IN recent weeks, we’ve been trip-trapping across Low Hail Bridge at the east end of Hurworth.
It is the bridge, you will remember from Memories 311, which was built across the Tees in 1879 to an American design.
Although it is a carriage bridge with a wooden deck, its principal use was to carry effluent produced by the Durham villagers over the river to the North Yorkshire fields where it was spread as fertiliser.
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Betty Ferguson, from Hurworth, has been in touch as she has an etching of the view from the bridge looking west towards All Saints church. It was produced in about 1900.
WG Tennick’s view from Low Hail bridge in about 1900 looking at Hurworth church and ford
Perhaps the most arresting feature is the long slope down to an old ford.
According to a tall tale, the existence of the ford explains how the bridge gained its name. Half of the cost of the bridge was paid for by Sir Henry Robinson-Montague, the 6th Baron Rokeby who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo and who owned the estate on the Eryholme side of the river.
He refused to allow the farm labourers to trip-trap across the bridge so they had to wade through the ford beneath.
From high up on the bridge, Lord Rokeby or his farm managers would hail the peasants low down in the river and shout instructions for their day’s work at them. And so the bridge became “low hail”.
It is a tall story, because the most likely derivation of the bridge’s name is from the word “hale”, which in this context means the handles of a wheelbarrow or plough.
Betty’s etching also shows out-buildings tumbling down to the river. Most of these have now been cleared but these were the subterranean rooms upon which Hurworth’s prosperity was founded.
The natural composition of the water of the Tees made it very good for washing and bleaching wool, and fleeces were brought from as far away as Scotland to be cleaned in the magical water and then spun in the nearby rooms. In the 1820s, there were 125 handlooms at work in Hurworth – wool was a major industry.
In the corner of the etching are the initials of the artist: WGT. William George Tennick (1847-1913) was from Gainford. He has a full length portrait of Queen Victoria hanging in Kendal Town Hall and the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle has a couple of his paintings, most notably a very jolly pair of blacksmiths hammering away on an anvil, their sweaty faces glowing in the light of their fire.
CLOSE to the bridge is Strawberry Cottage, a former market garden that once belonged to the Crisp family, as Memories 310 and 311 told.
“I have long been fascinated by Strawberry Cottage,” says Ian Hillary, of Hurworth. “As a kid, it caught my attention: I thought it was a little castle. It sits elevated above the road, and the unusual windows, the grand pediment, and the flagpole made a nice effect.”
It is a Grade II-listed building, dating from the early 19th Century, and it, surrounded by fields, it awaits a different future in the early 21st Century.
Ian was among a number of people to point out that the photo in Memories 311 of John Crisp did not have Strawberry Cottage in the background. Rather it showed the neighbouring Hilton House Farm.