10 of Derbyshire’s most famous bridges
PUBLISHED: 16:54 14 September 2020
How many of these ten well-known bridges have you walked across?
Bridges are everywhere, from the single stones spanning burbling brooks, to the elaborate structures that cross Derbyshire’s rivers and deep-cut dales. At their most simple, clapper bridges were constructed from a hewn slab of limestone. We barely notice them when walking the Peak District countryside, yet these simple stones allow us to effortlessly negotiate the county’s watery obstacles.
More sophisticated, but still pleasingly uncomplicated, the packhorse bridge is an iconic landmark in our dales and moorlands. These ancient constructions provided passage over Derbyshire’s waterways along packhorse trails. Just wide enough for a horse, with low stone walls to accommodate their bulging panniers, the arched bridges enabled the transportation of valued commodities such as salt, grain and coal.
As pack horses were replaced with horses and carts, then canal boats, freight trains and lorries, increasingly sophisticated bridge designs reflected the development of transportation. The Victorians proved themselves to be engineers extraordinaire. Nowhere is this more evident than at New Mills, where imposing bridge constructions demand our attention and admiration.
Derbyshire is filled with eye-catching bridges, historic and modern, experimental and indulgent - from the Italianate splendour of Chatsworth Bridge to the state-of-the-art Millennium Walkway at New Mills. But our bridges are not just fascinating monuments charting the history of architecture and engineering, they also have wonderful stories to tell.
Cathedral Green Footbridge, Derby
The sleek contemporary swing bridge is cleverly engineered to open with the smallest amount of energy when water levels are too high. Constructed in 2009, its design reflects the history of the area with its silk industry. Crossing from the east bank to Derby Cathedral and the Silk Mill, the unusual bridge kinks at 38 degrees, inspired by the tailor’s shears, while the slender mask ahead of you echoes the sewer’s needle. It’s a fitting homage to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site that stretches out along the Lower Derwent Valley from this area of Derby to Matlock Bath.
The clapper bridge in Rowlow Dale
A backwater dale, a trickle of brook, a single slab of stone, bridges don’t come more modest than the little clapper bridge crossing Rowlow Brook, off Bradford Dale near Youlgreave. Look more closely, however, and you’ll find the stirring words of Alexander Pope inscribed on the stone: Here the Genius of the Place in all; that tells the waters or to rise or fall. This is an atmospheric place, where the simple limestone structure is at one with the landscape, yet serves a practical purpose.
Paine’s Three Arch Bridge at Chatsworth
The magnificent Italianate bridge, spanning the River Derwent at the entrance of the grand country house, sets the scene for what’s to come. Through the centuries, everything constructed on the Chatsworth estate was an expression of wealth and position. Chatsworth’s Three Arch Bridge is no different. Designed by renowned architect, James Paine, and completed in 1761, the handsome balustraded parapets and two Romanesque statues raised on plinths adorning the bridge, are befitting of a wealthy aristocratic family.
The Headstone Viaduct, Monsal Head
Was this the most controversial bridge ever to be built in Derbyshire? The construction of the railway, along with the Monsal Head Viaduct, led to an embittered speech from essayist John Ruskin: ‘There was a valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, as divine as the Vale of Tempe… You enterprised a railroad through the valley - you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tonnes of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone and the Gods with it, and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool at Bakewell in Buxton, which you think is a lucrative process of exchange - you fools everywhere.’ The view of the bridge from Monsal Head is breathtaking. Drop down and stand on the 1863 viaduct and take in the dizzying sweep of the Wye Valley below.
The Viator’s Bridge at Milldale
It’s an idyllic scene, a tumble of stone cottages dropping down to the burbling River Dove. Within this wooded valley setting, you’ll find an absurdly narrow two-arched footbridge, made famous by Izaac Walton in The Compleat Angler. Assigning himself the role of viator - or traveller - in his book, he wrote: ‘What’s here, the sign of a bridge? Do you travel in wheelbarrows in this country? This bridge was made for nothing else - why a mouse can hardly go over it, ‘tis not two fingers broad.’ Therein lies its charm.
Slippery Stones packhorse bridge
Derwent Village was to be sacrificed for the region’s insatiable demand for water. Nothing would stand in the way of an ambitious plan to flood swathes of land in the Upper Derwent. By 1943, centuries-old cottages, a fine country house and village church were gone. The entire village was submerged under water except for the 17th Century packhorse bridge, taken stone by stone to Slippery Stones above Howden Reservoir. This is a great location at the foot of the brooding Dark Peak moorland for a spot of wild swimming, and is all the more special when you know the story behind the unassuming packhorse bridge.
Three Shires Head packhorse bridge
Did you know we had our very own silk road in the Midlands? The packhorse bridge at Three Shires Head was part of the route that took silk from Hollinsclough to Macclesfield. This high-arched bridge sits in remote countryside where waterfalls tumble to deep pools, beloved of wild swimmers. There are many beautiful packhorse bridges in Derbyshire but this one is geographically special: here the three counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet on the River Dane in an area of stunning moorland wilderness.
St Mary’s Bridge, Derby
The original bridge, built in the Middle Ages, is long gone (the present bridge constructed in 1793) but the medieval chapel remains. Taking to the road in medieval times was not something you did for pleasure; it was, in modern language, ‘essential travel’. St Mary’s Chapel was a place where travellers paused to seek refuge and God’s protection. The Chapel of St Mary’s on the Bridge is one of only six surviving bridge chapels in the country. Inside, you’ll find a memorial to three Catholic priests, Robert Ludlam, Nicholas Garlick and Richard Simpson, found guilty of treason. They were hanged, drawn and quartered in 1588, their body parts displayed on St Mary’s Bridge as a warning to other would-be martyrs.
Devonshire Bridge at Baslow
Not many beggars have a building named after them, but the toll house on the Devonshire Bridge, not much bigger than a sentry box, was named after a homeless Mary Brady, who took refuge here. The handsome 18th Century bridge straddles the Derwent, where villagers collected tolls at the turnpike back in the day. Fines were issued to anyone exceeding the weight limit on heavy goods such as lead and millstones.
The Millennium Walkway at New Mills
How do you compete with New Mill’s Victorian ingenuity when designing a bridge for the New Millennium? How do you draw parallel with an era of superb engineering, from the double tiered Queens Bridge and high-arched Union Bridge, to the multi-arched Midland Railway Viaduct? You think outside the box and create something completely different. The Millennium Walkway, with its innovative design and modern interpretation of the bridge, deserves its place beside that historic legacy. The 525-foot long elevated steel walkway is bolted to a retaining wall and supported by pillars in the riverbed. It’s a magical place in the bowels of the ravine, where the River Goyt tumbles along the valley floor far below the town.