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History of Herringfleet and St. Olave's
part 4: the Bridges, 1496 - 1847


i. c. 1496AD

From, the Hobart monumental painting in Loddon Church it appears that the first stone bridge was built in the closing years of Henry VII's reign (1485-1509) by Margaret the wife of James Hobart. The inscription on the painting reads "Orate pro anima Dominae Hobart uxoris Jacobi preadicti, quae Pontem Sancti Olavi una cum via strata ad eum ducente Propriis suis Impensis Boni Publici erga Aedificavit" - "pray for the sole of Dame Hobart, wife of the aforementioned James; she built the Bridge of St. Olaves with a hard core highway leading to it at his own (suis) great expense, for the public good." The Hobarts undoubtedly saw a main chance in building the bridge to pull all the traffic from the old Roman Road to the new road which by now was well used, the Priory being adjacent.

In 1630 it was recorded that rents from lands devoted to its maintenance and repair were not sufficient, and 3 years later the Undersheriff was claiming costs of repair. In 1670 a special committee was appointed to view and report on the costs of further

repair and ?100 was charged on the county for repairs. By the end of the 17th. Century both bridge and Norfolk causeway were giving rise to anxiety - ?15 was spent in 1696 and another ?75 in 1699. In 1686 the causeway on the Norfolk side had already been the subject of a petition by the Haiscoe folk and in that year ?25 had been paid out in making it good.

In 1750 a petition was presented at both the Norwich and Beccles Sessions for a report on the state and condition of the bridge. The Report stated that with the depth of water 14ft above the bridge (tide-side) and 18ft below the bridge at low water, the headroom under the central arch was only 8ft. The two piers stood on wooden piles which had become decayed and hollow, and had actually given way on the down-stream side. The two piers were also cracked and others were in danger of doing so. The brickwork also was beginning to break up and bulging stone-work was causing concern. The conclusion was obvious - that the Hobart Bridge was beyond repair, so Jeffrey Earnell of Wisbech was asked to come to St. Olaves with a view to building a single span bridge of some 60ft to replace the Hobart Bridge. Earnell's letter to the Revd. M. Page at Beccles planned an overall bridge with a single arch of 50ft with headroom of 121/2ft at low water, and with an overall width of 12ft (to enable two carts to pass). AT an estimated cost of ?2,700 all work below water level was to be of solid stone, with iron clamped stone and infilling of stone, brick and mortar above, and a parapet facing of stone with stone caps. John Sherman of Peterborough was to assist Earnell in the work.

The justices concerned in these plans protested at the price and urged that the arch should be 60ft and not 50ft as Earnell suggested. The result was that Earnell put another ?100 on the price, and nothing was done till the Easter Sessions of 1761 when the Chief Constables of Norfolk and Suffolk directed Mr. Etheridge who had been engaged on the Westminster Bridge and the Walton Bridge over the Thames, to submit his estimate. Again, nothing was done so that by 1767 the bridge structure was in a parlous

state and the build-up of sand and gravel against it was serious, affecting the drainage of the marshes. Watermen were constantly complaining that they had to negotiate fast waters under the small arch which made it necessary for them "to fix their quants or poles into the joints of the stone to the great hurt of the superstructure of the said Bridge". In 1768 Messrs Tipsted and Green reported that they had rebuilt the Bridge - but this was probably no more than wishful thinking, their work probably only referring to the repair of the parapets.

ii. 1768

How far the 1768 bridge was a new structure or a mere repair and adaptation of the first Hobart Bridge is not known, but this 'second bridge' was very soon replaced by a 'third bridge'.

iii. 1847

The iron bridge still in place, erected by George Edwards Esq. J.P. a civil engineer from Carlton Colville in 1847 involved the carting away of much of the old stone bridge to Lowestoft by water to be used in the making of the new harbour there - the Morton Peto harbour. Peto was squire of Somerleyton 1844-1861 and a great railway entrepreneur and builder of South Lowestoft and its harbour. When workmen were removing some of the stones from the lower parts of the piers they found several pieces inscribed with the signs of the Zodiac - six were retained locally by Capt. Stewart of Blundeston, George Edwards at Carlton and the Revd. Francis Cubitt of Fritton. The present bridge has a span of 80ft. In the 1960s the cast iron girders were replaced

by all-steel trough shaped girders which strengthened the structure and lightened it by 47 tons.

Although it is outside the geographical limits of this study of Herringfleet, this may be the place to record the erection of the further bridge over the Haddiscoe Cut, to replace the old single-track hand operated lever bridge, over which some 4,000 vehicles had passed daily. This was closed every time the level crossing at its foot was opened for rail traffic on the Norfolk side. It carried a 5 ton weight limit for road traffic and a toll was charged for river traffic each time it was raised. Coach passengers had to walk over it. The new Haddiscoe Bridge of a great single span was built in 18 months and was officially opened on the 15th May 1961. It is 820ft long in 13 spans, 36ft wide with a carriage way of 24ft and two 6ft verges, and has a

headroom over the new cut of 24ft. Subsidence of the soil during construction made it necessary to extend the bridge because the embankment would not take the load. The builders, Messrs. A. Monk & Co. of Warrington, Lancs, ran into difficulties because

of the marshy land on which they were working. Originally planned to have 8 spans, the soft embankment necessitated 13 spans, increasing the cost from ?98,000 to ?175,000. One of the greatest tasks was raising 7 steel beams each 82 ft long and of 11 tons into place across the 22ft high central concrete piles. A 45 ton railway crane was hired from Cambridge and the work was done by floodlight one night in August 1960. Altogether 91 such beams (the rest of them 84ft long) were hoisted into place.

