The Bridges of York - Lendal Bridge, Ouse Bridge and Skeldergate Bridge

There are 3 bridges in York city centre. Each one has a nice bit of history to it. That history adds up to them being an attraction of the city. When you come for a visit, which you really must, you will not be able to miss these bridges as they are either end of York's main shopping precinct, right in the middle of the city.

Ouse Bridge York

Ouse Bridge is the most central of the 3 that exist here. It spans the Ouse from East to West within the Medieval Bar Walls. It has the only remaining barbican in the city at Walmgate Bar too the East and Micklegate Bar, the Royal entrance to the city to the West. This location is the most ancient spot where there has been a bridge spanning the River Ouse. There was a bridge here as early as the 9th century. However the one that is here now is not the original. It was replaced was because of an incident that occurred in 1154.

Potential Tragedy Lead to a Miracle

A large crowd had gathered on the bridge to welcome Archbishop William Fitzherbert to York. More and more people came to join the crowd. As they waited with baited breath, the stone bridge collapsed. Many of the innocents on the bridge fell into the river, some being damaged by the stones falling after them. Miraculously, some believe, not one person who fell into the river was drowned. This miracle may have been part of the reason the Archbishop was later canonised Saint William Patron Saint of York. He also had the beautiful, still largely intact Tudor building at the East end of York Minster named after him.

Picture of Skeldergate bridge in York with Ouse bridge through its arches in the background.

Disaster Befell the 1st New Bridge

A replacement bridge was built and was supported by six arches. It was lined from river bank to river bank with houses, shops, a toll booth, a courthouse, a prison and a chapel dedicated to St William. In 1367, the first public toilets in England were installed on the bridge.

Unfortunately, extreme weather conditions hit York in 1564. A terrible winter was followed by massive thaws and flooding. The bridge all but collapsed and the buildings were swept down river.

Yet Another New Bridge

Wisely, the next bridge was built much higher above the water, to combat future flooding. This also allowed increased access and thus, more water traffic. This bridge was supported on two central arches. Houses and public buildings were again built along its length. All was well for the next 250 years or so.

Present Day Ouse bridge

After being neglected for a long time desperate repairs were required. The Corporation of York decided to replace it for what the were hoping would be the final time. The present bridge was begun in 1810 and took 11 years to complete. For its first few years it was a toll bridge, so as to recover some of the costs of the extensive work. Eventually the first vehicles were allow to cross the Ouse free of charge. Notably these were carrying equipment and timber used in the repair of the Minster, after the fire of 1829, started by the religious fanatic Jonathan Martin.

Lendal Bridge York

Two Victorian bridges followed in mid - late 19th century, the first being Lendal bridge in 1861; built for better access to the increasingly busy and expanding railway station. It was built by Thomas Page, who also designed Skeldergate Bridge and Westminster bridge in London. Lendal bridge incorporates the cross keys of the Diocese of York, the White Rose of York, the York Coat of Arms, and a design with V and A intertwined (Victoria and Albert) on its ironwork. Its position on the river had previously been crossed using a ferry service from Barker Tower to Lendal Tower. The ferryman was put out of business by the new bridge and received compensation of 15 pounds and a horse and cart.

A toll system was immediately introduced to pay for the costs, remaining until 1894. The toll booths are still in place on the bridge, but have since been used to house gift shops and cafes.

Skeldergate bridge York

The second bridge built by the Victorians was Skeldergate Bridge. This was twenty years after Lendal bridge and also was built where a ferry service had operated. The original design of this bridge was altered at the planning stage, so it would to open. It would not have been high enough to let in taller ships. It was last opened in 1975, and the winding mechanism has since been removed.

The Scarborough rail bridge is also a pedestrian walk across the river Ouse, built in 1845 it underwent much improvement when the present railway station was under construction. It was raised in height and the tracks were re-laid and strengthened. The pedestrian path, which originally had been between the tracks, was considered unsafe and was moved to the side of the bridge.

My personal favourite of all the York bridges

This is the one which joins Fossgate to Walmgate - Foss Bridge. A charming little arched and balustraded bridge, built in 1811. It replaced an earlier stone bridge which was crammed with houses. The tenants of these were forbidden from having windows opening out to the river side. This prevented rubbish being tossed into the river.

It is suggested that there has been a bridge on this site since the times of the Vikings. This is likely true as recent excavations along Walmgate, uncovering the foundations of Viking homes.

Councillors Roger Farrington and John Boardman open the Millennium bridge

The latest of the bridges to span the York Rivers was built to commemorate the Millennium; it is a pedestrian/cycle bridge linking Fulford to Clementhorpe. South of Skeldergate Bridge, it is a modern stainless steel structure. The idea of local people, it was paid for by the Lottery fund, local council and local businesses and was opened in April 2001 by City Councillors Roger Farrington and John Boardman, the later of whom sadly passed away in March 2010. The Duke of York, Prince Andrew was also present.

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