Written by James R. Wigfull, A.R.I.E.A. Provided by Peter Bayliss. First published in the transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society and reproduced with their kind permission.
The will of George, fourth Earl of Shrewsbury, directed: ” That three priests, for the space of twenty years, next after his decease, should sing for his soul; whereof two in the Parish Church of Sheffield, at the Altar where the Lady Anne, his first wife lay interred; and the other in the Chappel of our Blessed Lady of the Bridge in Sheffield; and every of them to have eight marks yearly during that time.”1 The Earl died in 1538, and, nine years later, the Act confiscating the revenues of Chantries swept away both priest and masses, and the chapel itself was devoted to secular purposes. The accounts of the Shrewsbury family show that in 1572 it was used as a wool warehouse, and at a later date it was occupied as an Almshouse. The Shrewsbury accounts for 1592 contain evidence of this, as shown by the following entry :
“It payd ye 27th of Mrche 1592 to ye poore folks that are in ye Allmes howse at Sheff Brydg for their qrtr annuyty endyd at Or- Ladye Daye 1592, viz to Tho. Buntting 5/- vidua Bamfforde 5/- vid hellyefelde 5/- & to Elizabeth Corke 5/- 20/- payd”
Similar payments occur in other years, and it may be that the Charity founded in his will by Earl Gilbert was based upon this smaller scheme, originated by his predecessors, and continued by him.
It is not until 1657 that entries concerning the Almshouse are found in the Burgery Accounts, the first being” To the post for a letter sent up to Mr. Moseley about the Almes house,” followed shortly afterwards by an amount spent upon “a pint of sack to Mr. Halton,” and at an interview with this gentleman and Mr. Radcliffe, principal agent of the Earl of Arundel, ” when wee spoke to them about trees for the Alms house.” Evidently timber for the contemplated alteration. The accounts for this and the following year contain numerous items for building work and materials amounting to more than £l60, all of which are directly traceable to the Almshouse. The spending of such a relatively large sum suggests an entire, or almost entire, reconstruction of the building. Possibly, after the Civil War, the building came into possession of the Burgery, and this body, after due deliberation, set itself to put the place in order.
The Burgery accounts contain constant payments for work done at the Almshouse until 1761, when a sum of 1 pound 1shilling, one of other similar entries, is made for ” a years rent of a Room for Eliz. Clayton, removed out of the Almshouses in order to their being pulled down.”
Gosling’s plan of Sheffield, dated 1736, marks the position of the Almshouses as close to the bridge, and on the eastern side of Waingate, labelled by him ” Bridge Street.” Doubtless the chapel, of which they were the immediate successors, stood in the same position, at the side of the approach, and not actually on the bridge or attached to one of the piers as is the case at Rotherham. The site of the Almshouses has been absorbed by the present roadway, but its position seems to have been in front of the castellated saleshop now situated between the bridge and the entrance to the slaughter houses. A plan by W. Fairbank, dated 1771, and now in the Norfolk Estates Office, shows a small plot of land in this position, having a frontage of about eleven yards, and marked “Town’s Land containing 42 yds.” A plan by the same surveyor, prepared in 1789, to show an exchange of land between the Town and the Duke of Norfolk, states that this particular site is in the occupation of Joseph Scena, and the area is given as 46 yards.
The bridge referred to in the will of the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury was erected during the later years of the fifteenth century, but there is evidence of a bridge in the same position in the latter part of the twelfth century.
The Charter of William de Lovetot, granting a piece of land for the Hospital of St. Leonard, in which the land is referred to as ” juxta pontem Done,” dates between the years 1161 and 1181. The late Mr. J. D. Leader, in an article upon this subject published in the Sheffield Miscellany, February, 1897, suggested that the “Spittle Garden ” shown on Gosling’s plan, and which occupied nearly all the ground between Johnson Street, Nursery Street and the Wicker, was the piece of land “near the bridge of the Don” upon which the Hospital formerly stood.
