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Waterloo Bridge, the earliest of John Rennie’s three, and beyond measure the cheapest, is also commonly considered the finest. As to this there may perhaps be a question, some critics preferring London Bridge, or even Southwark, as grander if less ornate. The perfect level, too, of the roadway in the case of Waterloo, whilst the first of all merits from a practical point of view, somewhat narrows its artistic opportunities; whilst the uniformity of the arches is considered by some to give it too much the air of “a length out of a viaduct.” In all other respects it is the handsomest bridge across the Thames; consisting of nine elliptical arches 120 ft. in span and 35ft. in height, supported on piers 20 ft. wide at the spring of the arches, and surmounted by an open balustrade. It is not so wide as London Bridge by 11 ft., but is very nearly half as long again— 1,380 ft.—without the approaches, which are on the Middlesex side 370 ft, and on the Surrey side 766 ft. in length. It was opened in great state on the second anniversary of Waterloo, 18th June, 1817. NEAREST Railway Station, Temple; Omnibus Route, Strand; Cab Rank, Wellington-street.

The Swinford Tollbridge, half a mile from Eynsham, was opened in 1769. It's been described as the finest of the many bridges over the Thames - it was built in the golden age of Georgian architecture, when both design, materials and craftsmanship were all very good. It wasn't just for crossing the river of course - it was part of a long-distance route from London to Gloucester, Wales and Ireland (via Fishguard). To make the bridge worthwhile, other bits of road had to be improved.

The Eighteenth Century was a great time for road-building - this was the era of the Stagecoaches, highwaymen and turnpikes. Turnpike Trusts were organisations which built high-speed roads for carriages - and then charged the users tolls to get their money back (and make a profit). Before that, each Parish was responsible for its own roads - and since they couldn't charge anyone for their use, and they only covered a short distance, there wasn't much incentive to spend money on doing them up. The results were often impassable.

The Turnpikes changed all that; coach and carriage travel flourished; in the 1760s 24 stagecoaches passed through Burford in each direction every 24 hours. Although open to much abuse (high tolls and bad roads), the Turnpike system did generally produce much better roads - though also many complaints. But of course there were gaps - and the bit between Witney and Oxford via Eynsham was one of them. In order to avoid the river crossing at Eynsham and low-lying land through Botley, carriages used to go from Witney to Blaydon (along the A4095), and then turn south to Oxford past Campsfield. Horse-travellers though, used to take the short-cut via Eynsham and the ferry at Swinford - despite the hazards But the Thames was not the only hazard on the Witney-Oxford section of the road. Once across the Thames, travellers had to cross Wytham hill, not only a steep climb and descent, but also used frequently by highwaymen. The alternative route, round the hill to the south, was the Botley Causeway - which was basically impassable to wheeled vehicles. Farmers bringing their produce to Oxford markets had to unload their carts onto packhorses; the "road" was 10 ft above the adjoining fields and there was no fence or rails to stop people falling off. And there were 7 separate bridges that needed repair and widening (the whole track was only 14 ft, and the bridges were much narrower than that). Clearly the whole improvement (Bridge and causeway) was going to cost a lot - both to build and, later, to maintain.

But in those days it was very difficult to raise money for building bridges - Magna Carta specifically (and bizarrely) protected people from being asked to pay for bridges “where never any were before”. So everyone was very pleased when the Earl of Abingdon was persuaded to cover the cost. He owned a lot of property on both sides of the river, and perhaps he thought the tolls would turn out to be an investment (they didn't). Unusually the Act of Parliament which finally gave the go-ahead, gave the ownership of the Bridge and its tolls to the Earl, “his Heirs and Assigns for ever”. This was unusual at the time (the Turnpike Trusts which built other roads had a time-limited life), but nobody wanted to be responsible for the upkeep of the Bridge, and this was a way of lumbering it on the Earl for good.

 
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