The New Cut, over which this bridge was built, had been part of the plan for better navigation from Lowestoft to Norwich approved by Parliament in 1827 and finally brought into use with the passage of sea-going ships to Norwich in September 1833. The work was done by the new firm of James Hobrough which came to own later a fleet of wherries known as "Admiral Hobrough's Fleet".

In September 1844 the railway entrepreneur Samuel Morton Peto and his partners purchased the Norwich and Lowestoft Navigation Co. with the intention of widening the sea gates for London steamers, increasing the herring traffic, and of building a railway on the north bank of the Waveney from Lowestoft to connect up with the Norwich-Yarmouth railway at Reedham, at an approximate cost of ?10,000 per mile.

From 1850 there was keen competition between the considerable wherry traffic on the river and the new network of railways for heavy transport. The railways finally won and then the wherries went over to a hire service for holiday-makers and pleasure at the turn of the century. The first hire-boat company in the area was that of Mr. Brown of St. Olaves who hired a wherry with a crew of two for ?7-10 (now about ?180) per week. The crew tended to look after their own interests eg. One of them would remind the passengers that it was his mate's birthday - so generous gifts poured in from the happy passengers. His mate obliged with reciprocal enthusiasm with the next load of passengers. An no doubt the marsh and wherry tales also varied in credibility and length, depending upon whether the crew received full pints or only half-pints. Writing in 1873 Edwin Edwards described the local workmen as "dressed in the amphibious costume that corresponds to their occupations, half-sailors, half-farm-labourers."

During this century several boatyards and holiday businesses have grown up along the banks of the River Waveney at St. Olaves. On the East side of the river, the 'Moorings' of Priory Road, till recently owned and worked by Mr. Henry Coules and his family, has several chalets let during the holiday season, in addition to day launches and hiring of craft. Opposite over the river, the Marina complex has several moorings and chalets.

The majority of the boat businesses are on the west bank. One of the largest is Johnson's Yacht Station, the successor of Browns, and a family business, having moved from across the river in the early 1900s. A traditional Broads boatyard, it has motor cruisers and day launches for hire. Along the main road in Reed Lane, there are several boatyards. The Augerveyor Engineering Co. Ltd. manufactures agricultural equipment as well as hiring out boats. The Beaver Fleet was started in 1963 by Thomas and Susan Hall and by 1975 had increased to 26 craft, when it was bought by Mr. T. Watson, there being also 19 boats in France at Agen. By January 1978 this French fleet had increased to 86 and was sold to the Rank Organisation. Small boatyards are Castle Craft Ltd, Martin Commodore Cruiseways, Swallowcraft and Priory Craft (1976).


One of the oldest inns of Broadlands, it was here that the ferryman had his bell to be rung by customers awaiting his ferry. The Bell site at one time measures 10 acres. With the dissolution of Priory (1536) and the erection of the Hobart Bridge (1496AD) business at the Bell became brisk, the present building showing ample evidence of a substantial 16th century development, the sign of increased prosperity. But even before this there were indications of its popularity as a guest house. Among the well known Paston Letters is one dated 27th. Sept. 1465 from Margaret to her husband John Paston 1, the year before his death. In this letter, Margaret refers to some 30 persons, among them Sir Thomas Brown, Sir Gilbert Debenham and his son, Mykelfylde the younger, Jermyn, the younger Jerningham with the Bailiff of Mutford, who all arrived to hold sessions at St. Olaves and there 'tarried and fined'. These were troubled times and Paston had previously held commissions for flushing out the disturbers of the peace in Norfolk. Some 20 horse had assembled at Caldecot and Sir Gilbert rode (sic) out to meet them. He was met by four horsemen under Wekes. Gilbert's party, thinking discretion to be the better part of valour, retired to St. Olaves, probably to the Bell.

In 1784 materials from the boundary walls of the old Priory site were used to repair the turnpike, and the Bell also found good use for the masonry. In 1780AD when Mrs. Hannant was tenant, the site consisted of House and yards, Hempland (on the corner of

Priory Rd.) 2 meadows, river frontage, total 10 acres. Mrs. Elizabeth Merry of Herringfleet Hall, before she died in 1824 prepared plans for the rebuilding of the Bell but fortunately it did not happen. Just previous to this, John Hannant of the Bell rented some malt houses opposite the bell on the Norfolk side, but these were pulled down in 1847. In 1909 Messrs. Lacon & Co. acquired the lease of the premises, the first time it had been out of the control of the squire of Herringfleet, and it is now a Whitbread House.

The unique character of this attractive inn has been well preserved. In the lounge bar is a Caryatid - a female figure which once formed a decorative mullion (vertical division of a window frame) in an old Tudor house on the South Quay at Yarmouth, destroyed by bombing in the last war. The Caryatid is reminiscent of the caryatids in the Erechtheum on the Acropolis at Athens.

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This page first posted on 20 April 1999