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Nottingham Post
Nottingham Post
Joseph Locker

The story behind Old Trent Bridge ruins and the ancient divide between the North and South

At the southern end of Trent Bridge many may have spotted an old ruin sitting between two major roads.

It is little celebrated and lies amid shrubbery and litter, but this intriguing structure actually offers an insight into what the bridge over the River Trent once looked like as far back as the 14th Century.

This ancient arch, nestled between the A60 and Bridgford Road, dates back to 1364 and is the last remaining section of what was once called the Hethbeth Bridge.

While Nottingham is today in neither the north or the south, instead sitting in the English Midlands and at the heart of the East Midlands to be precise, it was at one point in time on the very border.

Hilary Silvester, the executive chairwoman of Nottingham Civic Society, says the Romans considered the River Trent to be the natural border between the north and south of England.

While it may not be considered the north and south divide today, with the answer to that question still very much up for debate, a crossing over the river here has always been of utmost importance.

Records state the first crossing may have been built over Trent roughly 1,000 years ago.

An article from Nottinghamshire History says Alfred the Great's son, Edward the Elder, ordered the construction of the very first (official) bridge.

Alfred notoriously clashed with the Vikings and Danes, who heavily influenced the city as we now see it as early as 868AD, and his son's bridge over the Trent managed to stand for hundreds of years.

In 1300 Alice le Palmer, the then-wife of the Mayor of Nottingham, helped maintain the bridge alongside members of St John of Jerusalem, which operated a hospital and hostel for the poorest of people in the city.

As was commonplace at the time, the bridge as it stood all those years ago even featured a small chapel.

The old bridge and new bridge side by side in 1871, before the old bridge was demolished. (Nottingham City Council)

"The bridge carried a chapel," Ms Silvester said.

"It was quite normal at the time. There is one in Wakefield and Bradford-on-Avon and also one in St Ives in Cambridgeshire. It would have just been a little stone building with enough room for three or four benches.

"Travellers would go in and pray for a safe journey, Wayfarers were expected to pay a religious toll for a safe journey."

Ms Silvester says when St John's hospital and hostel was closed, it "laid the foundations" for what is now called the Bridge Estate.

The lands, including Old Trent Bridge, were handed over to the Nottingham Corporation in 1551 through a Royal Charter.

Today the Bridge Estate, a charity run by Nottingham City Council, helps maintain the bridge.

"In 1871 it had become too antiquated for the traffic that was crossing it," Ms Silvester added.

"Mercifully one arch was preserved of the old bridge, the Hethbeth bridge, which dated back to 1364.

"I would have thought they might have wanted to expose it a bit more."

The iron and stone bridge which passes over the Trent today was built in the 1860s and completed by 1871.

Old Trent Bridge, or Hethbeth Bridge, had been prone to damage from flooding and at one point a section was swept away in strong currents.

It had 15 arches spanning the Trent and now just two are left standing.

Trent Bridge as we know it today was designed by Marriott Ogle Tarbotton and crafted by Derbyshire-based iron maker, Andrew Handyside.

Last year it celebrated 150 years in existence and, in all of that time, was only widened once in 1926.

It now carries up to 50,000 vehicles every day, including the many thousands of Nottingham Forest fans, and cricket fans, as they head out of and into the city after a game or match.

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