24 February 2015

Cheshire walks: Holford Mill, Moss and Hall

Get your walking shoes laced up, we’re heading out for another walk. There’s a nip in the wind so don’t forget your hat and gloves, and tuck your jeans into your socks – after the recent rain, it could be a bit mucky in places. Today I can promise you some good exercise (we’ll be walking about 8kms), peppered with a few snippets of interesting history and garnished with trees, lots and lots of lovely trees.

From the house we head down a typical Cheshire country lane, which would once have been part of the pedestrian route for local parishioners between the church at Great Budworth (where baptisms and marriages were conducted) and the 13th century church at Lower Peover (where the dead were buried). It always amazes me to think people have been walking these paths for hundreds of years.

At the end of the lane, we cross the main road, the former Roman Road of Watling Street, and head into more local history. To our right is the former Holford Millkeeper’s house, now a private residence – and currently for sale, if you have a spare £750,000. It’s certainly a lovely setting, though a bit noisy for me, and I’d need to win the lottery to afford it.

Just down the lane we can see the remains of the mill, which was built originally in 1324 and finally closed in 1950. There’s not much left now but under the moss and ivy you can still see the remains of the two wheel pits, either side of the mill building, plus pieces of the iron wheels and wooden shafts. It must have been impressive in its heyday.

The footpath here has been diverted from its original route through the middle of Holford Hall farm yard, to give the current owners some privacy, and now runs through woodland growing on an old lime bed, which itself sits on top of medieval fish ponds. According to the signboard, the site was ‘filled in by the Imperial Chemical Company in the 1940s. Lime beds were created for the disposal of ash and lime, a by-product of the soda ash industry’ but more on that, and other local industry, in a future blog.

The diverted path is pleasant enough, with views across a field to Holford Hall, though we’ll get a better view of that later. Firstly, though, we're going to head around this small wooded area, the rather grandly named but seemingly unofficial Plumley Nature Reserve. Though entry doesn’t seem to be encouraged, there are a couple of paths in to the reserve and I have ventured in – what I found will also feature in my forthcoming industrial blog post.

We’ll cross the railway line here, and head first left, then right along sealed roads until we get to the Holford Brinefield offices. From here, we leave behind the ugly industrial workings of the brine industry that have scarred this landscape and, turning left again, we head along a footpath across a couple of fields to reach Holford Moss.

The moss is, in fact, another scarred landscape, once used by local tenant farmers for cutting peat – you can clearly see where chunks have been carved out of the ground, though all is now covered by low scrub and bracken. A mixed woodland has grown up on the old peat cuttings, dominated by birch but with oak, Scots pine and holly trees also growing well. It’s a tranquil place for a wander and, to me, has a very ancient feel, though the peat cutting may well have continued into the 20th century.

At the end of the path through the moss, we head left at Keeper’s Cottage, along another field-edge footpath that will soon have us back at the railway line. I love the lead up to the narrow old bridge that crosses the line – I can imagine farm labourers, horses and carts, and shepherds with their flocks of sheep all using this route in times past. We cross another field and skirt round the edge of one more before we reach the long gravel driveway that leads us back to Holford Hall.

Although the footpath has been diverted around the Hall, there is a short spur here where we can get a closer view of the Hall and its lovely gardens. The half-timbered, black-and-white section of Holford Hall dates back to 1601, when it was built for Mary Cholmondeley (pronounced ‘Chumley’) after the death of her husband Sir Hugh. The section we see today was the centre of a quadrangle (see the old photo, at right), the south wing of which collapsed and was demolished in 1844. The north wing was, sadly, demolished and replaced by the current large brick structure in the 1880s. As you might guess, both this old section of the hall and the 17th-century sandstone arched bridge that spans the moat are heritage structures and Grade II listed.

Well, that peek at Holford Hall means we’ve almost reached the end of today’s walk. From here, we retrace our steps, past the old mill, over the former Roman road and homewards up the country lane. I hope you’ve enjoyed your armchair tour of Holford’s attractions.

