1172: It is likely there was a bridge here
Osbert de Bray, fermer of Windsor, accounted for £4 6s. 6d. derived from toll on vessels passing under Windsor Bridge.
1224 & 1236: Oak trees were felled in Windsor Forest for the construction of a bridge
1313: Letters patent issued for the collection of royal dues on vessels passing Windsor Bridge
1367: The cost of carrying coal by barge from London to Windsor is 1 shilling a chaldron
1443: Eton College granted free passage over and under Windsor Bridge
1730: Daniel Beaumont, starchmaker, was prohibited from selling wine on a ship near Windsor Bridge on the Eton side, without a licence; the scholars of the college being enticed to spend their time in idleness on board the said vessel.
1734: Act of Parliament set Windsor Bridge tolls -
|WINDSOR BRIDGE, SCALE OF TOLLS, 1734|
|For every hearse or coach passing over the said bridge with a dead corpse:||6 shillings & 8 pence|
|For every hackney coach (not a Freeman's) - for every passage:||2 pence|
|For every load, passage or carriage with household goods, wool, earthenware, charcoal, and leather:||4 pence|
|For every load, passage or carriage, with corn, hay, straw, dung, wood, and peat:||2 pence|
|For evey score of sheep:||2 pence|
|For every head of oxen, hogs, and other cattle:||½ penny|
|For every horse loaded with hampers or otherwise:||½ penny|
|For every barge going under bridge down stream:||6 pence|
1737: Windsor Bridge in danger of collapse
1738: A Voyage up the Thames, Weddell -
We now came in sight of Windsor, which ... we were well pleased with:
It does not appear to much advantage from the water,
but has a cleaner look at some distance, than any place we had yet seen
in our voyage.
We ordered our vessel to sail quite up to the bridge, where, for no reason that I can tell, unless it were a bias for learning, we landed on the side of Eaton, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, on the 4th day of March, 1737-8, after a passage of near 22 hours.
We had no sooner got on shore, but we found ourselves more fatigued than we expected, and determined to repair to the first house for public reception, that by its outward appearance proposed genteel accommodation within.
With this design we wandered a prodigious way to no purpose, or our fatigue lengthened it ... at last our wishing eyes discovered the College, a stately old building, and finely situated for the purpose; and almost over against it ... a tavern or inn, or both, which promised the best entertainment.
Here we stopped to dispute whether we should view the College tonight or in the morning; but perceiving each other scarce able to keep our legs long enough to determine, we entered the house by unanimous consent.
1742: Collier [ quoted by Mr & Mrs Hall, "The Thames, 1852 –
A wooden bridge over the river Thames joins Windsor and Eton, so called from its low situation amongst the waters, and it is a gravelly soil, it is observed that no place is more healthy than this.
[ The Halls' version was:
for Eton is the same as Watertown, but, as they are running waters, and it is a gravelly soil, it is observed that no place is more healthy than this. ]
Before Romney Lock was built in 1794, Windsor Bridge was a difficult place for the towing of barges. From the Eton Book of the River -
... when a barge [going upstream from Black Potts]
reached the tail end of Romney Island the tow-rope had to be cast off
and the horses had to be taken up to the towing bridge across the conduit [where the modern lock is]
and down Romney Island back to the barge in order to tow it up what is now the weir stream
to the top of the island.
Here it was made fast, while the horses, poor brutes! no matter what the weather, were compelled to swim across the top end of the conduit to the Windsor bank, where a rough track not much above the level of the stream led from the top of Pearman's Close up a considerable slope, now replaced by a flight of steps, to Windsor Bridge, as is shown in an oil painting of 1763 ...
Windsor Bridge, Oil Painting, 1763
Seen from the Windsor Bank looking upstream
The embankment [below bridge on the Windsor side, Left bank] now used as a wharf
for pleasure steamers is the work of the nineteenth century.
The ropes were carried across in a boat and then the barge was taken a stage further to the bridge.
Up to 1769, in order to achieve this, horses, men and ropes lumbered into and right across Thames Street, bringing all ordinary traffic to a standstill. In that year it was made illegal and offenders were punished by the confiscation of one horse with all its gear and a fine of forty shillings.
An alternative method had to be found; so a winch was erected on a platform projecting from the Windsor shore at the bridge, [ which can be clearly seen in the 1763 picture above ] two or three tow-ropes were knotted together and hitched round the winch, and the horses hauled downstream in order to drag the barge up. It is not surprising to learn that under this system many tow-ropes were broken, while the mortality among horses was considerable, forced, as they were, first to swim the conduit while hot and tired after a hard day's work, and then to stand about while the necessary arrangements were made for these complicated arrangements.
