Radcot Old Bridge - Not for Navigation

Street view from Radcot Old Bridge downstream

RADCOT OLD BRIDGE - Not for Navigation

small boats only straight on through old bridge (very low headroom at Cradle Bridge)

1087: Radcot in the Domesday Book
It is said https://www.fdahs.org.uk/villages/radcot/ Rocote or Rodecot (Radcot) meaning “cottage by the road” is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book as a two family unit with 24 acres of farmland, owned by King William (the Norman conqueror) and managed by Alsi de Ferendone. Alsige or Aelfsige, as the name was normally written, was a favoured and very wealthy Saxon with other holdings that he was allowed to keep at Great Barrington and Windrush in valuable Cotswold wool country and he also had or gained many other properties elsewhere. The original hamlet and wharf at Radcot, containing 35 houses in 1086 and 10 houses in 1870 has otherwise slowly disappeared. All that remains today is a manor house, a farm and a pub.

1909: This section in The Stripling Thames by Fred Thacker
1910: This section in Thames Valley Villages by Charles G Harper
Old Radcot Bridge, small boats only, Left bank, over what is now a backwater, not on main navigation channel.  The old three arched bridge, said to be the oldest on the river and certainly one of the loveliest.
1312: a grant for pontage for five years, for the repair of the bridge, upon all wares for sale carried across.
1351: Rodecotebrigge mentioned as a boundary.

1387: The Battle of Radcot Bridge. December 19th.  In the fifteenth century manuscript of the Chronicle of Jean Froissart

Battle of Radcot Bridge, 1387
The Battle of Radcot Bridge, 1387.

In 1386, a group of nobles, jealous of the influence on King Richard of certain advisors who were outside the royal circle, forced themselves on the king as a governing council. The following year, however, encouraged by Michael de la Pole, Robert de Vere and others, Richard managed to reassert his authority, but afterwards there was an armed uprising by the Duke of Gloucester, the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Warwick and others who accused these same advisors of treason.
There was a military encounter, known as the Battle of Radcot Bridge, between these forces and Robert de Vere, who had determined to escape to Ireland.
It is said that the central arch of the bridge was demolished as a trap in the course of this battle, and later rebuilt.

My original comment on the above picture was
"the battlements in the distance make one suspect that he had never been to Radcot!"
However - treat historic pictures with respect even if you think they are false!
A Time Team excavation of Radcot found evidence, a lot of evidence, of various historic buildings here, suggesting a Roman Villa, a stone Norman Keep, and a Civil War earthworks used in the assault on Radcot House. The Norman Keep may well have been demolished before 1386 - for after all if not one would have expected it to figure in the battle!

The position of these buildings was on what is now still called "The Garrison" to the north of the bridge.
Here is the Time Team's impression of it:

Radcot Keep according to Time Team

1600s: Camden -

This Isis, when it hath passed a small part of Wilshire, no sooner is entred into Oxfordshire but, presently being kept in and restrained with Rodcot bridge, passeth by Bablac, where Sir Richard Vere that most puissant Earle of Oxford, Marquese of Dublin and Duke of Ireland, who as he stood in most high favour and authority with King Richard the Second, so he was as much envied of the Nobles, taught us (as one said) that no power is alwaies powerfull. Who being disconfited in a skirmish by the Nobles and constrained to take the river and swim over, found the Catastrophe of his fortune and subversion of his State. For immediately he fled his country and died distressed in exile.
Of whom the Poet in his Mariage of Tame and Isis made these verses:

Heere Vere, well knowen by badge of savage Boore,
While man-hood shames to yeeld, yet strives againe
Stout hart may not, restrained by wisdomes lore.
Whiles shield resounds by doubled blowes a-maine,
And helmet rings about his eares, is faine
The streame to take. The river, glad therefore,
His guest tooke safe, and set him safe on shore.

Radcot Bridge from The Genius of the Thames by Thomas Love Peacock -

Thy copious waters hold their way
Tow'rds Radcote's arches, old and grey,
Where triumphed erst the rebel host,
When hapless Richard's hopes were lost.