21 February 2015

Cheshire: Pubs and their signs, 4

Time to pull a pint or two of real ale, find a cosy nook in a centuries-old public house, and let the walls – and the pub signs – tell us their wonderful stories. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

The Antrobus Arms, Antrobus 
Antrobus is an unusual name for a pub, a village, a person, and the jury is out on whether its origin is to be found in the time of the Vikings (a tongue-twisting combination of the Old Norse personal name ‘Andrithi’ or ‘Eindrithi’ and ‘buski’, their word for bush or thicket, resulting in ‘Andrithi's thicket’) or whether this ‘area between two forests’ was named by the French-speaking Normans ‘Entre bois’, meaning ‘between the woods’. Either way, it was first listed as Entrebus at the time of the Domesday Book survey in 1086 AD and the first person recorded using the surname was apparently one Thomas Antrobus (on the Register of the University of Oxford in 1600). 

The pub itself is not that old – according to their website, it was first licensed in the 1700s. And The Antrobus Arms is not its original name – I found a record of its being called The Wheatsheaf in the 1930s – and I have no idea who the coat of arms belonged to (contrary to popular belief, coats of arms are personal, not attached to a surname).

One particularly interesting fact I did find though relates to the tradition of soulcaking or souling. Around All Souls Eve (1 November) each year, a group of mummers performs a traditional hero-vs-the bad-guy play at The Antrobus Arms and other pubs in the area (check out the video here), and the local children dress up and knock on doors, reciting a special rhyme in return for spiced cakes. The origins of trick-or-treating, perhaps?

The Bear’s Paw, High Legh
I was homeward bound after a walk when I found The Bear’s Paw and popped in, thinking to enjoy a late Sunday lunch. No such luck! It was fully booked, overflowing with the Sunday-best-dressed and quite obviously no place for an outdoorsy type who still had her jeans tucked into her socks. I should have guessed from the ‘Country Inn and Restaurant’ label, which undoubtedly adds at least £5 to the price of every meal.

According to the pub’s website, the building was originally a 17th-century farm house and, from the little I saw, it certainly oozed authentic character, with a roaring open fire and low-slung beamed ceilings. It was worth the stop to get a photo of the 3D sign. The bear’s paw is a common enough name for a public house – there’s another just 15 miles away in Frodsham  – but, as this place doesn’t have a long history as a pub, I assume it has no particular meaning here.

The Angel, Knutsford
According to the Inn Society’s website, Angel is the 11th most popular inn name in the UK and is a

reminder of the religious connection between pint and pulpit. The name is thought to have represented the Archangel or St Michael …, who was the patron saint of the Knights Templar. They would adorn a tavern with such a painting, not to name it, but to show that it was under God’s protection.

The hotel’s own website proudly announces that The Angel Hotel, previously the Angel Inn, ‘was a noted posting house and inn’ in the time of Knutsford’s favourite daughter, the author Elizabeth Gaskell, and, if you’ve read her book Cranford (published in 1851), you might recall the character Lord Maulevere stayed at the Angel while visiting Captain Brown.

The Cross Keys, Knutsford
The Cross Keys is another popular pub name – I even remember drinking in one of that name in Cusco, Peru – and is another with a Christian connection. The crossed keys of heaven are a symbol of Saint Peter: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be lost in heaven’, Matthew 16:19.

Though obviously not of biblical age, the Cross Keys is certainly one of Knutsford’s oldest pubs, dating from around 1642 when, it seems, there were 42 (!) taverns in the town. The pub’s website reports that, ‘A map dating back to 1786 shows the Cross Keys as being part of the Lord Egerton estate. For many years the Barrow family ran the inn – the 1841 census shows 30-year-old Hanna Barrow as Innkeeper, assisted by her sisters Jane, 23 and Anne aged 20.’ It was a common enough profession for a woman if the novels of authors like Charles Dickens are to be credited with more than an ounce of historical truth.