1792: Picturesque Views on the Thames, Samuel Ireland -
Windsor Castle & Bridge, Samuel Ireland, 1792
1793: Report on the state of the river between Staines and Maidenhead declares
that only one of the dozen or more openings in Windsor Bridge could be navigated.
1793: Windsor Bridge, Boydell -
Windsor Bridge. June 1, 1793. J. Farington R.A. delt. J.C. Stadler sculpt.
(Published) by J. & J. Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall & (No. 90) Cheapside London.
1811: The Thames -
... what would a foreigner say, were he to find this tottering, ruinous, rotten old fabric,
not only in the high road to the palace of the King of Great Britain, but in its very purlieus?
The navigation at this place being obstructed by the shallowness of the river, a lock was constructed about ten years ago : the canal begins near the bridge, on the Berkshire side, as is seen in the view, and falls again into the main river at Eton wharf. This view is taken from the ayte[sic] below the bridge.
Eton Bridge, Cooke (after Owen) 1800s [see Shelley's comment below]
1804-1810: The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was at Eton. His river exploits were imagined by William Johnson and then quoted in "Eton in the Forties [ie 1840s]" by Arthur Duke Coleridge (published 1896)
[ Alastor is the hero of "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude" by Shelley - and is here used to refer to Shelley himself. ]
(I recommend this essay to all lovers of the river as we knew it before houseboats,
steam launches, railway Bridges and other Horrors brought chaos to the Thames.)
SHELLEY'S RIVER HAUNTS AT ETON
When I was at Eton [1804-1810] the bridge that linked Eton to New Windsor was a wooden one like the old Putney Bridge and many others that have been in my time replaced by structures of stone and iron, only it seems from an engraving by Cooke after Owen, to have been unusually homely and frail - in fact Owen's drawing of this spot is to me far less easy to identify with what I saw when I first went thither in 1832, than his other drawings of such places as Clifden, Staines, and Harleyford are with the places as I knew them.
[ This must be Arthur Coleridge writing. It was not surprising since by 1832 it was a different bridge! ]
However it is certain that there were picturesque old World things of wood on the Thames at the point at which one crossed over from Mercia in to Wessex or in other words from Bucks to Berks.
The Thames was still a traffic line for heavy goods brought up and down in barges dragged by horses and at the spot of which we are thinking there was a meeting of commerce with pleasure, of rude irritable bargemen with frolicsome boys from Eton school, and lounging privates of the Staffordshire militia which guarded Windsor Castle.
Shelley on a summer day after his run up the Long Street and his escape from his baiters would plunge into Brocas Lane, pass a hot den where clay pipes were made. Dodge the curved beaks of boats under repair in a little crowded builder's yard, scamper down a rickety stairstep on a single plank that ran out into the river, undo the rope or the chain that held a skiff or a funny to the rail that was parallel to the plank and jump into his lock-up (season ticket) boat or enter his "chance boat" (which unlike the lock-up required a race and a scramble for priority) and shove off without stopping to see whether there was rain water under the bottom boards; for of course he could bail out for himself if he got away from the world of well dressed people and reached an eyot or a creek fairly out of sight.
Would he scull up or down stream?
There was a boy [presumably Arthur Duke Coleridge] 30 years after who when beginning to learn - what looks very easy but is not - the art of steering a boat while looking sternward, applying long handled sculls without jamming his fingers, used to go downstream carefully avoiding the cobbler or "coblair" into the artificial lock-cut which served as a sort of groove of direction since he had to keep either scull just a yard clear of its bank and work both hands equally. But he that made that mechanical use of a straight slice of water cannot imagine the skylark boy of 1805 [ie Shelley] deigning to bear such limits. Shelley would be sure to crossover beyond the eyot which then served for the fireworks and round which the big boys in their longboats used to have lubberly bumping races sometimes ending with a regular challenge to a fight on land, stroke against stroke, steerer against steerer, a whole Irish crew against a British crew.
He would hurry up the unfrequented bargeless right bank, pass the Clewer fields behind two more eyots
where the Windsor people in modern days bathe almost in sight of Brunel's railway bridge.
Where in the first 40 years of this century one might lie in a punt screened by willows if it was hot weather,
or set up a a mimic battery of cannon in mid autumn and fire away till the bank began to crumble under the shock.
There is one alive who can well imagine Shelley's enjoying most innocently the early escape from ushers and boobies which could be secured by a rush to those bowers that lay over against the well-known clump of elms which the railway 40 years ago was compelled to spare.
