4th December 1327.
Today on the 4th December 1327 Edward III conferred on the Prior of Repton, Derbyshire, the surveyor-ship of Tolls and Goods of the great Swarkeston Bridge over the River Trent nearby, money from which went towards the bridge’s upkeep.
Swarkeston Bridge was a vital crossing over the Trent, the alternative was either the ferry or ford at nearby at Twyford, and like other bridges, would have come under the local religious foundation for its upkeep.
It was a responsibility still recorded by an inquest held at Newark on 26th October 1503, when it was said that a parcel of meadow lying near Swarkeston Bridge and Ingleby, had been given in ancient times to the Prior of Repton and successors.
However it stated that it was on condition that it provided a priest to say mass in the bridge chapel for travellers, for their safe journey and return, many of whom would be on pilgrimage to places as far as Rome.
The bridge at Burton-on-Trent, a few miles upstream, was once the most notable in Staffordshire at that time, and mentioned c 1100 as being the responsibility of the monks of Burton Abbey.
It had a bridge chapel by the 1260’s which by 1332 was dedicated to S. James and before the Reformation had mass celebrated by the Town’s Guild Priests. However by 1547, as with all bridge chapels it was dissolved under the Protestant Edward VI’s, Chantries Act.
Many structures survive today, notably at Bradford-on-Avon, St Ives (Cambridgeshire), Wakefield, and that at Rotherham of ‘Our Lady’ which dates from 1483, as recorded in the will of a local teacher, John Bokying.
Bokying left ‘3 shillings and 4d towards the fabric of chapel to be built on Rotherham Bridge’, which had a window where a ‘Greave of Our Lady’s lights’, set a lamp to guide travellers.(1)
Today most of the bridges and chapels have gone, the most notable being Old London Bridge with it buildings, and chapel dedicated to St. Thomas Beckett.
Some have been restored, as at St Mary’s, Derby over the River Derwent, though not now part of the bridge’s structure, the original being replaced in the 18th century.(2)
(1) The earliest mention of the chapel is in Bokying’s will dated August 24th 1483. Boking was master of the Grammar School Rotherham.
(2) On the gatehouse at the chapel were placed heads and quarters of priests martyred on 25th July 1588, at a time of the Jesuits making efforts to win back England to Rome.
Prior to the Reformation the Chamberlain of Derby, rendered to the monks of St James’ Priory, 2lbs of wax for the privilege of passing over the bridge.
Ref: chapels on bridges/ elfinspell.com. Andrew Bridges.
Ref: old Chapels lore William Andrews antique lore.
Ref: Edward green, buildingconservation.com/articles.bridgechapels.