Bridges: From the Archives

The Box

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The city’s historic collections contain a really interesting postcard collection, acquired in 2017, plus other documents that record and shed light on some of Plymouth’s bridges. Here’s a roundup of a few of them.

Laira Bridge

This unused postcard of ‘The Lary Bridge, over the Plym, or Saltram Creek’ features an image of a black and white print from the 1800s. The Laira road bridge can be seen in the middle distance. The sailing vessel in the foreground on the left appears to be one of the vessels used in the construction and maintenance of the Breakwater.

This document is the first page of the private Act of Parliament to erect the road bridge over the water of the ‘Lary’, or Laira as we now call it. It dates from 1823, and is a tiny part of a larger collection of estate papers for the Earl of Morley (Parker family) of Saltram.

The Act is 19 pages long and contains long-forgotten place names such as Monkeydoe, Ivey Cove and New Cot. There’s also reference to the ‘Flying Bridge’ ferry boat.

The bridge was later erected at the expense of the Earl of Morley. As part of the Act, he was permitted to put up gates or turnpikes and toll houses to charge people who crossed it.

There have been two bridges built over the Laira. Work started on the first bridge in 1824 and it opened in 1827. Work on the second bridge started in 1959 and it opened in 1961.

This photo dates from around March 1961 and shows the second bridge under construction, with the old bridge in the background. 

You can find out more about the Laira Bridge here.

Stonehouse Creek Ha’penny Bridge

The bridge in Stonehouse dates from the days when a river separated Plymouth and Devonport. More information is available online on the World of Indie and Old Devonport websites. The design involved a certain Mr Smeaton.

In the summer of 1909, famous escapologist Houdini made a dive from the bridge ‘heavily manacled and handcuffed and (made) his escape from the irons……before coming to the surface again’.

This postcard shows a photo of the bridge over Stonehouse Creek, with the Plymouth Breweries building and quay to the right. A tram, horse-drawn cart and pedestrians can be seen crossing the bridge. The tide is in, with single small boat just below it. It’s postmarked 1905.

The card below has a comic tribute to the end of the toll on the bridge and includes the words: ‘In loving memory of the Halfpenny Gate whose career was finished by the Mayor & Corporation in State’.

Marsh Mills Long Bridge

This coloured postcard shows a view of ‘Long Bridge, Marsh Mills, near Plymouth’ over the River Plym and dates from the early 1900s. The bridge was presumably the inspiration behind the name of the current Longbridge Road which is located in the Marsh Mills area.

Plym Bridge

This postcard with a black and white view taken from the east bank, just downstream, dates from the 1930s.

It shows the Grade II listed bridge over the Plym. A bridge has existed in this location since the 1200s. The current bridge dates from the 1700s but is seated on earlier supports, known as ‘piers’.

Turnchapel Bridge

This postcard features an image of a passenger train heading to Turnchapel on the swing bridge that once existed at the entrance to Hooe Lake.

The bridge was ‘hand-cranked’ (although apparently it was a ‘two-man job’) and served the Friary and Turnchapel branch line from Plymouth. The line closed and the bridge was demolished in the early 1960s although the piers are still in situ. You can find out lots more about the history of Hooe Lake here.

Burrator

A slightly quirky one to finish with as this is a reservoir rather than a river! This postcard is postmarked 1928 and shows the temporary suspension bridge that was in use during the construction of the Burrator Dam and Reservoir. The bridge was used to carry traffic while the works were being carried out. You can find out more about the construction work on the Engineering Timelines and Old Plymouth websites.

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