1692:  Baskervile -

Radcot Bridge the maine Stream where boats pass  through is about 22 yards over & has three great Arches;  the second stream has a bridge with Two Arches wch leads to  Wyer,  The 3rd stream has a bridge over with 4 Arches but not for great boats to go through

1764: Survey of Berkshire, Rocque, has this map which shows the three streams -

Radcot Map 1764

1787: New Radcot cut and bridge built at a cost of £400.
1791: Drawing by Samuel Ireland of the Old Radcot Bridge. -

Radcot Bridge, Samuel Ireland, 1791
Old Radcot Bridge, 1791, Samuel Ireland

1802: Mylne found spars and other tackle under the old arches, as though they were being used for a fishery.
1824: Greenwood's Berkshire Map (ignores the New Cut of 1787) as copied by Fred Thacker in 1920.  Assuming this is accurate - the three streams have become two (excluding the new cut - the northern most has now been filled in.  The next was also to totally disappear shortly!)

Radcot Map 1824

I have not found that map yet - but here is Rocque's Berkshire of 1761, also with evidence of Study Mead -

Radcot Map 1761

1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall


Our next point of interest is a venerable relic of antiquity — Radcot Bridge. This bridge, built entirely of stone, is one of the oldest on the Thames, bearing unmistakeable marks of early construction. The arches are ribbed internally; the ascent is very steep; and over the centre arch is the socket of a cross which once towered above the primitive structure, in accordance with the old custom which invested bridges with a sacred character, and beside, or upon which, it was once usual to construct wayside chapels, for the purpose of affording the weary traveller repose while performing his religious duties.
The towing-path, which keeps on the Gloucestershire side [going downstream] to Radcot Bridge, now crosses the bridge to the Berkshire side of the stream, which here divides, and forms an island.
[this next section is a few paragraphs later]
At Radcot Bridge the Thames is divided — a circumstance of frequent occurrence in the course of the river — a new cut and a "short cut" having been made to facilitate navigation — thus also deepening the channel. The tourist will take the old stream, — [ only if in a small manually propelled boat! ] - which passes under three venerable arches, — although it is considerably choked up with weeds, and closely overhung with branches of the water-willow.

1875:  Radcot Old Bridge, Henry Taunt -

Radcot Old Bridge, Henry Taunt, 1875
Radcot Old Bridge, Henry Taunt, 1875
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive;HT01160

1877: Bridgework under repair -

Radcot was the great centre of supply of coal for a great many neighbouring villages.

1885: Radcot Old Bridge, The Royal River -

Radcot Bridge ... is understood to be one of the oldest bridges on the Thames, and its appearance is quite in character with this theory; moreover it is an interesting piece of stonework, apart from its age, its three Gothic arches being curiously ribbed underneath. There is a very steep ascent to the crown, and over the centre arch is still preserved the socket in which, on the crest of bridges, the sacred cross was wont to be uplifted.
There are, in point of fact, two bridges at Radcot, but the "real original" is [this] antique three-arched affair ...
The river here is divided, a short cut to facilitate navigation and deepen the channel forming a new departure. The old stream wanders round, when the weeds will allow it, under the ribbed arches, leaving the channel of the new cut, like a newly come tradesman who has contempt for the old-fogeyish methods of the ancient inhabitants, to transact its business merrily, with promptness and despatch.

1885: Radcot Old Bridge
1885: Radcot Old Bridge, The Royal River.

1909: The Stripling Thames, Fred Thacker -

The old stream is not now used by ordinary traffic, though far better accommodated with an ancient bridge of three more or less pointed arches, over the central one of which a cross was once to be seen, on the eastern side. Only the socket is now left, with the old lead still in it. A Lechlade man told me that in quite recent memory babies were often baptized in this socket.
The western parapet displays a flat central plinth, as though something had stood there also.
The Victoria History says Radcot Bridge was probably built in 1200; and Cox in his Magna Britannia that it was "a great deal older than Richard II", who was born in 1366. ...
The dates favour my own strong belief, that this is the oldest original bridge work left across the Thames, and that New Bridge was so entitled in respect of it.

RADCOT BRIDGE by Joseph Ashby-Sterry in THE RIVER RHYMER, 1913 -

Violet, with the brightest eyes
Gleaming with a glad surprise ;
Dear, delightful and discreet,
Sweetly shy and shyly sweet ;
Pretty, piquant, pouting pet -
None who've seen her can forget
Violet !

ON Radcot Bridge, I'd have you know
They fought like demons years ago !
Here brave De Vere was put to flight,
And left his troops in sorry plight :
To-day, in place of swordly clash,
The boom of bee, the fishes' plash,
Is all the sound you hear, I ween,
To break the silence of the scene !
And now a winsome maid I see,
Who "holds the bridge" with laughing glee,
Above its pointed arch she stands,
And archly points with small brown hands !