The Salt Barge, Marston 
This is one of my locals, a welcome refreshment stop during my walks along the nearby Trent and Mersey Canal. For tourists and visitors to the area, the Salt Barge is also not far from local attractions, the Anderton Boat Lift, Marbury Country Park and the Northwich Woodlands, and the soon-to-open Lion Salt Works Museum is just across the road.

Built in 1861 to replace the earlier Red Lion Inn and previously named The New Inn, The Salt Barge is steeped in canal history, as portrayed by the memorabilia and historical photographs of local salt mining that are sprinkled throughout the bar.

The Kilton, Mere
If you read my previous pub signs blog, you’ll recall that owning and training racehorses used to be a popular vocation in this neck of the woods and several of the local pubs are named after them. The Kilton is another. The horse it is named after was owned by Mr Thomas Langford-Brooke of Mere Hall. Kilton apparently excelled at the Knutsford Races and, in 1796, won the prestigious Knutsford Gold Cup, beating the horse Delamere, owned by another well known Cheshire habitant, Mr Tatton.

An article in the Warrington Guardian of 14 May 2012 states that The Kilton Inn was built in the 16th century and ‘is rumoured to once have served as some kind of prison’. I also found a report, in T. A. Coward’s 1903 book Picturesque Cheshire [Sherratt and Hughes, London and Manchester, 1903, pp.68-9] that the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin had an association with The Kilton. It is such a good story that it is worth including in full here:

There is a good bowling green at the "Kilton" at Hoo Green, well known to picnic parties from Manchester and elsewhere. It was on this self-same green that a game was in progress, when that smart gentleman of the road, Dick Turpin, pulled up his sweating black charger, and smiting the ostler across the shoulders, asked him emphatically what time it was. Then the redoubtable Richard joined in the game, swaggering about the green so as to be noticed by all the sporting gentry. When, later, it transpired that a dastardly assault and robbery had taken place within a few minutes of the time stated by the ostler, it was considered impossible that this gay but suspicious Turpin could have ridden from Newbridge Hollow to the inn in so short a time, and his alibi was accepted. This story is familiar; Dick Turpin's ride from London to York, and other tales of the same notorious character are so similar that we must accept this legend cum grano salts. Dick Turpin may have been here; but the true history of the man shows him to have been no dashing, chivalrous highwayman, but a cruel, mean swindler and burglar, a man who liked to rob lonely houses where there were defenceless women, especially when he had a gang of similar lawless desperadoes at his back.

The truth of this rollicking tale may never be known but it is certainly a good story to recount over a pint or two.

17 February 2015

British birds: Little Robin Redbreast

Cheeky and cute, little robin redbreast delights us all with its antics, both in the back garden and in woodland, and is such a favourite with the British that it was declared National Bird on 15 December 1960.

It should come as no surprise then that Robin is the name of one of the most loved characters in English children’s literature (Christopher Robin) and the country’s favourite outlaw (Robin Hood). There’s nothing like a little positive word association to help sell books or create popular heroes.

Its bright red breast makes this dainty charmer instantly recognisable and one look from its overly large beady eyes is enough to make me reach for the spade, to turn over some soil so robin can devour a worm or two. Its penchant for worms and other tiny insects is one reason the robin appears frequently to befriend gardeners – it's not really being friendly, it’s after the food you might turn up for it! And robins can often be seen following people out walking, for the same reason. Next time you’re out for a wander in a woodland, be kind and scuff up the leaves – a little robin will almost certainly fly down to see what food treats you’ve uncovered.

"Glasgow Coat of Arms" by Alex Spade.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Robins do seem to be the most tame of Britain’s
wild birds, a trait that has been remarked upon for many centuries. As noted in Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey’s Birds Britannica [Chatto & Windus, London, 2005, pp.335-9], the earliest record of a robin’s tameness dates from the 6th century AD when St Serf of Culross was known to feed the robin that alighted on his head or shoulder while he prayed. The story goes that the robin was later killed by some of St Serf’s disciples but then brought back to life by Kentigern, who went on to be canonised as St Mungo and founded Glasgow’s Cathedral. No surprise then that a robin can be found in Glasgow’s Coat of Arms.

