Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The bridge chapel, St Ives

click photo to enlarge
Today's photograph shows the old bridge over the River Great Ouse at St Ives, Huntingdonshire*. It is one of only four bridges in England that still have their complete medieval chapels (the others are at Rotherham, Wakefield and Bradford-on-Avon). This crossing was built in the 1420s, replacing a wooden bridge that dated from around 1100, which itself superseded the shallow ford on the gravel river bed - the original method of getting from one bank to the other. Traffic used the single lane of this ancient bridge until 1980 when a new crossing was built on the town by-pass road further downstream.

Bridges have long had religious associations. In Britain many Bronze and Iron Age artefacts have been found deliberately placed in rivers next to fragments of wooden structures that may well have been bridges. The remains of a Roman bridge has altars dedicated to Neptune and Oceanus nearby. In the medieval period chapels were often built at one end of a bridge, or actually on the bridge. This continued the old association, but was also because the church frequently funded the construction of a crossing and then collected a toll to pay for its upkeep. Travellers would receive a blessing from a priest at the chapel after they made their payment. A few bridge chapels (such as that at Wakefield) were chantries, funded by a private individual, where mass was said daily for the salvation of their souls. During its lifetime the chapel at St Ives also saw use as a private residence, an inn and a doctor's surgery (though never a prison, the fate of some bridge chapels).

St Ives' bridge is unusual in having two newer, rounded arches to the left (as we look at it), and original fifteenth century pointed arches to the right. This came about because in 1645, during the Civil War, Cromwell's Republican army pulled down two arches and replaced them with a drawbridge in case of Royalist attack. The arches were rebuilt in 1716 to a design that reflected the fashion and constructional theories of the time. I visited this location on a late September morning of bright sunshine, and couldn't resist using the mute swans as foreground interest, despite the difficulty that their bright, white plumage presented in terms of metering the scene.

* For a number of reasons I tend to use the historic county names and boundaries that preceded the local government reorganisation of 1974. Consequently I assign St Ives to Huntingdonshire rather than Cambridgeshire in which it now resides for administrative purposes. For more information on this see the Association of British Counties.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On