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The river formed the south west boundary of an area once known as "Wulvesford" where, it is believed, there is evidence of earlier settlements possibly of the bronze or iron age.  It was here in Wulvesford where, in 1210, the Knights Templar were granted a charter to establish their new town and market along the existing old Roman Road.  They called it the "New Lands", later to become known as Newland Street.

 

The earliest crossing would have been a ford and of course the road would have been down at river level.  Fairly early in the development of the new town a wooden footbridge would have been built alongside the ford.  This would have been suitable for only walkers and travel on horseback, carts would still have to use the ford.  Since then there must have been many rebuildings. 

Although the law of the land could not compel the building of a bridge where none had been standing, it always sought to enforce the repair of an existing bridge on whoever they considered should accept responsibility. The early quarter sessions records that have been preserved for Essex have frequent entries showing the controversy that took place in deciding who was liable to carry out the repairs. Included in these was one was at the western side of town known as Newland Bridge on the route to Chelmsford.


1589 saw an entry 'We present a bridge in Witham called Newland Bridge is in great decay and it was last made by the Queen's surveyors'. Improvements were made by the Turnpike Trust who, in 1800 pulled down the old timbers of Newland Bridge and had it rebuilt. As late as 1860 enquiries were made as to who should be liable for the repair of Newland Bridge. The responsibility fell to the County.


In 1900 the bridge was reported as unsafe and without any great delay the County took steps to rebuild it. This was at a cost of £1,700 and the opportunity was taken to lower the roadway 2' 6" (0.762m) and to widen it from 22 feet (6.705m) to 36 feet (10.972m), just in time for the arrival of the motor car.

 

Sources: Janet Gyford; Maurice Smith; Cyril Taylor; Witham & Countryside Society

 

Text and Photographs: John Palombi and Cyril Taylor unless otherwise accredited. Illustrations: John Finch and Julie & John Denney. Translations: Google.com. Original Concept: Joy Vaughan, Witham Town Centre Strategy Group. Narration: John Rhodes
 

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