The robin’s association with the Church doesn’t stop there. From Birds Britannica I have learnt that robins have often been recorded visiting religious buildings: ‘During Charles II’s reign a robin regularly entered and sang in Canterbury Cathedral, apparently shaming the Puritan community of Kent by its regular church attendance’ and, in 1948, both The Times newspaper and BBC Radio reported that a pair of robins were nesting in the lectern at Ringsfield church in Suffolk.

The idea that the robin got its red breast by trying to remove a thorn from Jesus’ brow before the crucifixion is another religious connection, though that myth was almost certainly an attempt by early church historians to integrate the popular robin into their Christian stories.

The fact that the robin is frequently depicted 
on Christmas cards has, of course, nothing at all to do with religion. The practice of sending Christmas cards was first popularised by the Victorians in the 1860s and the postmen delivering the cards wore uniform red waistcoats. They were soon nicknamed ‘Robin Redbreasts’ and illustrators took up the idea, showing red-breasted robins delivering the mail (as this early Christmas card shows).

Although robins are usually considered to be good omens and bringers of luck – witness for example William Blake’s classic lines: ‘A robin redbreast in a cage / Puts all Heaven in a rage’ – robins also have a rather eerie association with death. Ancient wisdom warns that a robin in the house means death will soon follow, an idea I find intriguing as in my homeland, New Zealand, the same idea is attributed by the indigenous Maori people to the piwakawaka or fantail. The idea that birds are regularly seen as portents of calamity and death appears to be common amongst many cultures.

As I write this post, I can hear a robin singing in the back garden, a pretty melody but one probably intended as a territorial defence rather than a celebration. The robin may look small and dainty but it’s a warrior when defending its patch, though I suspect, as Frances Hodgson Burnett did, that some of the robin’s performance is simply to show off.

‘The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off - and they are nearly always doing it. ~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

16 February 2015

More weathervanes of Cheshire

After a week of much meandering through the Cheshire countrywide – I clocked up 65 kilometres (40 miles) last week, I’ve discovered a lot more weathervanes so thought I’d share a few more of these handsome hand-crafted artworks.

A traditional cock weathervane, found on a farmhouse in Budworth Heath

‘You who travel with the wind, what weathervane shall direct your course?’ ~Khalil Gibran

So cute! The ducks are at a house near Wincham and the robin on an old outbuilding near Budworth Heath
‘Kites rise highest against the wind - not with it.’ ~ Winston Churchill

Is the occupant a hunter? Found at Plumley

‘It was one of those cold nights at the end of October, when the weathercocks, shaken by the north wind, turn giddily on the high roofs, and cry with shrilly voices, “Winter! - Winter! - Winter is come!”' ~ Erckmann-Chatrian, ‘The Child Stealer’

A foxy favourite from Comberbach
‘The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.’ ~ Joan Didion

Very inventive and not a beehive in sight, on the ground. Found near Pickmere
‘The clouds were flying fast, the wind was coming up in gusts, banging some neighbouring shutters that had broken loose, twirling the rusty chimney-cowls and weathercocks, and rushing round and round a confined adjacent churchyard as if it had a mind to blow the dead citizens out of their graves.’ ~ Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

Any guesses as to the owner's occupation? Found near Marston

‘Through woods and mountain passes / The winds, like anthems, roll.’ ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Prancing horses are popular. These were in Comberbach and Plumley.
‘I’m going to imagine that I’m the wind that is blowing up there in those tree tops. When I get tired of the trees I’ll imagine I’m gently waving down here in the ferns – and then I’ll fly over to Mrs Lynde’s garden and set the flowers dancing – and then I’ll go with one great swoop over the clover field – and then I’ll blow over the Lake of Shining Waters and ripple it all up into little sparkling waves. Oh, there’s so much scope for imagination in a wind!’ ~ L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

My favourite, particularly as it decorates an old rectory near Marston
I’ll finish today with a riddle from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit – can you guess the answer?

