By Gwyneth Endersby, Record Assistant
Until it was rebuilt in 1970, the original Selby Toll Bridge was reputed to be the oldest surviving timber bridge in the country. Following the passing of an Act in 1790, during the reign of George III, the swing bridge was built across the River Ouse in 1791 – a short distance downriver from the existing ferry service. The Act’s preamble states the bridge “will be of great publick utility and advantage” [Local Act of Parliament 31 Geo III c.lx].
Certainly, it was intended that the cross-river movement of passengers on foot and in carriages, of droves of cattle, hogs and sheep, and of other goods transported by waggon, wain and cart, would be much less onerous once the bridge was operating. That the Act also declared the bridge was to be serviced by nearby “proper conveniences”, would help to ensure this.
At the same time, the 1790 Act makes clear that the importance of the Ouse’s navigation was not to be compromised in favour of the bridge. The list of building requirements stipulated in the Act outline the bridge’s specific overall dimensions and the preferred building materials and construction methods – in particular, that the bridge supports, piles and bank footings must not encroach unduly on the river, hindering the passage of vessels along it. Post-construction, the proprietors were obliged to ensure a 200-yard stretch of river at the bridge was routinely kept clear of any underwater obstructions.
Twenty-four men, and one woman together formed The Company of Proprietors of Selby Bridge, financing the bridge using personal contributions and other raised funds. Heading the list was the Lord of the Manor of Selby, Lord Petre of Essex, who also consented to relinquish his interest in the ferry. Other members included local landowners or businessmen with town or river connections, whilst Theodosia Hudson was a woman of means from Brayton, having family connections to proprietor Humphrey Osbaldeston. Many of their names feature on the survey plan of the River Ouse at Selby, shown below:
The Company experienced financial difficulty building the toll bridge, far exceeding the £10,000 budget stipulated in the Act of 1790. The subsequent revenue from tolls proved insufficient to enable the proprietors to recoup their investment and repay substantial loans, so by 1803 another Act was required to allow an increase in tolls. The 1803 Act sets out the scale of new charges, according to who and what would be traversing the bridge [Local Act of Parliament 43 Geo III c.xlviii].
The Record Office holds surviving papers of The Company of Proprietors of Selby Bridge (1791-1991), which include minutes of meetings, correspondence, share certificates, accounts, and the detailed late 18th century plan shown above [reference BP/SB 9]. North Yorkshire County Council acquired ownership and responsibility of the bridge in 1991, and the long-standing tolls were removed at this time. In addition, we hold various Selby Bridge Company records (1791-1921) within the papers of Parker March solicitors, Selby [reference ZYX], and articles, printed papers and newspaper cuttings relating to the bridge (1790-1969) form part of the personal papers of Councillor J. A. M. Bright [reference ZJM].
Amongst our holdings for Selby District Council [DC/SBR], is an 1891 edition 1:500 scale (10.5ft to 1 mile) Ordnance Survey map (Sheet 221) of the River Ouse at Selby. This incredibly detailed map shows the century-old toll bridge (marked as ‘swing’) and the historic site of the ferry crossing. The toll house on Barlby Bank is clearly marked, whilst on the Selby riverside can be seen the “conveniences” for travellers: the smithy and nearby public houses and an inn. Notably, the river is now also crossed by the North Eastern Railway Hull and Selby line (built in 1840), by means of a bascule bridge (a type of swing bridge utilising counterbalance).
Photographer Bertram Unné captured the following images before the toll bridge was rebuilt in 1970 – sometime during his active period in the 1950s and 1960s. The first image, taken from the south bank, looking away from Selby, clearly shows the form of construction, as prescribed in the Act of 1790. It also shows the wooden toll booth, as well as a large building with the sign ‘Temperance Hotel’ painted on the brickwork. It is possible that this hotel is (or is on the site of) the former house of Widow Rachel Leaper, mentioned in the Act of 1790 as requiring protection during the bridge’s building.
The image below of the toll bridge shows the view looking towards Selby town, with the abbey just visible above the roofline of riverside houses.
Unné’s accompanying notes describe the boat passing under the bridge as a low combing barge, specifically used to carry stone along the river. The stone was apparently used to fill willow baskets and planted with reeds and willow, then placed alongside the river banks to reinforce them.
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