On rugged stonework, grim and grey,
Dreams Violet, this sunny day ;
She leans well forward o'er the wall.
While shadows from her hat down fall
Across the sweetest pair of eyes,
That e'er reflected summer skies,
Or stole from calm, secluded spots,
The hue of blue forget-me-nots !
Her red lips smile, or pout in pique,
Her dimples play at hide-and-seek -
And as you gaze you'll ne'er forget
This picture on the parapet.

1910: P H Ditchfield, Vanishing Britain -

There is a very interesting old bridge across the upper Thames between Bampton and Faringdon. It is called Radcot Bridge; probably built in the thirteenth century, with its three arches and a heavy buttress in the middle niched for a figure of the Virgin, and a cross formerly stood in the centre. A "cut" has diverted the course of the river to another channel, but the bridge remains, and on this bridge a sharp skirmish took place between Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Marquis of Dublin, and Duke of Ireland, a favourite of Richard II, upon whom the King delighted to bestow titles and honours. The rebellious lords met the favourite's forces at Radcot, where a fierce fight ensued. De Vere was taken in the rear, and surrounded by the forces of the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Derby, and being hard pressed, he plunged into the icy river (it was on the 20th day of December, 1387) with his armour on, and swimming down-stream with difficulty saved his life. Of this exploit a poet sings -

Here Oxford's hero, famous for his boar,
While clashing swords upon his target sound,
And showers of arrows from his breast rebound,
Prepared for worst of fates, undaunted stood,
And urged his heart into the rapid flood.
The waves in triumph bore him, and were proud
To sink beneath their honourable load.

1914: Bridges repaired.  Thacker -

Fortunately, I hear, they have a sympathetic architect (Mr. Redfern) who delights in doing these things well.

1929: A Thames Survey -

Radcot Bridge is on the main Faringdon - Burford road. Some authorities put forward a theory that this bridge is the oldest on the Thames; a bridge is certainly mentioned in ancient records as existing here in 1312 and again in 1351.
The different branches of the river have had their course altered at various times, but there now exist only two, the main stream and the lock cut. Over the former is the ancient stone humpback bridge of three pointed arches, with small cut-waters both sides. In the centre of the bridge, on the eastern parapet, is a socket in which was formerly fixed a cross. The old bridge was sympathetically restored by Mr. Redfern, architect, in 1914.
The lock cut and bridge with single semi-circular arch was built in 1787, well designed, although the lock cut itself is reported difficult for navigation.
It is of interest to note that to the ancient wharf by the bridge the stone for the general walling work at St Paul's was brought from Kempster's quarries at Upton, there put on rafts and floated down to London.
We recommend that every effort should be made to preserve Radcot Bridge as an "ancient monument", also we suggest that the island between the two bridges opposite the Swan Inn should be kept open. North of Radcot Bridge the road is carried across the two backwaters by one brick bridge and one of stone, both about 13 feet wide.

Radcot Old Bridge
Radcot Old Bridge

Eric de Maré wrote in 1952:

Rich with the stone patina made by the weather of seven hundred years, it is one of the many man-made adjuncts which enhance the river landscape and help to make the Thames an open-air museum of English culture, history and traditions.

1951: Edward Ardizzone, Sketches from Holidays Afloat -

Moor for the night near Radcot Bridge. Pitch the small tent and so spend a more comfortable night.

Radcot sign
Above Radcot Old Bridge, sign seen coming downstream.

The Thames has a language all to itself.  Its alphabet comprises runes with mystic significance.  This particular rune is typical - in less than half a dozen strokes it conveys its meaning.  It is Thames speak for:
"Way ahead blocked, turn left, then right, and watch out for narrow bridge"
Going downstream, straight on is the old Radcot Bridge (small craft only) which is delightful - but misses the pub!

Schoolmaster's Hole

Schoolmaster's hole at the head of the reach above Radcot Bridge.  I am told the local fishermen call this Camden Bend.  (Below Camden Farm).

Hell's Turn

Hell's Turn or Hell's Gut:  half a mile below Grafton Lock, is not that hellish for a small boat, unless you happen to coincide with a 70' narrow boat trying to take it at speed, as I did once
1909: The Stripling Thames, Fred Thacker -

About three quarters of a mile above Radcot the upward course of the River makes a big bend from southwest to northeast, called Hell's Turn. Is this the true original of the village of Heighton, which Fearnside says borders the Thames hereabouts? Or did he mean Eaton (Hastings)? I know no other explanation; there is no village of the name he mentions.
Nor could I discover the remains of a weir, perhaps Day's, which Taunt marks between the latter village and Grafton Lock.