St Ives Bridge & Chapel

St Ives bridge and chapel
There's an awful lot of historical water flowed under St Ives bridge and chapel. For almost a thousand years it was the only access from the south into St Ives for travellers, pilgrims and traders. At one time the chapel was a pub of ill repute. And Oliver Cromwell blew the bridge up. Read on to find out more.

St Ives bridge and chapel

First crossings
It is thought there has been a ford on the site of the bridge ever since a settlement existed in the area, probably several thousands of years. Prior to the introduction of locks on the Great Ouse, the river was wider and more shallow, and therefore easier to cross.

The first bridge was a wooden structure built in 1107AD as part of Ramsey Abbey's development of the settlement. Tolls collected from travellers provided a valuable income for the monks.

Building the current bridge
In 1414 work started on building a stone replacement. It was completed in 1425. A chapel was added in 1426 dedicated to St Leger. Bridges incorporating chapels were not uncommon in mediaeval times, but St Ives bridge is only one of four remaining today.

Oliver Cromwell leaves his mark
Although Cromwell lived in St Ives from 1631 to 1636, it was during the English Civil War that he left is mark on the town bridge. The war started in 1642 and Cromwell very quickly rose through the ranks of the Roundheads. By 1643 he was in charge of the East Anglian cavalry.

Concerned about attacks by the opposing Royalist forces, and mindful of the strategic importance of the bridge at St Ives, Cromwell ordered the southern part of the bridge to be blown up and a drawbridge to be erected. It was another seventy years before the bridge was restored almost to its original form. Since the restoration was done in the style of the time, the two replacement arches nearest the Dolphin Hotel still bear witness to Cromwell's act. They are more rounded than the original Gothic arches.

Other uses for the chapel
Besides its original use as a place of worship, the chapel was used to collect tolls from travellers and traders using the bridge. The hatches through which bridge tolls were passed into the chapel can still be seen.

Following the dissolution of monasteries in 1539, Ramsey Abbey relinquished ownership of the bridge. The chapel became a private residence. Two extra floors were added in 1736.

During the mid 1800s the building was a pub called Little Hell, an establishment with a somewhat dubious reputation. Pigs were kept in the cellar, so there must have been a somewhat unique ambience about the place. Thereafter, the chapel was again occupied as a private residence up to 1927.

St Ives bridge and chapel

All change
In 1930 there was concern over the safety of the chapel structure, resulting in the extra two stories from 1736 being removed and its restoration as a chapel. Until the building of the bypass in 1980, the bridge was the only access from the south over the Great Ouse and into St Ives for over a thousand years.

Today the bridge and chapel are Grade I listed and a scheduled ancient monument. Normal traffic is forbidden to travel over the bridge, only goods vehicles for whom a three point turn in the narrow Bridge Street would be hazardous are allowed access. St Ivians are protective of their bridge and will happily stop any car ignoring the signs, to explain the restrictions.

Don't stop at the bridge!
As you travel over the bridge away from St Ives, you'll access another unique structure, the causeway. You'll have to look over the side to fully appreciate it. Built in 1822 in just six months, with an amazing 55 arches it is the longest road causeway in the UK.

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