North Yorkshire bridge with links to Richard III to be saved from 'structural instability'

A highways authority responsible for the upkeep of about 2,000 bridges looks set to launch action to rescue a historic landmark from “structural instability and failure”.

North Yorkshire County Council has lodged an application with its own planners to repair Middleham Bridge, a castellated structure designed to echo Middleham Castle and the area’s links with Richard III.

Planning documents state such is the sensitivity of the works to the grade II listed iron and coursed rubble deck bridge that masons would need to be brought in to complete the works to the northwest turret.

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A council spokesman said: “It is supposed that vibration from the bridge causes excess movement where the parapet is connected to the turret. This in turn has led to the mortar cracking and falling out. Without this maintenance, further degradation may lead to structural instability and failure.”

The historic bridge in Middleham

Richmondshire councillor for Leyburn John Amsden said the bridge had undergone numerous repairs in recent years. He said the bridge, which was once described in a sketch by celebrated artist JMW Turner as “The Entrance To Wensleydale”, was an extremely important for those travelling between Wensleydale and Harrogate, Ripon and Masham.

While the bridge has been seen by worldwide audiences as cyclists crossed during the Tour de France and UCI World Championships, Coun Amsden said features such as the bridge’s mock medieval towers made also popular with tourists, adding: “It’s a landmark in the lower part of the dale.”

In 1829, a simple suspension bridge was built over the River Ure to replace the ford at Western Willows, but after only a year it collapsed under the weight of a herd of bullocks being driven across the bridge and “getting into step”.

It was repaired and made a deck bridge. Soon after a toll was introduced to pay for its upkeep. In 1864 the bridge was replaced by an iron girder one and the toll continued until 1880, when it was taken over the county’s highways.

A council spokesman said the bridge, which has a height restriction and only has as single lane, would need to be closed for the works, which would coincide with a road resurfacing programme between Leyburn and Middleham, scheduled for this month.