During the year 1909, Lady’s Bridge was widened upon its eastern side, and the work then in progress rendered it possible to examine the structure from below. Three previous widenings could be traced, at the sides of a bridge of a distinctly mediaeval type. The width of this early bridge is 14 ft. 8 ins. The arches are five in number. Their spans vary slightly but average about 21ft., and the piers between and supporting the arches are 6 ft. in thickness. The ends of the piers are hidden by later work, but no doubt originally they had pointed cutwaters of the usual type. The arches are segmental pointed; the point is very slight, and each curve seems to have been struck from two centres. The soffits of the three arches nearest to Waingate have each five stone ribs. These are square in section, with the exception of the two external ones, which are chamfered on their outer edges, as are also the edges of the arch stones adjoining them. Similar arches occur in the bridge at Rotherham. The ribs are missing in the two arches nearest to the Wicker, and it has been suggested that these have been rebuilt. These arches appeared to the writer to have a pointed form, and traces of chamfers on their outer edges, features which led him to believe that the ribs only had been removed, and that the arches themselves were the original ones. The stone employed is a coarse grit similar to that found in the Rivelin district or upon Wadsley Common. There can be no doubt that this is the bridge erected under the agreement dated 1485, and made between ” Syr John Plesaunce vicar of Sheffield, and William Hyll of the same miaster mason.” The agreement is given by Hunter,1 who unfortunately omits to state the source of his reference. Can anyone give this information ? The agreement is of interest, and runs as follows:—
“This Indenture berys wytness that Syr John Plesaunce vicar of Sheffield and William Hyll of the same miaster mason have bargained for the makyng of a Brygge of ston undyr this fourme that follows : yat is to wytt; that the said William Hyll shall make a sufficient brigge over the watyr of Dune neghe the castell of Sheffeld, wele and sufficiently after the sight of workmen of the same crafte and gode men of the parysh. The whych shall be made V. arches embowed, (vaulted) nil. jowels, (piers) and n. heedys, with sure butments at eythyr ende. Also the sayd William shall mak of his own costys all mason worke, and he shall pay for the clensyng of the ground werk for all his partners, and his scaffyld makyng. The stoppyng of the watyr, and the makyng of centres shall be of both theyr costys equally deelyd.And the said Syr John Plesaunce shall cause all manner of stuff nedeful to the said werk to be brought to the grounde of the parysh cost, yat is to say, lyme, ston, sande, and tymber, to mak the centres of the scaffaldys and all oder thyng yat long to the werk. And the said William shall hafe for the makyng of it a C. markys to be paid like as the werke is wroght; and when the thyrd part of the brygg is fully fynyshyd, the said William shall be content and paid of XXIIl. IIs. IIId. And when the second part is fynyshyd he shall hafe in likewise. Also the said William has promysed by these Indentures yatt the said werke shall goe forthe contynually and not lie undone in his defaulte, upon payne of forfetyng XLs. Also the said Syr John has promysed by these Indentures also, that the aforesaid payment shall be truly kept on his behalfe, upon payne of forfetyng XLs. And to all these covenants and syngler afore rehersed truly to be kept on eythyr party, the sayd Syr John and William to these Indentures enterchangeably have set theyr sealys, these beyring wytteness, Nycholas Wortley gentylman, Richard Barnbe gentylman, John Wykersley gentylman, Robert Bytry, Richard Trippett, Richard Wyott, William Jackson, and others. Gyfen at Sheffeld the XX day of the moneth February in the yere of the reigne of Kyng Henry VII. after the conquest of England the fyrst.”
John Plesaunce or Pleasaunce was appointed vicar of Sheffield on September llth, 1482, on the resignation of William Symondson. He held the office until his death in 1501. His name occurs in deeds of 1498 and 1500 given by Mr. T. Walter Hall in his Catalogue of the Ancient Charters belonging to the Twelve Capital Burgesses and Commonalty of the Town and Parish of Sheffield. The names of some of the witnesses of this agreement will also be found in the same publication.
