The Great Bridge at Brockham
Being Lord or Lady of a manor was no sinecure. Tenants sometimes
defaulted on payments; tried to shrug off responsibilities;
encroached on waste ground and took timber
that was not theirs for the taking and generally tried to get the better of the owner of the manor.
In the 1720s there is a long set of correspondence between Mrs
Sara Wight, Lady of the Manor, and John Killicke, her steward and
lawyer for the Manor of Brockham; he lived in
Betchworth so was on the spot to sort out any trouble.
The contention over the bridge is first mentioned in the correspondence in a letter dated 10th December 1723. Someone must have contacted the Lady about this, as she writes to Killicke saying "... ; one of the Bridges I maintain is much out of Repair; and if you know an Honest & Sufficient Carpenter I wou'd Beg you to agree wth him ..., Either to Repair or make it new, wch is the most advisaeable ". The following January she has heard from Killicke of the likely cost of repairs.
"The account yrs of the 11 th Instant, gives me of the Bridge, very much surprised me, not Excepting the Charge to amount to above half tht you mention, but upon Second thoughts, I am in hopes you mistake it for the Great Bridge wch I have no Concern in, I only maintain two, & I think Enough of tht, one is a Small Horse Bridge; the other, for foot People to go to Church only; George Lynn Offer'd me to make it of Brick for 251i but I think to do it of Timber; & will take it off the Coppyholds where ever I find any fit for the purpose, having always taken it from thence without the formality of a Court, both for Bridges and Pound, but if a Court be proper for it, I must desire you to Deferr it a Little Longer till I can wth more Convenience send a Servt"
In February 1723/24 she is still uncertain as to whether the
bridge is "hers" to maintain.
"...but I am not (as yet) Convinced it Belongs to me; being well assured we never had more than two to maintain ... & ifthere is one Kept by the Ten[an]ts
Possibly they have taken my Bridge & Left me theirs; I
Resolve it Shall be more plainly prov'd to be my Business, before I
meddle wth it; my Horse Bridge was (in a maner) made new, in Old Mr
Allinghams time; I had the Timbr off the Coppyholds, & he gave
Cariage of it, & to my best Remembrance, the Carpentr & Smiths Bill's Came all to about 71i" She had been in Brockham when the bills were paid and Mr Allingham went with her to see it.
" I thought it a very Small Horse Bridge, I think nothing Like
the Length you say ths is of, yr mentioning three Bridges puts me
in mind of a thing of above 30 years ago viz: Some of the
Coppyholders presented Mr Wight for the Repairs of a Bridge which
he being well assur'd was neither of the two we were to keep, wrote
to Mr Hervey to appear for him at the Sessions wch he did, &
got an Order from the Justices, tht we shoud never have any
further trouble in tht affair & from tht time to ths I never heard any thing of it; I am apt to think it might be the same Bridg; Mr Harvey vallu's him self very much upon it, & has several times since wn Mr Wight has Shewd some Dislike at his managemt, Reminded us of the
Service he then did us."
George Lyn, who offered to build a timber bridge, having died,
Sara offered £20 for Mr Haite to rebuild the bridge in brick. But
she tells Killicke to go ahead and mark timber in case Haite will
not accept £20. In November 1726 she tells Killicke that Haite is
to have half of the £20 for the bridge at the beginning and the
other half at the end of the work; it is to
be taken off the rent he would otherwise pay. Presumably the bridge was the "horse bridge" and was then rebuilt in brick.
This "horse bridge" may tentatively be identified with Rapkins Bridge, often mentioned in the Court Rolls when describing the location of land in that area. From these descriptions, it is almost certainly the bridge over the brook in Old School Lane. It would have been an important bridge, as The Old Coach Road was the main road from Dorking, and came over this bridge.
The footbridge referred to by Sara is still a footbridge across the River Mole near the Bowling Green. It is indeed the way the people of Brockham would have walked to their then parish church in Betchworth.
This leaves us with The Great Bridge, alias Brockham Bridge
alias The Borough Bridge. This is the bridge the Lord of the Manor
was not responsible for repairing. There are some
interesting facts about this bridge which have been traced in the Court Rolls and in the Quarter Sessions, this latter, thanks to Sara's recollection of a rough date for the Sessions case "upwards of 30 years" before her letter.
In the 1700s the steward of the manor had extracted "the customs
of the manor" from the old Court Rolls he had in his possession.
