and maintenance of bridges many of them were subject to a toll, particularly on the busier routes. Often there was a toll house near the bridge. Two excellent examples can still be seen (though they are now private dwellings) at Taddiport on the Torrington side of the river and also just beyond the Puffing Billy on the A386 road to Bideford.


Halfpenny Bridge at Weare Giffard (now known as Ha’penny Bridge) was built in 1835 to improve the transport link with the Rolle Canal. It was called Halfpenny Bridge because pedestrians had to pay half a penny to go across! Any wheeled vehicle drawn by a horse, mule, ass or any other animal had to pay four pence.


Large trees washed downstream during a flood are a constant threat to the bridges over our river. These days it is the responsibility of Devon Highways to keep the bridges clear of debris. During the harsh winter of 1962/63 the river completely froze and when the thaw set in huge chunks of ice built up against the arches of Sheepwash Bridge, and the noise as the ice broke up was unbelievable. At some bridges the army had to be called out to use explosives to break up the ice.


As well as road bridges there are bridges that were built to improve access for the local farmers, like the bridge by Coham Bridge House at Black Torrington. Another example is Tom Rockhays Bridge, just downstream of Sheepwash. In addition, the old railway line from Bideford to Torrington (now the Tarka Trail) crosses the river at least four times.


From the head of the river to where it flows into Bideford Bay at Appledore I have counted twenty road bridges over the Torridge. See if you can locate them all and please tell me if I have missed any.


Happy hunting! Charles Inniss


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