And then just above that was a fascinating backwater that led up to Clewer mill and below the mill there was a tumbling bay, and you could let the refluent eddy sweep your skiff in a curve up to the bottom of the little cataract and poising the sculls let the white water hurry you along some twenty yards. Then you could find an easy slope on the left side of the mill, lift the boat out, if you had a mate carry it, whilst the miller was at dinner across a bit of tame land only a few steps, launch into the mill-stream where it was really dangerous above the wheels, and then wander up a natural meandering stream with great high banks, and one maybe sure that Shelley saw these banks all alive with hawthorn in blossom, saw and attacked with scull or with boat hook the harmless water voles that lived in holes amongst the roots of the overhanging trees, saw, perhaps once or twice the sudden blue gleam of a Kingfisher and then hunted for the fish bone nest.
Passing out of the Clewer mill-stream the trespasser would within an hour after his parting with his tormentors come inside of their beloved pot House, Surley Hall, and he would there, if he had enough cash, pay a shilling for negus and give sixpence to the waiter, for was he not a gentleman? In those days the Eton boys did not drink beer at taverns; beer was for bargees; negus, punch, bishop were drinks for gentlemen, and if they could not pay for such luxuries, they went without drink.
Just above Surley Hall there was in Owen's days that is about the time of Shelley's early manhood and there may have been in his boyhood an attractive Villa called the Willows. Owen's drawing presents something that is a little more poetical than what one found on the same spot in the reign of William IV. This was the only touch of smartness or gentility on the banks for some miles.
It used to be reckoned a six mile course from the Bridge to Surley Bay and back, and the greatest race was rowed over these 6 miles be they more or less, probably a good deal less.
There was no lock at Bovney, the stream was strong just there. This was all in favour of an Alastor for there could hardly be a crowd above the place called The Shallows where the navigation upstream was difficult. It was here that beginners required help and had even to hire a waterman. In the early trips there was another thing in favour of the Spirit of Solitude: bathing went on unmethodically instead of having to resort to regular bathing platforms with their ladders, punts and liveried Warders, a boating boy, or pair of boys, could stop at a tempting point and with no ceremony, with nothing but a casual towel, would plunge or sneak in.
The strange historical truth is that the River was out of bounds [to Eton College boys]
though some recognition of swimming and extra accomplishment was given in the accounts forwarded to parents and guardians by tutors and dames.
The authorities hardly ever walked along the towing path much less did they row, punt sail or swim, except at a distance from the boys. if Shelley was like some other unsociable boys it maybe guessed that he delighted in the dangers of sailing in a skiff if it had a hole in one of the thwarts for shipping a mast.
Alastor spreads his cloak aloft on a baer mast; less sublime persons have made shift to scud before the wind, a little faster than the stream by the help of an arrangement of bottom-boards tilted on end with sculls or oars raised at various angles, and presenting their blades to the breeze; this gave one a sense of repose. But if he were in temperate in our laziness we steathily tied the boat to a downward barge's rudder and were towed. Bargees did not mind it downstream so long as we did not refer to "the puppy-pie eaten under Marlow Bridge"; one went into "kef" and woke only when the boat, by the barges yawing, went hard at a pier of Windsor Bridge.
All this was in the compass of the ordinary two hours between the fixed points of school obligations, but there were some rare delights of insubordination that broke the two hours limit. Fixed points were not merely the hours of lessons and Chapel services and twilight barring of house-doors...
Alastor could get nearly five hours and he could go alone as far as Bray, with mates as far as the handsome bridge that carries rank and fortune across the Thames between London and Bath - the bridge beyond which one got the treat of seeing Taplow and Clieden Woods. Now it is to be stated that between Bovney and Bray there were two halting places. There was Water Oakley the very pink of rusticity, with a pot house that had settles and ingles, a hamlet unembellished by gazebo or shrubbery; here you could hob and nob with waggoners, and as we used to say "study human nature".
But Alastor would rush on through weeds and the haunts of swans, past Queen's Eyot, up the right bank to the stone steps that dignified the right side of Monkey Island.
I hope and believe that this fairy-tale spot was, in 1805, as in 1835, uninhabited and yet not ruinous. It was as Keble says of the Canaanite Gardens when Joshua came to them "a fearful joy" to venture into the deserted summerhouse whose walls presented monkeys behaving like so many Herveys and Churchills; to sit on the floor with the back against the frescoed wall, and there eat the biscuits and fruit bought from Surley Hall.