‘Voiceless it cries, Wingless flutters, Toothless bites, Mouthless mutters.’

13 February 2015

It’s a sign: England, part two

When out for one of my countryside rambles recently, the realisation that I was just a tad lost finally dawned on me when I saw this sign on a side road.

Low-flying aircraft
As far as I was aware, I shouldn’t have been anywhere near an airport. Turns out I wasn’t too far from a rather large, now abandoned airfield, former Royal Naval Air Station Stretton or HMS Blackcap. According to the Forgotten Airfields website it was built as a Royal Air Force night fighter station to protect Manchester and Liverpool from Luftwaffe raids during the Second World War but transferred to Admiralty control when the Germans stopped bombing British cities. The Navy had 41 Fleet Air Arm Squadrons based at Blackcap for varying periods, flying regular missions to and from aircraft carriers based in the Irish Sea.

Construction of the M56 motorway in 1971 went right through the site, half of which is now an industrial area but the south side is still very obvious in this aerial photo. In recent years, apparently, Shell used the airfield to test engine oil but it seems currently to be languishing unused. The Warrington Guardian of 11 June 2014 reported on plans to turn part of the land into an underground vehicle storage facility but that is being opposed by local councils, and car-racing enthusiasts have been eyeing the site for a race track, something neighbours have also opposed.

I’m assuming the sign has been there for a long time – I don’t think there have been any low-flying aircraft in the vicinity since the airfield closed in 1958!

The Pinfold
‘This enclosure dates from the Eighteenth Century and was used as a pound to secure stray livestock.’

You never know what you might stumble across when out walking! First an airfield and then, on that same long rural meander, something much much older. I discovered this enclosure and its explanatory sign on Budworth Road, not far from Arley Hall, in Cheshire. I’d never heard the word pinfold before so, when I finally got home, I hastened to google to discover more. Professor Wiki notes that the terms ‘pinfold’ and ‘pound’ are both Saxon in origin and both mean ‘animal enclosure’ – the only difference in usage is which part of England you’re in: it’s a pinfold in the north and east and a pound in the south and west.

Due to its age, this pinfold is a Grade II listed structure. It’s of ashlar contruction with large coursed stones, is rectangular in shape, with walls just over 100cms tall and has a single entrance. Dating from the days before enclosed fields were in common use, it would have been used to house stray pigs, sheep and cattle until their owners reclaimed them.

Signpost to Arley
‘This Road Forbidden Is To All / Unless They Wend Their Way To Call / At Mill, Or Green, Or Arley Hall.’

Having mentioned Arley Hall above, I thought I’d also include this rather wonderful signpost in this blog. The sign marks one of the side entrances to Arley Estate, an entrance only for use by those who reside in the old houses along the lane or those on foot, intending to walk the local public footpaths. If you’re not familiar with Arley, it’s a magnificent country estate that has been home to members of Lord Ashbrook’s family since the fifteenth century. 

So far, I’ve only been able to view Arley’s glorious vistas from the public paths as the house and gardens have been closed over the winter but I’m planning on exploring further when the 2015 visitor season opens in March. 

Footpath signs
As you’ve no doubt gathered, both from the name of my blog and from the numerous times I’ve mentioned my rambles and meanders, I’m a very enthusiastic and active walker. One of the things I like best about living in England is the public rights of way that make this country’s green and pleasant lands easily available to everyone. They give access to places you could never reach by road, allow you to appreciate the sounds of Nature not motorways and, as some are hundreds of years old, they provide valuable insight into the history of the people who have lived in the area.

