THE community turned out in force to watch an historic bridge in a North Yorkshire village swing in to life as it celebrated its 150th birthday.

On Sunday (July 31) villagers in Cawood, downstream from York, celebrated 150 years since the opening of Cawood Bridge across the River Ouse.

Villagers and visitors gathered to hear a speech from W.H. Nicholson, chairman of the Cawood Bridge Company as portrayed by local actor, Chris Cade. There were exhibitions, water ski demonstrations and live music from local band, The Sick Notes.

Margaret Brearley, chair of the Cawood Castle Garth Group, whose members have been researching the history of Cawood Bridge, said: “We are privileged to have the use of the bridge which makes such a difference to our lives here.

“Without the bridge, the only way across the river is through Selby adding an extra 11 miles to the journey from York.

“We are lost without access to the bridge, which can happen when the river floods.”

York Press: Cawood Bridge swings open during the event. Picture: Mike CowlingCawood Bridge swings open during the event. Picture: Mike Cowling

On the day ten-year-old Toby Settle won the chance to open the bridge during the celebrations. 

People gathered in The Ferry Inn garden between 11am and 11.30am and there was a free exhibition in the village hall, and self-guided tour of the village, with the highlight being a grand opening of the bridge at 12 noon.

Members of Cawood Water Ski Club also provided a demonstration of their skills on the River Ouse.

Margaret said that, before Cawood Bridge was built, the Archbishop of York controlled the river traffic and owned the right to operate a ferry.

“The crossing was hazardous especially in winter with short days and strong tides. This resulted in tragic incidents of drowning and a call from local residents for a bridge to be built,” said Margaret.

“In 1869 a meeting was held at the Commercial Inn at Cawood (now the Ferry Inn) to discuss building a bridge. This resulted in the Cawood Bridge Company being formed, led by William Nicholson, a gentleman from The Grange in Cawood. A window commemorating the Nicholson family is in Cawood church.”

The Cawood Bridge Act was passed by Parliament in 1870. This gave the Cawood Bridge Company the right to operate the bridge. The Bridge was funded by a combination of donations, shares and loans to meet its cost of £10,500. Tolls were charged until the local authority took over the Bridge in 1880.

The chief engineer for the bridge was Robert Hodgson (1817- 1877). He was born in Edinburgh and trained with the North Eastern Railway Company.

A quote from the Yorkshire Gazette August 3, 1872, states: “The bridge is an elegant iron structure - and is built on the swivel principle, with two open spans of considerable width, so that vessels can pass through the bridge without lowering their sails or casting off their towing ropes.”

The opening of Cawood Bridge took place on July 31 1872 when members of the Cawood Bridge Company and some contractors, paraded from the Commercial Inn.

Several carriages followed, and on arriving at the centre of the bridge the directors declared the Cawood Bridge formally open. There is a plaque in the centre of the bridge that marks this occasion.