One had not a notion how near one was all the while to that farm, with its mossed thatch, which stands on the Bucks side, just below Bray lock. The island was out of the abhorred mean world in which formalists held dominion; and yet there was that consciousness of trespass which we could not enjoy if we were in Eden.
1819: Decision to build a new bridge. The designer was Charles Hollis and the new material used was cast iron.
1820: WRITTEN ON WINDSOR TERRACE IN JULY -
Windsor - proud, fascinating spot,
In Britain none can with thee vie,
Thy views sublime are equalled not,
Like thine no prospects feast the eye.
From the Terrace round each hill
Nature a landscape doth display,
Which to portray defies the skill
Of artists, or the poet's lay.
Thy groves and meads are rich array'd
In Vegetation's choicest sweets.
Thro' which majestic Thames displayed,
Meandering, Grandeur's height completes.
Kings well may leave the cares of state,
Tranquil retreat, to fly to thee;
In rural pomp and splendor great,
Thy seat is - Nature's majesty.
1822: Cooke -
... Eton Bridge, a tottering, ruinous, rotten old fabric ...
1822: Cornerstone of new bridge laid by the Duke of York. The river bed at this site was said to be quicksand. At this date so fierce was the current through the new works … “two stone boats sunk at the Cobler”
1824: from Knight's Quarterly Magazine -
Gerard complaineth of the municipality of Windsor for prolonging the building of an iron bridge over the Thames, and thus apostrophizeth in verse:-
I stood at Windsor on the bridge of wood,
A castle and a college on each hand,
And marked the iron arches o'er the flood.
Their ponderous length, by slow degrees, expand.
I wish they'd build them quicker, if they could.
'Tis a long time since first the bridge was planned :
And I'm beginning to dislike taxation,
And grudge my half-pence to the corporation.
1824: Bridge completed at a cost of £15,000.
1825: A Guide to Windsor -
The new bridge, connecting Windsor and Eton,
erected by Mr. Charles Hollis upon the site of the
ancient wooden structure, which had become greatly
decayed, is 200 feet in length from end to end, by
26 feet in width, and consists of three arches of cast
iron, the ribs of which spring from substantial piers
of granite; the centre arch is 55 feet span. The two
inner piers are ornamented with circular tablets and
wreaths of foliage. A neat iron rail, with recesses
over the piers, having ornamental lamp-irons, and
receding circularly at the extremities, finishes the
whole, and gives it an appearance of considerable
lightuess and elegance. A small lodge for the residence
of the toll-keeper is erected on the Windsor
The first stone of this handsome structure was laid on the 17th of July, 1822, with great ceremony and masonic splendour, by his Royal Highness the Duke of York. The Corporation of Windsor, attended by the officers and members of the Provincial Lodge in full costume, the Duke of York, and several of the nobility and military officers in his suite, the Fellows of Eton College, Canons of Windsor, &c. &c. with music and banners, formed in procession at the Guildhall, and proceeded, under a discharge of cannon, to the scite[sic] of the bridge, where, after depositing in a glass vase the various coins of the present reign, his Royal Highness placed the stone with the usual ceremonies, and strewing the surface of it with corn, wine, and oil, he concluded an impressive and interesting ceremony with the following address: -
"May the Great Architect of the Universe bless the work this day commenced,
and may this structure conduce to the harmony of the towns of Windsor and Eton."
The bridge was opened to the public on the 1st of June, 1824 ; and a toll is taken upon horses and carriages, whether of burden or pleasure, without any exemption in favour of the burgesses of Windsor, as was the case prior to the removal of the old bridge.
1825: The New Windsor Bridge, drawing -
Windsor Bridge, 1825
Windsor Bridge, 1834, Tombleson
1838: 'The Pilgrims on the Thames' by Pierce Brosnan -
The next day, Windsor Castle was the great object of attraction with the Pilgrims;
the morning was inviting, the row up the river truly pleasant,
and every thing went on as agreeably as they could wish;
but during the time they were resting upon their oars, Makemoney was describing to the ladies some anecdotes,
connected with the above ancient palace of royalty.
"Windsor Castle," said he, " is thus described by Hogarth, in his Analysis of Beauty ; it is a noble instance of quantity. The hugeness of its few distinct parts, strikes the eye with uncommon grandeur at a distance as well as nigh. It is quantity with simplicity which makes it one of the finest objects in the kingdom ; though void of any regular order of architecture."
A boat full of Eton boys, whom it should seem, were determined for a spree, rowed right against them ...