There are various types of rights of way: public footpaths, for pedestrians only; public bridleways, for horse riders and pedestrians to share; and restricted byways, for horse riders, pedestrians and non-mechanised vehicles (the horse and cart of olden times) to share. Walkers can also often use concessionary paths, where use is allowed at the discretion of the landowner but is not a legal right. These are often also called permissive paths (which always makes me chuckle!).

The signage for these paths varies from place to place and from county to county so I have included several different examples here. 

As the sign below reminded me, you do have to be mindful of track boundaries when using footpaths (though this warning of potential shooting is a rather extreme example!) and you should always always follow the Countryside Code

05 February 2015

Swing Bridges on the Weaver

Time to get in the swing of things! Not that you’re allowed on a swing bridge while it’s swinging but these are yet another aspect of the Cheshire landscape that intrigue me. Apart from the old Kopu Bridge, near Thames in New Zealand – which I never realised until very recently is a swing bridge – I’d never seen bridges that moved in this way before.

As the name suggests, a swing bridge is a movable bridge that swings horizontally to one side of the waterway it spans in order to allow tall river traffic to pass. If the span of the bridge is quite short, as is often the case when it spans one of the local canals, then the bridge pivots only at one end, opening like a gate. If the waterway is wide and the span therefore longer, the bridge pivots on a central point, requiring a structure in the centre of the waterway to support it. Wikipedia has an animated clip showing this movement.  

A swing bridge can carry road, rail or pedestrian traffic across the waterway and, obviously, the traffic has to be stopped (usually by barriers and traffic signals) while the bridge is swinging. So far, I’ve only seen one in action but it was compelling viewing and I was able to get a sequence of photos of the bridge rotating the full 90 degrees and back again.

As it’s one of my nearest waterways, most of the swing bridges I’ve seen have spanned the River Weaver or the Weaver Navigation (the areas of the river that have been made navigable, perhaps through the addition of man-made channels or locks). Here are six of those bridges, in order from the most southerly (the furthest upstream) to the most northerly (the furthest downstream). The red dots on the map mark their approximate positions.

Riversdale Bridge, Northwich
The first of the swing bridge examples I will include here is also the smallest. It’s a pedestrian swing bridge across the Weaver Navigation near Hunt’s Lock in the town of Northwich. The original bridge was a wooden construction, built in 1888 and operated manually – imagine having to move that beast to one side of the river! That first bridge was replaced, around 1930, by another that was almost carbon copy of the original, but that second bridge also fell into disrepair and was closed in 2004 after it failed safety inspections.

The current swing bridge is a modern replacement, opened in December 2010, at a cost of £1.4 million. According to the Northwich Guardian, ‘All the components for the bridge had to be transported down the River Weaver on pontoons’, which, when you consider that the bridge is 45 metres long, is supported by 10 steel tie roads and weighs 50 tonnes, was no mean feat. This bridge is well used, as a short-cut from one side of town to the other, for easy school access by local children and by visitors to nearby Hunt’s Locks, so that replacement cost and the ongoing costs of the bridge's upkeep are well justified.

Hayhurst Bridge, Northwich
Not far downstream from Riversdale is Hayhurst Bridge, a substantial steel and wood construction that carries the busy B5337 (and pedestrians) across the Weaver. According to River Weaver Navigation Society historian Colin Edmondson, Hayhurst was originally known as Navigation Bridge and was built, in 1898, to allow a continual flow of traffic across the river while the adjacent Town Bridge was being converted from a fixed girder bridge to a swing bridge.

A Grade II-listed structure, this is believed to be the first bridge in Britain designed to be electrically operated, although Edmondson notes that the electricity was not connected until May 1899 meaning nearby Town Bridge may have been the first bridge to actually operate by means of electricity – an interesting distinction.

For those partial to more technical information, the Movable Bridges website reports that Hayhurst was the first bridge on mainland Britain to have a large proportion of its weight – 255 of its total 305 tones – supported on a sectional pontoon immersed in the river. Hayhurst was out of action for 9 months in 2004 for £33.5 million refit meaning it will continue to swing for a few years yet!

