Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A Tale of Two Lovers....and a bridge...

Beggars Bridge, Glaisdale, North Yorkshire

Although there are many very well preserved packhorse bridges throughout Yorkshire, some with tales attached, there is none with such a romantic story as Beggars Bridge of Glaisdale near Whitby....

Also known as 'Lover's Bridge,' this beautiful arched crossing straddles the River Esk, taking the traveller further along ancient stone trods and through evocative historic woodland. Built in 1619, the bridge has the classic low parapets of the authentic 'packhorse bridge' to allow horses with fully laden panniers to cross without touching the sides.

Ancient stone trod, Arncliffe Woods, Glasidale
Ancient stone trod, Arncliffe Woods, Glasidale

Without further ado, here's the romantic tale that I promised:


According to local legend, Tom Ferres, son of a poor sheep farmer, fell in love with Agnes Richardson, daughter of a wealthy Glaisdale landowner on the other side of the river. Prevented from marrying because of his poverty, poor Tom left from Whitby to seek his fortune at sea. Unfortunately, he was denied a farewell kiss from Agnes because the River Esk (whose name derives from the Celtic word Isca, meaning water or stream) chose that moment to flood, and an unfortunate Tom was unable to cross the frothing waters to embrace his sweetheart before embarking on his adventures.

Tom travelled far, surviving sea battles against the Spanish Armada and then becoming involved in piracy in the West Indies. Securing his fortune in the Caribbean, he returned to England a wealthy man and promptly married Agnes. He then had the bridge built so that future lovers would never be kept apart by the waters of the Esk.

Here's part of a ballad by Mrs George Dawson from the 1860 publication 'The Ballads and Songs of Yorkshire:'

"I go to seek my fortune, love,
In a far, far distant land;
And without thy parting blessing, love,
I am forced to quit the strand.

But over Arncliffe's brow, my love,
I see thy twinkling light;
And when deeper water's part us, love,
'Twill be my beacon bright.

If fortune ever favour me,
St Hilda! Hear my vow!
No lover again in my native plain,
Shall be thwarted as I am now.

One day I'll come to claim my bride,
As a worthy and wealthy man!
And my well earned gold shall raise a bridge
Across this torrent's span"

Beggars Bridge, Glaisdale, North Yorkshire
Beggars Bridge, Glaisdale, North Yorkshire

Is any of this true?

Tom Ferres did exist, and did sail from Whitby in 1588, serving in Sir Francis Drake's navy against the Armada and, later, in the West Indies. He returned in 1592 on a captured ship, which he then sold. He did marry Agnes and created a shipping business in Hull, becoming Mayor in 1620. He had the bridge built in 1619, almost certainly as a memorial to Agnes, who had died a year earlier. 

Beggars Bridge, Glaisdale, Whitby Inscription: 1619 T.F.
Beggars Bridge Inscription: 1619 T.F.

There is an alternative history of the bridge's origin, where Tom built it as a token of gratitude after nearly drowning in the River as a young man.

Tom's bridge replaced a 14th century medieval bridge that had disappeared by 1577. I have tried to discover the origin of the name 'Beggar's Bridge' with no success. Please get in touch if you know!

More recently the story has been made into a short film by Eboracum Pictures entitled: 'The Legend of Beggar's Bridge.'  (click on the link to see a trailer.)

I have to say, I much prefer the romantic version of the story......

Thanks for reading!


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  1. Very nice way to start the day, a good story! Thanks!

    1. Very welcome Carolyn! Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

  2. Great story, could the name come from the fact he was so poor he was almost a beggar. I love tales like that

    1. Thanks Bill - had not thought of where the name derived! Could well be :)