Penny Farthing Bridge
Image credit: Willie Robertson
The distinguishing feature of Foots Cray Meadows these days is the 19th century-built Five Arch Bridge. But with the River Cray forming a south to north path, for just over a mile, through the centre of this particular landscape, other crossing points are also important.
Research reveals that there have been bridges at either end of the Meadows for centuries, structures of which there is little detail available but which were most likely to have been made of wood.
Records show that at the time Foots Cray Place was sold in 1772 to Benjamin Harenc, there was a one-arch Palladian bridge over the River Cray. This would be replaced within ten years as the main crossing point by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s Five Arch Bridge.
The North Cray sale map of 1833, as well as all Ordnance Survey maps until 1940, show a bridge spanning the southern end of the lake, some 350 metres upstream from the Five Arch Bridge. It is unclear when this was demolished.
But nowadays the main Five Arch Bridge is complemented by three other crossings, which are used regularly by walkers as well as those having to transverse the area to go about their business.
At the southern end is the Penny Farthing Bridge, so called because of its unusual design of a main arch alongside a much smaller one. This mimics a penny-farthing – regarded as the first bicycle.
The brick-built construction, 20 metres in length, is topped with coping stones. Recently having undergone repair and restoration work, it offers a valuable link to the grassland near All Saints Church off to the riverside stretch of the Meadows close to Mitchells Field.
The design of the Penny Farthing Bridge is unique. There are no other apparent records of such a structure in England. So we can only speculate on why there is a second smaller arch.