One "Custom" related to the Great Bridge dated
On 25lh September 1633 "At this Court it is Ordered that the said Bridge shalbe againe repayred for the use and benifitt of the Lord and Tennantes of the said Mannor for the time
beinge. And it is alsoe Ordered that every tennant of the saide Mannor shall forthwith pay iiij' for every acre ofLand whether severa1lie houlde of the sd Mannor towards the repareinge .ofthe saide bridge to be paide into the hands of [...] William Saker Thomas Charlewoode Ultimus Westbrooke and Robert Saker or one of them Upon reasonable demand thereof to be made upon pain of everie tennant denying to pay contrary to this Order to forfeite for everie acre ofLande which he holdeth of the saide Mannor vj'
- to be levigh [levied] to the Lordes use. And it is further
Ordered that when the said bridge shalbe repaired there shalbe a
bolte kepte and maintained by the said Tennantes at one end of the
saide bridge and a lock and key to lock the same, thereby to
prohibite strangers from going over with Teemes over the saide
bridge as heretofore yt hath ben Except they
will give some reasonable content and ?utissacion for goinge over there which shalbe from tyme to tyme kepte and preserved towards the repairing of the saide Bridge and to be
bestowed thereupon or thereabouts as occasions shall require.
And the said Key to be kepte with some of the tennantes dwelling neere unto the saide Bridge for the use of the Lorde and tennantes upon all occasions for there goinge over there."
Below there is a picture of The Great Bridge as it was in 1634, constructed after the complaints of 1633. This picture comes from a Survey of the Manor of East Betchworth. If you look closely it has small "towers" at either end and in the middle at each side. Quite a decorative bridge, and obviously constructed from timber.
The Great Bridge at Brockham 1634
Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre.
Copyright Surrey History Centre
So in 1633 this is the Custom which should have been strictly overseen by the Homage ofthe Manor. But by the 1680's the tenants, according to Sara Wight, had tried to hold the Lord of the Manor responsible resulting in a case at the Quarter Sessions. This case has been traced and is as follows.
The bridge, called in this report, Brockham Bridge, was "very
ruinous and in greate decay" so that people could not cross
"without greate peril and Danger". The court was shown an
assessment dated 6"' October which had been made on all the inhabitants ofBrockham, who ought to repair the bridge, in order to collect £39.1 Os.6d for building the bridge.
Robert Gibbs of Brockham was appointed to collect the money. The
chief inhabitants of the village requested that this rate be
confirmed by the court, which it did. The rate was to be
equally assessed on all the chargeable inhabitants. Robert Gibbs, together with the Surveyor of the Highways at Brockham was to then make all speed in erecting the bridge,
and to give ajust account to the rest of the inhabitants as to how the money was spent. If anybody refuses to pay the rate, then one or more of the nearest Justices of the Peace are to cause that person to be bound by recognizants with good sureties to appear at the next Quarter Sessions to be held to answer the charge and be dealt with according to the law.
At the next Quarter Sessions a complaint was made by several
inhabitants who allege that the rate was made privately, without
the consent of the majority of the inhabitants. Also
that the bridge might be well repaired for the sum of £28 and Able Warkender had offered to build it for that sum; also James Lee, late Surveyor of the Highways has taken away the
old timber and used it himself.
The Court ordered that two JP's nearest the village, Sir Adam Browne [of Betchworth Castle] and Stephen Harvey esquire [of Betchworth], look into the matter of the rebuilding of the bridge in the presence of the principle inhabitants. They are to direct the rebuilding and the raising of the money in the manner most appropriate for the substantial rebuilding and for the best benefit of the inhabitants. All parties concerned are to do as the Justices order. Further, the Court ordered James Lee to return the old timber which he took from the old bridge andmake satisfaction for it as the Justices direct.
Sara did not give in. The bridge was reconstructed in 1737.
Did it take the tenants 10 years to repair the bridge, or did they patch it up and do a reconstruction in 17377 As yet we do not know. But the fact is commemorated on a plaque on the current brick bridge:
Brockham Bridge Plaque
Copyright Bob Bartlett
So far there is one other bridge which has been found in the Court Rolls of a very early date. It is most intriguing. It comes from a manorial account roll c. 1451 . It is for "ponte vacates le drawbridge" [the bridge called the drawbridge].
Cost of felling the timber 7s.8d
Cost of one oak for the said bridge 2d
Carriage of timber 6d
Sawing the planks and boards 2s.0d
Mending the bridge and the carpenter for [?x days] lId
Paid one man for labouring and ground-felling there 1 day 4d
Total paid lls.7d.
Where, oh where, was the Drawbridge?
©Jane le Cluse September 2012