Whitby's Swing Bridge

Published: Friday 10th Jan 2014

Regular visitors to Whitby will be aware of the vital link between the east and west sides of the town, namely the old swing bridge. Unfortunately, when it broke down again this week, it proved how important it is; the more than a mile detour up out of town, over the, 'New Bridge' and then down the other side is a bridge too far for some! In the past when it has broken down, budding entrepreneurs have offered folk a boat ride across the river or a lift in their cars around, 'the long way.' Engineers spent some time this week effecting a repair while shoppers were stranded on the 'wrong side.'

The history of bridges across the Esk is fascinating with the first dating back to 1351 when a grant from King Edward III allowed toll collection to maintain the bridge. In the sixteenth century the toll was £6 per year (nearly £2000 in today’s money). In 1629, plans were made to replace a wooden bridge with one involving moving parts. This new one was replaced by a drawbridge and then in 1833, the first swing bridge was opened, the designer being Francis Pickernell. This allowed vessels to travel upstream or downstream past the bridge at certain times of the day.  The clearance then was 45 feet.

The size of vessels being built upstream of the bridge was restricted by this clearance and so, in the early 1900’s, a new swing bridge was commissioned, designed by J. Mitchell Moncrieff. All traffic through the town was carried over this bridge but with growing congestion and more people having cars, it was decided in the late 70’s to construct a new bridge over the River Esk which kept through traffic out of town. The New Bridge was built in 1980 and made a big difference to the town.

The present swing bridge is controlled by lights as two way traffic is not possible and the weight limit is 7.5 tonnes, having been, at one time, 17 tons. There is no doubt that the bridge is a lifeline for many in the town and that when it breaks down the inconvenience caused is more than frustrating.