I’ve got the harmonica. Have you got the banjo?
Shall we start then?
One, two, three, four.......
'Hurrooh what a bother, this, that and the other,
All jumbled together – a comical sight!
My oath I declare on ‘tis just like a fair on,
Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night.'
What did we just do then?
We sang a nineteenth century song about one of the worst maintained listed structures in Manchester: Victoria Bridge. One of the worst maintained, but symbolically, one of the most important. The 1839 bridge slightly to the south of the Cathedral leading into Salford stands on the site of the original bridge between the two cities, was part of the A6 between London and Scotland for centuries, and had a battle take place on and over it. The song refers to the extraordinary fair that took place on it on Saturday evenings.
Who was the architect?
We don’t know. But we know it was completed in 1839 and is one of very few Manchester bridges built down a slope, in this case between the high ground of Manchester and the lower, often flooded, area that is now old Salford. It’s stone and leaps the river in one powerful elongated arch. There are orbs on scrolls decorating the bridge. These refer to the royal authority of the recently crowned Queen Victoria. Construction had started in 1837, the first year of Victoria's reign. The total cost was £20,800. The first vehicle that crossed the bridge was a wagon belonging to Messrs Lupton and Adamthwaite, brewers, Cook Street, Salford, It was officially opened 12 years later by the Queen herself. A typesetter at The Times was dismissed when he couldn’t resist amending the line ‘Her Majesty passed over the bridge and duly declared it open’. He was fired because he changed the ‘a’ in ‘passed’ to an ‘i’.
Ah yes typos, none of them on Confidential eh? More history please.
Verrie fonny. Anyway the first bridge was wooden and built a millennium ago. A stone bridge was built in the fourteenth century which had three arches and a two-storeyed chapel plus a cell for a priest who prayed for the soul of Thomas del Bothe who’d provided the money for the chapel. Here, travellers would stop and pray for their souls and good old Thomas’s, and be given alms and food before journeying on. In 1649 when Manchester was being ruled by the Puritans the chapel became a gaol, where drunks were put until released on a payment of a fine. The landlord where they got drunk often had to pay a fine as well.
You mentioned a battle?
Yes indeed. The bridge was the scene of one of the first battles of the English Civil War. During the war, Salford was Royalist while Manchester was Parliamentarian. The Royalists besieged Manchester and attacked across the bridge several times in 1642. They were repulsed. Manchester was never taken and became the centre of Parliamentary influence in the North West. There’s a mural showing the battle in the Town Hall by Ford Madox Brown. Indeed the bridge was often at the centre of things. This report from 1616 is interesting: " Anno 1616 was an extraordinary flood, called from the day Lambard' s Flood, in which the water suddenly rose many yards plumme above the ordinary course, that men stood upon Salford Bridge, and laded up water with a little piggin. It is a easy matter with God to drowne a towne ; yea, a world . "
And the state of the bridge today?
It’s shocking, left to rot shamefully by the cities of Manchester and Salford. Thus the one time most important bridge in the region is a mess, with broken ironwork and vandalised stone orbs. On the south side a 2.5m willow grows out of the stonework. Simply disgraceful.
So what’s going to happen to Victoria Bridge?
Well it’s right in the centre of a huge scheme to turn this area into a vibrant and living part of the city centre. There are some visualisations shown below. All this is apparently still going to go ahead – although at a slower pace for obvious reasons. Part of the plan is put a boulevard through the Greengate area of Salford which would terminate at the Manchester end in a greened-up footbridge across the River Irwell with plants deliberately placed there unlike the one on Victoria Bridge. Aesthetically you can see why they are doing this, it delivers a striking finish to the planned boulevard. But is it necessary? It’s uncertain how or when Victoria Bridge will be restored yet, but why not use this ancient crossing as a focus of the re-development rather than building another bridge? And one last thing.
All together now.
‘If troubled with pthisic, there are doctors with physic,
With lozenges, boluses, poppys and pills,
With ointment for drawing, with baccy for chawing,
Would blister your chops, till your red in the gills.
There’s snuff for your noses, and salve for your toeses,
With poultry and pigs, pickled pork and police,
With pokers, and fendyrs, and newspaper vendors,
And Stretford black puddings a penny a piece.’
You have a terrible voice, you know?
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