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Bridges across the Severn

Archaeological work in January 2012 on old bridge foundations

The crossing at Upton is on an ancient and very important route from the Welsh border to the Avon Valley, by way of the Hollybush Pass at the south end of the Malvern Hills. It was a route long used, back in medieval times, by drovers of Welsh cattle and sheep to English markets.

The medieval ferry was replaced by Tudor times, for Leland, in his travels in 1539, reported a wooden bridge at Upton and, soon after his visit, a stone bridge was built. It was the scene of one of the most brilliant 'commando' type raids a few days before the Battle of Worcester in 1651, part of Cromwell's plan to attack from both sides of the Severn.


Painting by Mrs Lechmere, wife of the then Vicar of Hanley Castle.

The bridge was struck by the barge the Blaina and the already weakened arch was then washed away by the 1852 flood. Its 1854 replacement (a ferry meanwhile) was a drawbridge - the section nearest to the town was drawn back on rollers. By the 1880s, as road traffic became more important, the time which it took to open and shut this bridge was, at best, 20 minutes and it could take upto 45mins - sometimes as many as 16 times a day: this was unacceptable. In 1883 the draw section was replaced by a swing - first used October 1883 - and it was said that it could be opened and closed in 2 minutes.


Painting by unknown, courtesy Miss S Troughton. Photo © Simon Wilkinson


Larger view


Picture supplied by Alan Denton, who believes it was taken by his grandfather who was Borough Surveyor(?) in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton


The present bridge, built in 1940, was built a few yards upstream with sides so high that no view of the river is possible when crossing. The old bridge at Upton created a shoal just below the bridge which, in the days of sailing craft was by far the worst in the Severn. This was the result of contraction by the arches, producing first a pool, and then a shoal of only three feet draft. An Admiralty report of 1849 records: 'I have frequently seen 200 to 300 vessels aground at one time at Upton'. 'The Bridge at Upton', an article by Simon Wilkinson, tells of the planning and discussions before the bridge was built.

Not to forget the railway bridge, demolished as part of the Beeching rail cuts

Sections Copyright H W Gwilliam 1982
Other copyrights will be acknowledged if advised