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Spalding bridge named after 17th century adventurer

Vernatt’s Drain, which forms the boundary between Spalding and Pinchbeck, is named after Philibert Vernatti, one of the adventurers who began the drainage of the fens in the early 17th century.

It was cut between Pode Hole and Surfleet Seas End to help the drainage of what is now agricultural land to the north of Spalding.

The original was vandalised and fell into disrepair until it was restored, principally by Dutch engineers, as part of the Deeping Fen drainage.

Sharpe's Bridge pictured at the turn of the 20th Century.
Sharpe's Bridge pictured at the turn of the 20th Century.

Today, the main road between Spalding and Pinchbeck crosses it on a bridge long known as Sharpe’s Bridge.

There’s no obvious clue to the chequered history of the site, but conjure up the scene in past centuries as you head over the bridge: a gate across the road prevents further progress until you empty your purse; moving shadows are cast across the scene by the creaking sails of a windmill; at the edge of your vision, a corpse dangling at the end of a rope swings on the breeze...

Today you will not see boats of any kind on the Vernatts, apart from the occasional dredger, but the photos here from the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society (SGS) collection (photos 1 and 2), probably taken around the turn of the 20th century, show clearly that this was not always the case.

Sharpe's Bridge pictured around the late 19th/early 20th century.
Sharpe's Bridge pictured around the late 19th/early 20th century.

The bridge at that time consisted of a handsome stone arch, far more elegant than the concrete structure which has since replaced it (photo 3].

A fascinating source of information about the history of our area, albeit one to be treated with a degree of caution, is Old Robin Harmstone’s Remarkable Events Connected with the History of Spalding, a work we’ve previously referred to in these columns.

Old Robin tells us that, until the mid-18th century, the road from Spalding to Donington running through Pinchbeck consisted of a paved causeway which, like other roads in the area, doubtless became impassable in bad weather.

In 1759, however, a turnpike was installed near the bridge and from then on, travellers were forced to pay a toll which went towards the upkeep of the road.

Sharpe's Bridge today.
Sharpe's Bridge today.

This was not a municipal scheme, however, but a piece of private enterprise. The backers of such schemes were normally forced to bring the road up to a certain standard before permission to install the turnpike was granted, in return for which, and for the cost of its subsequent maintenance, they kept a proportion of the tolls as profit.

Indeed, turnpikes must sometimes have been quite lucrative, since Old Robin tells us that one Dame Ann Fraiser of Surfleet invested the then substantial sum of £600 in this one.

At one point a windmill stood near the bridge and Old Robin tells us a remarkable story of its journey there.

We are told that it once stood on land near Blue Gowt Lane, and in 1741 it was moved, apparently intact, on planks and rollers to its new location, a journey of presumably not much more than half a mile which took two weeks due to the nearly impassable nature of the roads.

Later paintings do confirm that a windmill stood near Sharpe’s Bridge; whether it arrived in the way
described, who knows?

Around the same time that the windmill made its remarkable journey, an era came to a welcome end.

Public hangings had previously taken place in what is now the Sheep Market and Old Robin reports that, prior to each execution, a bell was rung in the ancient building which is now The Prior’s Oven.

The last execution of one William Tyler, who had been convicted of murder, took place in 1742 after which his body was hung from a gibbet near Sharpe’s Bridge as an example to other would-be felons.

We may wish to console ourselves with the thought that this, to us, brutal exhibition belongs to a distant and brutal age.

But it’s worth remembering that the last public execution in England took place as late as 1868.

The SGS museum in Broad Street, Spalding, is currently closed along with all other museums, and unfortunately we’ve had to cancel the symposium which was due to take place on April 18.

However, you can still keep in touch with us and see some of the delights of our collections on our website at sgsoc.org

You can also check out our Facebook page, find us on Twitter @sg_soc or email us at info@sgsoc.org

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