Town Bridge, Northwich
Six hundred metres downstream from Hayhurst and slap bang in the centre of Northwich is the aptly named Town Bridge. Built by the Weaver Navigation Trustees in 1898-99, the bridge is – together with Hayhurst – purported to be one of the first road swing bridges to be built in Britain and it was the first to be powered by electricity. The single steel span of the bridge was constructed so as to pivot from the western bank of the Weaver and, just like its neighbour downriver, this bridge is massive. Constructed of steel and wood, its superstructure weighs in at 300 tonnes and its substructure weighs 200 tonnes.

Both Hayhurst and Town Bridges have steel gates at either end to stop traffic when the bridges are in operation, and both have small timber-framed and weather-boarded control cabins situated adjacent to the bridges on the Weaver’s western bank.

Almost closed
Winnington Swing Bridge, Northwich
Just a short sail downstream from central Northwich sits another busy, road-traffic swing bridge, the Winnington Bridge. Constructed in 1908-09, it actually replaced an earlier version which had been built in 1901 but which had proven inadequate in design and in carrying capacity. It appears there was much discussion about the siting of this replacement, as there was initially a possibility that it would carry a light railway connection between Warrington and Northwich, as well as road and pedestrian traffic.

The rail option didn’t materialise so the shortest span option was chosen. The Movable Bridges website lists Winnington’s vital statistics as follows: a span of 154 feet, with a pivot point set 61 feet from the short end, giving a long arm of 93 feet; a clear waterway of 55 feet when the bridge is fully open; and it carries a roadway that is 19 feet wide and a 5-foot-wide footpath. 

Winnington Swing Bridge, wide open
According to the British Listed Buildings register, this bridge enabled significant ‘trade expansion and business growth in the area's chemical industry’. It is the only main-road swing bridge on the Weaver Navigation that is not supported on a pontoon, and it is the only one of these six swing bridges that I’ve actually seen in operation. Believe me, it’s an impressive sight to see this massive structure swing to one side and back again.

Looking upstream, showing the brick control tower at left and the island on which the bridge sits
Acton Bridge Swing Bridge
Less than five miles downstream from Winnington is the Acton Bridge Swing Bridge. Built of steel between 1931 and 1933, this bridge sits on an island in the centre of the River Weaver. It replaced an earlier bridge that was located a couple of hundred yards upstream – you can still see the original abutments on the river banks near the Leigh Arms car park.

Looking downstream, showing the circular structure on which the bridge pivots
The immensely talented man responsible for this, and the other five swing bridges listed here, was John Arthur Saner, chief engineer for the Weaver Navigation Trust from 1888 to 1934. He would, no doubt, be amazed to learn that the bridge operation for this particular bridge is now computer controlled!

Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge
The last in my series of River Weaver swing bridges is also the last before the river’s confluence with the Manchester Ship Canal near Runcorn. Built in 1872, the first bridge on this site was 75 feet long and 14 feet wide, weighed in at 20 tons and could be manually operated by just one man. By 1923, it could no longer cope with contemporary traffic so a replacement was built. The new bridge is more than twice the size of the original – it measures 150 feet long by 44 feet wide, carries three lanes of road traffic as well as two footpaths, and the combined weight of the swinging section and the pontoons it sits on is 519 tons (statistics courtesy of the Movable Bridges website).

During 2013-14, this bridge underwent a complete restoration, at a cost of £4.5million, which should ensure it continues to function effectively for another 50 years. As the bridge carries the very busy A56 and an estimated 20,000 vehicles per day, I think it was well worth the money! 

I have gleaned much of the technical information about these bridges from the most excellent Movable Bridge UK website (and contributed a few photographs to their website in return). If you’re interested in bridges in your neck of the woods, you can check their website for UK bridges, and Wikipedia has a list of some that can be found worldwide.