Auden says that the first suggestion for this bridge appears to have been in 1826. He quotes “to erect bridge of 150 feet span over the Severn at the Boathouse, an approach to be from St John’s Hill through the Quarry”. The possible location of this new bridge and its approach roads seems to have been a matter of considerable public interest in the 1860s and 1870s. The final scheme had features from each of the 4 different plans, but without the suggested direct connection from the present Kingsland Road either to the Cemetery or to Oakley Street.
The Shrewsbury (Kingsland) Bridge Company was formed in 1872. In 1873, a Bill was put forward in Parliament for the necessary authority for a private company to build a toll bridge over the Severn at Kingsland. This passed unopposed and received the Royal assent in May 1873. This Act required the work to be completed in 5 years i.e. by 1878, authorised the compulsory purchase of land for three years, described the tolls, and authorised the Company to raise £18,000 capital (the estimated cost of the Bridge and roadway to the Cemetery) along with additional borrowing powers. The original road plan may have infringed on a cabbage patch owned by Mr Watton. This appears to have coloured his attitude thereafter, even though he accepted the formal guarantee from the Bridge Company that they would not interfere with any part of his property. The moving spirit behind the enterprise was Thomas Charles Townsend but Henry Robertson MP for Shrewsbury had a significant financial stake in addition to being the engineer who designed the bridge. A second Act was needed in 1880 to meet the delays in construction and allow small changes in the route and alter the levels of the road and bridge. This new Act required that the Bridge would have to be completed by 15 May 1883.
The contract was awarded to a company of renown – the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company of Darlington – who also built the bridge below the Victoria Falls. The high-level deck provided a secure route into the Town when the English and Welsh Bridges become impassable in times of flood. Blackwall’s Historic Bridges quotes the cost as £11,156 while contemporary accounts in newspapers mention £20,000. Despite the 1881 date on the Bridge, it finally opened in July 1882. A local newspaper for 2nd August19 notes “This structure is now open for public traffic. On Sunday last, nearly 1,500 persons availed themselves of the convenience in crossing the river to Kingsland”. A letter later that month in the same paper suggested that the Corporation should purchase the Bridge and make it toll free!
The finances of the Bridge Company and the soundness of the design were the subject of repeated adverse comment in the Shrewsbury Chronicle published by John Watton. This led to a celebrated libel action in July 188220 in the Music hall before Mr Justice Watkin Williams when the Bridge Company sued John Watton for what Counsel described as “a series of most malignant and malicious libels it had ever been his misfortune to hear.” Mr Watton declined to give evidence, which avoided him having to answer whether he had personally written the letters from alleged members of the public which he published. The outcome was that the plaintiff accepted £5 paid into Court by Mr Watton, but on all other issues the verdict was for Mr Watton and both sides had to pay their own costs.
A useful account of the traffic on the Bridge was given in the half-yearly report of the Bridge Company.21
These traffic figures should be considered in the context of the significant tolls permitted by the original 1873 Act. These tolls were 6 pence for 4-wheeled carriages; 4 pence for 2-wheeled carriages; 1/2 penny for horses etc; 1 penny for ox etc; 1/2 penny or 6 penny a score for calves, sheep, pigs and lambs; and 1 penny for foot passengers. If these tolls were applied, then for the 6 months to 31 December 1884, the total income would have been about £327. The report noted that the numbers of foot-passengers refers only to those who paid at the time of the crossing and excluded ticket and season ticket holders. Following complaints at the time, season tickets were reduced to a uniform 10s 6d for each adult and 5s for each boy or girl under 12. With hindsight, the adverse comments on the Bridge finances in the Chronicle were not justified! Thus, the 1885 report showed that following the provision of a further £2,162 by the Directors to cover bank borrowings and bills, the Bridge Company’s capital liabilities were reduced to £418 0s 5d.
The Old Grammar School Moves
Concurrent with the proposals to develop Kingsland and build a new bridge and approach roads, there was an urgent need for the Free Grammar School (as Shrewsbury School was then known) to move from its buildings in Castle Gates (the present Library). This followed from the Royal Commission of 1861 which had recommended an increase in, and improved accommodation and facilities for the School. Also, from the Public Schools Act of 1868, the School would have to be within 3 miles of the Market Place. The proposal that the School should move from the centre of the Town met with much opposition – 600 Old Salopians signed a petition (mainly for sentimental reasons), and the Towns folk complained that their sons would find it more difficult to get to school, and that much trade would be lost to the Town. While no doubt these objections were considered, the new Headmaster, the Rev H. W. Moss was in no doubt that a move was essential for both statutory and practical reasons. Presumably, space was a continuing problem as long as the School remained in Castle Gates.
Together, Mr Moss and the Governors pursued their efforts to find a good site for the School. We have seen earlier that the House of Industry and Asylum were in decline at this time. In 1875 the House of Industry with 16 acres of land were sold by its Directors by private treaty to the Governors of Shrewsbury School for £8,000, the sum originally quoted to the Governors in 1872. At the time, this sum was considered inadequate by the parochial authorities, and their ratepayers, who petitioned Whitehall on the matter. The Town Clerk implied that £8,000 was a fair price for the site in view of the roads thereon, that half an acre was consecrated for burial purposes and that another part had been used for burials during the Cholera epidemic. About this time, the School also acquired an additional 10 acres of adjacent land from the Corporation (bordering the new School boundary with what was later to become Ashton Road).
The School finally moved up to Kingsland on 11th May 1882. Kingsland Bridge and the road to the School site were not yet finished and there was still a half demolished farmhouse on the site. The former House of Industry became the main School building. The site also included adjacent buildings – the Work House Master’s house (the Farm House) stood approximately on the site now occupied by the School Baths. The new bridge was completed a few months later in July 1882.