Monday, April 02, 2012

West Rasen packhorse bridge

click photos to enlarge
The packhorse was the main method of transporting goods for sale during the medieval period. Commercial loads such as wool for export, or the salt from the Fenland salterns destined for the towns of the Midlands and Northern England, all relied on strings of packhorses led by a man on foot. Carts were costly, much less common than is generally appreciated, and bridges that were wide enough to support them over rivers were few. However, a line of packhorses could cross a bridge that was barely wider than that needed by a man on foot, particularly if it had very low (or no) parapets at the side so as not to impede the packs slung over the horses' backs.

The packhorse bridge shown in today's photographs is at West Rasen in Lincolnshire. It spans the River Rase at a narrow point, and is thought to have been constructed in 1310 on the orders of Bishop John Dalderby, who was Bishop of Lincoln from 1300 to 1320. Wool from church-owned lands provided the main income of the church, and its unimpeded journey to markets was deemed to be worth the expense of a construction such as this. It's interesting to note that the bridge supports in the main channel has cutwaters only where they are needed, that is to say, on the upstream sides. I have seen later bridges of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that have them on the downstream side too, such was the increase in desire for symmetry over utility.

Immediately adjacent to the packhorse bridge is a relatively new road bridge. It replaced an arched bridge made of brick that was built in 1856. Prior to that bridge's construction the river had a ford at this point for anything unable to use the packhorse bridge. On a day such as the one on which I took my photograph the crossing of this minor, shallow river - little more than a stream - looks a simple affair. However, when the water was high and the ford dangerous, heavy carts had to wait, sometimes days, for the flow to subside, though the mail coach that used the road daily was hauled across with ropes and its horses were led over the packhorse bridge!

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.00 EV
Image Stabilisation: On