Beggars Bridge – a labour of love (literally) in the North York Moors
On the road to Egton Bridge in the Esk Valley lies the village of Glaisdale. On the edge of the village lies an old bridge known locally as “Beggars Bridge”.
The bridge is a great example of an old Packhorse bridge. These bridges crossed rivers, streams and becks on rough paths over the wild moorland since medieval times.
Before motor transport and railways, goods were transported across the Moors by packhorses or mules. This form of transport continued to be a key way of transporting goods for centuries – a horse usually laden with bulky paniers or saddle bags on either side.
The bridges tended to be very narrow to save money on the cost of building them. And are usually hump-backed.
They are often built so that the walls on the narrow bridge spread out at the top to help accommodate the baggage.
But going back to the “labour of love” relating to the bridge, its reason for being is a real life (or so folklore tells) – love story!
The story dates back to Tudor times and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A local lad, the son of a poor sheep farmer who lived in Egton, fell in love with a rich girl called Agnes who lived across the other side of the river.
Sadly at the time there was no bridge over the river and to make matters worse, her father, a wealthy Glaisdale landowner felt the boy unsuitable.
Apparently his name was Thomas Ferres and not to be deterred Thomas declared that he was going to leave Egton and become wealthy enough to build a bridge over the River Esk.
True to his word he set off, and his life became full of adventure. He became a sailor in Whitby he ended up fighting against the Spanish Armada with Sir Francis Drake before visiting America. He also spent time in the West Indies becoming a wealthy trader.
Thomas eventually established a shipping company and became Lord Mayor of Hull in 1620.
He stuck to his promise and built a bridge – inscribing it with the date (1619) and his initials. This story does have a happy ending as Thomas Ferris ended up marrying Agnes.
He stated that he hoped that by building the bridge he hoped that young lovers would no longer be parted by the river in the future.
The story was made into a short film by Eboracum Pictures and a poem written about the tale…
The rover came back from a far distant land
And he claimed of the maiden her long promised hand
But he built, ere he won her, the bridge of his vows
And the lovers of Egton pass over it now