This outrageous conduct of the Eton boys so enraged Makemoney, that in his exertions to catch hold of the ringleader, he missed his aim, and fell into the water. This accident produced loud shouts and peals of laughter, during the time Flourish and Turf were rescuing Makemoney from his perilous situation ; if not from a watery grave ! The Eton scholars singing -
"Overboard he vent; Chip, chow, cherry chow, fel-de-dol-de-da! How drunk the old chap is ; well, he is only mixing his grog; perhaps adding a little water to his heavy whet ! It will cool his courage, at all events. Ha! ha ! ha !"
Then dashing their oars into the water - splashing the Pilgrims all over.
Pilgrims on the Thames, 1838
1843: William Harrison Ainsworth, Windsor Castle (in the time of Henry VIII) -
On the left, a view altogether different in character, though scarcely less beautiful, was offered to the gaze. It was formed by the town of Windsor, then not a third of its present size, but incomparably more picturesque in appearance, consisting almost entirely of a long straggling row of houses, chequered black and white, with tall gables, and projecting storeys skirting the west and south sides of the castle, by the silver windings of the river, traceable for miles, and reflecting the glowing hues of the sky, by the venerable College of Eton, embowered in a grove of trees, and by a vast tract of well-wooded and well- cultivated country beyond it, interspersed with villages, churches, old halls, monasteries, and abbeys.
Windsor Bridge, 1850
1866: A postcard showing Windsor Castle from the Bridge published by James Valentine & Co in 1866. Photograph probably taken by James Valentine, who died in 1879. From the University of St Andrew's online collection -
Postcard showing Windsor Castle from the Bridge published by James Valentine & Co in 1866
1880: William Morris, Putney to Kelmscot -
Wednesday Aug. 11.
... towed on to Runnymede calling at Staines for soda water, ginger beer & milk.
Hove to for tea on Left bank; boiled water etc. about 6.30
William Morris barked his shin on re-entering the 'Ark' and gave vent to his feelings by another "By D---", which was big enough to be recorded.
(note by author 'this narrative may and should be filled up at frequent intervals with such expletives as may seem to fit the occasion without fear of corrupting the text or in any way leaning towards exaggeration of the facts)
Towed on to Windsor Bridge which was reached at 8.15. Sunset beautful and very hazy.
Whole party lodged at Bridge Hotel. Supper (Note lemon squash). Bed early. The 'Ark' was moored at Goodman's and a youth received 5 shillings for taking care of her for the night. Very hot day, hazy evening, dark night, rather cooler.
Thursday August 12.
DM & RCG bathed below the weir at 8 o'clock: Breakfast 8.30. Whole party (except Mrs. M.) went to see Eton College & Fields. (In spite of gammoning Eton is very fine: chapel a sublime late Gothic little old quad & cloisters beyond every thing delightful: item looking from Clewer meadows up to Windsor is not an every day sight.)
Bought vegetables and bread and also large quantities of fruit: also a very large cucumber (bought by Cornell Price)
Started at 11.30. WM convalescent
1888: Windsor Bridge, Henry Taunt -
Windsor Bridge, Henry Taunt, 1888
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT05262
1897: Tolls abandoned. It seems that this was because the legal basis for them was challenged and found to be inadequate.
1929: A Thames Survey -
Windsor Bridge was erected in 1822. It consists of three arches in iron with iron balustrade and stone piers. The mouldings of the piers and the old toll-house on the Berkshire bank are in the Greek Revival manner.
1938: Concerns about cracks in bridge
1955: Windsor Bridge, Francis Frith -
1955: Windsor Bridge, Francis Frith
1970: Vehicles banned from Windsor Bridge,
cutting off Windsor from Eton by this direct route.
2000: It was found that there was insufficient capacity to carry "unmanaged pedestrian loading". Structures to prevent pedestrians filling the centre of the bridge were added.
2002: I witnessed a large launch making a determined attack on Windsor Bridge in 2002 - without any evident damage to the bridge - though the launch fittings were well and truly demolished as it tried to take a short cut under the curve of the arch. The noise as its upperworks sprang from one rib to the next was quite spectacular!
Windsor Bridge in 2004, from upstream
John Eade, 100 Miles completed, Lechlade to Windsor Bridge, 2004
1792: Samuel Ireland -
Windsor Castle, Samuel Ireland, 1792
Windsor from ‘The Genius of the Thames’ by Thomas Love Peacock –
The Norman king's embattled towers
Look proudly o'er the subject plain,
Where, deep in Windsor's regal bowers,
The sylvan muses hold their reign.
From groves of oak, whose branches hoar
Have heard primeval tempests roar,
Beneath the moon's pale ray they pass
Along the shore's unbending grass,
And songs of gratulation raise,
To speak a patriot monarch's praise.