The existing bridge contains work of apparently four periods in addition to the extension of 1909. As mentioned above, the width of the fifteenth century work is 14 ft. 8 ins. On the eastern side of it is an arch 13 ft. 1 in. in width, adjoining it on the western side is one 9 ft. 9 ins. in width, and beyond this is another, having a width of 14 ft. 2 ins.
Various initials and dates are cut on the piers, amongst which are, on the first pier—counting from Waingate—of the fifteenth century bridge, and on its northern side: RL 1740, RP 1835 ; on the southern side of the next pier: ISE 1769; while on the eastern extension of the first pier is cut: EW 1861. These probably record the dates when repairs were carried out, as they do not agree with those when the bridge is known to have been widened.
Hunter tells us that “The Lady’s Bridge is now repaired by the West Riding according to a decision of the justices of the peace at the sessions for that riding held at Pontefract in 1689.1
The widenings of the bridge were probably carried out at the expense of the County, as no sums sufficient for this purpose are included in the Burgery Accounts. The only amount in these accounts which shows payment for work of an extensive nature is in 1787, and is for ” Cash paid George Blagden in part for making the arch under the water.” A further payment for “Mason’s Work” was made to him in the following year. These items probably refer to work in connexion with the formation of Bridge Street, which was done about this time, and on a site then known as ” under the water.”
Lady’s Bridge was widened in 1761, evidently at the expense of the West Riding, for the Burgery Accounts record in 1760 the payment of 21i 5s. 6d. “To Mr. Thomas Watson at treating the Justices when the Bridge was let,” and other sums “for liquor” for the workmen when the first and last stones were laid. Fairbank’s plan of 1771, to which reference has been made, shows the bridge about 24ft in width. This agrees with the width of the fifteenth century bridge, plus the first added portion on the western side, and suggests that until 1760 the narrow mediaeval bridge sufficed for the traffic, and, further, that the first widening was done on the western side. The Almshouses, which were pulled down about 1761, “stood on the eastern side, but their removal may have been due to a desire to widen the approach to the bridge on that side of the street. In 1785 and 1786 the Burgery Accounts record payments for two houses purchased to pull down to widen the bridge and street. These may have been required in connexion with the opening out of Bridge Street, but as a payment was made to “men at Lady’s Bridge for ale at finishing,” it is possible that a further widening was done about this time. Fairbank’s plan of 1789, mentioned above, shows little more than the approach to the bridge, so that it is impossible to fix an exact dimension for the width of it at this time.
The etching of the bridge, made by the late Mr. H. H. Earl in 1844, shows the ribbed mediaeval arch about the centre of the width. The cut-waters on the piers are shown to have sloped set-offs, and above these, piers of shallow projection are carried up to the coping of the stone parapet wall. An additional, or sixth arch, is shown at the Wicker end of the bridge, probably for the goit to the Wicker Tilt. This arch appears on Gosling’s plan and also on the Ordnance plan of 1851, on which the bridge is shown about 38ft. in width.
In 1852 an agitation in favour of the widening of the bridge was commenced, but it was not until 1865, thirteen years later that the West Riding Magistrates agreed to contribute the sum of £700 from the County Rate towards the cost of the work, “on condition that they were released from further liability of maintenance.” At this time 14ft. was added to the width of the bridge, the stone parapets were removed and the present cast iron parapets were erected.
The widening of 1909 added about 10ft. to the width of the bridge. The extended roadway is carried on girders supported by iron columns which rest on stone foundations, and the cast iron parapet, dating from 1865, has been refixed.
The present appearance is distinctly modern, and it is difficult to realize that, embedded in its centre, is a structure built more than four and a quarter centuries ago, yet such is the case. Truly did William Hyll carry out his agreement, doing his work “well and sufficiently after the sight of workmen of the same crafte and gode men of the parysh.”