Edisford Bridge

Painted by Turner

One drawback of my father’s occupation as a self-employed milk deliveryman was that we never went on holiday in a conventional sense. A compensatory benefit was that, because he finished his round by about one p.m., half-day trips were possible whenever the weather was benevolent.  He’d give me the choice: we could drive sixteen miles west to St Anne’s-on-the-Sea, or the same distance east to a crossing over the river Ribble near Clitheroe, called Edisford Bridge.  I nearly always chose the latter.  It wasn’t until almost sixty years later that I discovered one of the UK’s most famous artists had not only visited the same place, but completed a watercolour of it.

Joseph Mallard William Turner travelled widely, and visited Yorkshire at the very end of the eighteenth century.  Edisford, or Eeadsford, as it was sometimes known, is close to the boundary of Yorkshire and Lancashire.  In 1799 he made sketches of the bridge[1] which then informed a watercolour now housed in the Museum of Ontario in Toronto.

Clitheroe, from Eadsford Bridge circa 1799 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Art Gallery of Ontario. TW0887

Clitheroe castle, just over a mile away, can be seen in the background in front of the brooding bulk of Pendle Hill.  The painting was recreated as an engraving by James Basire.

Clitheroe from Eadsford Bridge, engraved by Basire 1800. Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Transferred from the British Museum 1988 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T05930

Though the river is wide at Edisford, it is relatively shallow, and hence, as suggested by the suffix of its name, for centuries it was place where people would wade across. The bridge itself was first constructed in 1339 and widened in the 1800s.  The nineteenth century dimensions mean modern vehicles need caution and consideration to negotiate it safely.

During the 1960s it became a popular place of recreation, though facilities were very basic compared to today.  Something less than a shilling (5p) was collected by a man in a kiosk to permit cars to park in one of two fields.

Mother packed banana sandwiches and poured milky coffee into a thermos flask, and then the milkman’s son squatted in the rear of the freshly swilled Morris Minor van as Dad wove his way from Deepdale through Grimsargh, Longridge and Hurst Green. 

Milkman with a van.

When a road sign rather mystifyingly declared we were entering something called the West Riding of Yorkshire, I knew our destination was near. (Clitheroe is in Lancashire, but prior to county boundaries being re-drawn in 1974, the B6243 traversed a dangling tongue of Yorkshire on the way there.)  There was cricket and football in the field, but best of all, minnows, sticklebacks and bullheads in the river. After tea there was always the final evening stroll along the riverbank path, just me and my dad. Those dusk walks are the most treasured memory of all.

Edisford Bridge is still a popular destination. There’s a caravan site now, and a proper car park. The river is the same, wide and shallow, except where it’s deeper than it looks.  The sticklebacks still swim where their sixty-times fathers escaped the nets and jam jars of ill-educated boys and girls.

I go back once or twice a year, and take a brief walk along the riverside path where man and boy wound up their halcyon half-days. 

Even when I’m by myself, I’m never alone.


Edisford Bridge became the subject of my first ever published work; a poem for which I was paid £3.15 in the spring of 1976.

Much more recently it featured in a short story published by the Lancashire Post in January 2018 and now part of the Papercuts  collection.


[1] held in the Tate Gallery; reference: D01959 Turner Bequest XLV 30 a.

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