Wynch Bridge on the River Tees

Wynch Bridge

Wynch Bridge is a pedestrian suspension bridge with a very antique character. It spans a narrow gorge in the Whin Sill through which flows the River Tees after its departure from Low Force, in Teesdale. Despite its looks, the most uncertain thing about the structure appears to be its name: Wynch or Winch? Both are in widespread usage in various authoritative publications but I’ve plumped for what I believe to be the most common – Wynch.

The first bridge on the site was erected in 1704 and may have been the first suspension bridge in Europe. About the second bridge, constructed c1741, Hutchinson [presumably the c19th Durham antiquarian William Hutchinson (1732-1814)?] wrote: “About two miles above Middleton, where the river falls in repeated cascades, a bridge, suspended on iron chains, is stretched from rock to rock, over a chasm near 60 feet deep, for the passage of travellers, but particularly for miners. The bridge is 70 feet in length, and little more than two feet broad, with a handrail on one side, and planked in such a manner that the traveller experiences all the tremulous motion of the chain, and sees himself suspended over a roaring gulph, on an agitated, restless gangway, to which few strangers dare trust themselves”

It was constructed, simply and precariously, to allow lead miners to get to work elsewhere in the dale from their homes in Holwick. In August 1802 it collapsed, causing the death of a man named Bainbridge who is claimed to have been a hay-maker. In his 1848 journal Journey through Teesdale the early rambler Francis P Cockshott described the episode thus: “The old, original Winch Bridge is supposed by many to have been the first suspension bridge in Europe and is well known to have been built upwards of 95 years ago. In August 1820 [1802?], one of the chains in the bridge gave way while eleven persons were passing over, most of whom were on it at the same time. Two of them fell into the river and were saved but one, falling on the rock, was killed…”.

The bridge was subsequently repaired and replaced by the current bridge in 1830, being financed by the Duke of Cleveland and maintained from miners’ subscriptions. Today a narrow timber footway is suspended from cast iron chains hung between a pair of tapered, cast iron Tuscan columns on each bank. It is regularly maintained, being strengthened in 1993, and was Grade II listed in 1966. The bridge provides access between Bowlees Visitor Centre on the B6277 and the village of Holwick or to the Pennine Way/Teesdale Way both of which utilise the trail alongside the river on the south side. 

Location NY 903279

References

Bridges on the Tyne. “Winch Bridge.” Bridges on the Tees, 2007, https://bridgesonthetyne.co.uk/winch.html Accessed 15 October 2020.

Historic England. “Wynch Bridge.” Historic England, 2020, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1121562 Accessed 15 October 2020.

Keys to the Past. “Local History Holwick (County Durham).” Keys to the Past, Durham & Northumberland County Councils, 2020, http://www.keystothepast.info/article/10339/Site-Details?PRN=D6832 Accessed 16 October 2020.

Keys to the Past. “Wynch Footbridge, Holwick, Teesdale.” Keys to the Past, Durham & Northumberland County Councils, 2020, http://www.keystothepast.info/article/10339/Site-Details?PRN=D984 Accessed 15 October 2020.

Yorkshire Film Archive. “About Britain: Mr Cockshott’s Journey down the Tees (1981).” Yorkshire/North East Film Archive, 2020, http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/film/about-britain-mr-cockshotts-journey-down-tees Accessed 15 October 2020.

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