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Crayford bridge

Crayford Bridge - Local history article

History

In Kent the principal road was from London to Dover, and was known as Watling Street. This was to become the highway travelled by thousands of pilgrims to the shrine of Thomas Becket who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in December 1170.

As the name Crayford would indicate, there was originally a ford across the River Cray at this location on the Roman London-to-Dover Road, which was used by livestock, carts and coaches. It is probable that at some point there was also a footbridge for pedestrian traffic.

The Turnpike Trust

Due to the ever deteriorating condition of the roads, in the early 18th century The New Cross Turnpike Trust was formed to improve and maintain the road from London to Dover.

Tolls on travellers were levied at turnpikes strategically positioned along its route. Local parishes were also required to make an annual payment in place of their legal duty to maintain the King’s highway.

In 1738 the Blackheath to Dartford section was added to the New Cross Trust. The capital for construction and repair was normally raised in the form of loans, the New Cross Trust charging 4%.

The London-to-Dover road originally came down Watling Street (as far as the gas works area), along Old Road, to The One Bell, and down Crayford High Street.

As the High Street was narrow and steep, it was decided that a new section of road should be constructed from the gas works area to the junction with Bourne Road where it could join the existing road leading into Crayford.

Previously, The One Bell was where passenger coaches changed horses; now The Bear and Ragged Staff became the changeover point, and the steep hill was avoided.

At its height in 1834 as many as forty coaches a day were passing along the Dover Road stopping at the coaching inns for fresh horses, refreshments and new passengers.

The Bridge

The earliest stone incorporated into the brickwork on the north side of this bridge indicates (in Roman letters) that it was first built in 1755. In 1920 it was widened on the south side. In 1938 it was widened on the north side, in conjunction with the widening of the High Street.

In the late 19th century the various Turnpike Trusts ceased to exist and responsibility for Crayford Bridge passed to Kent County Council.

The drinking fountain was set up in memory of Sir Stevenson Arthur Blackwood KCB who held open-air meetings on Crayford Bridge preaching on the evils of drunkenness. The inscription reads: “In grateful remembrance of Christian work in Crayford 1871-1880. Whenever he will let him taste of the water of life freely.” He moved into Crayford Manor House in 1871 with his wife Harriet, the Dowager Duchess of Manchester.

Crayford High Street pre-1919
Crayford High Street pre-1919. Note drinking fountain on bridge. The Bear and Staff Hotel on left.

Bridge House

Bridge House was owned by a Mr. H.S. Drew, and stood at the east end of the bridge.

From May 1922 it was the subject of much discussion at Crayford Council at the time of the Crayford Way improvements. Mr. Drew was reluctant to sell but after his death, the house was sold by his daughter for £950.

The house was demolished in 1924 to make way for the new access to Crayford Way and the Vickers housing estate.

Cray Gardens were laid out in 1938, partly from the former garden of Bridge House.

Crayford Bridge and Bridge House 1903
Crayford Bridge and Bridge House 1903

The Stone Tablets

In order to avoid further deterioration of the stone tablets, metal plates have been put in place to protect them, showing the exact wording beneath.

AED
AD MDCCLV
KCC
CRAYFORD BRIDGE
WIDENED 1920
H.T. CHAPMAN
M.INST.C.E.
COUNTY SURVEYOR
KCC
CRAYFORD BRIDGE
WIDENED NORTH SIDE
1938

On learning of this project, and as they were closing, Crayford Town Archive generously agreed to meet the cost from their funds.

July 2021

Text and images: David Gillham and Janet Hearn-Gillham

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