The Bridges Of Caversham
» The River Thames at Caversham
» Caversham Bridge
» Reading Bridge
» The ‘Clappers’ footbridge
The River Thames at Caversham
The River Thames has been the single most important factor in the historical development of Caversham.
The river's importance goes back possibly as long as people (or their precursors) have lived in the local area. Caversham has been cited as one of the places where some of the earliest evidence of mankind in England has been found: worked flints dug up from what was the gravel bed of the River Thames over 250,000 years ago. There have also been artefacts from the later Stone and Bronze Ages found in the area, notably hand axes at a gravel pit in the vicinity of Kidmore Road and at the former Toots Farm in Darell Road, at the top of St. Peter's Hill. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) there was a permanent settlement here, then called Cavesha.
The river has long dominated the activities of those living around here - there have been millers, boat-builders, ferrymen and more, all depending on the river for their livelihood. This is demonstrated by local names such as Buckside (close to the Griffin pub, off St. Peter’s Hill) – the road leading down to the part of the river where the wooden eel traps known as bucks were placed. The farmers in the area depended on the water meadows and further away from its banks, on the dry chalk hills, water was carried up from the river. As recently as the early 1900s, a laundry in Emmer Green relied on water carted up the hill. (Nowadays, while it's true that the river is less important as a way of earning a living, it can still be said to dominate life in Caversham - crossing it in the morning rush hour can be a right pain!)
The original Caversham Bridge dated back at least to the 1230s, and occupied more or less the same site on the River Thames as today – chosen because it was a part of the river where there were several islands to act as natural foundations. This first Caversham Bridge has been described as a great feat of engineering, and was referred to in 1314 as “the Great Bridge”. It lasted over 400 years until its partial demolition at the time of the Civil War - as an act of self-protection by the people of Reading. This old bridge was partially repaired, and remained in use until 1868, although it’s fair to say that it was never as good as before.
The second Caversham Bridge, 1869 – 1926: The growth of Reading and the poor state of the existing bridge meant that a new river crossing was essential. The old bridge was demolished, and a new iron bridge was initiated by William Crawshay, the wealthy owner of Caversham Park. This new bridge opened in 1869 and remained in use until 1924 – remnants from the dismantled iron bridge were thrown into the former ‘Talbot’s Pit’ – now Silverthorne Drive in north Caversham.
The present Caversham Bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1926, and is a ferro-concrete construction that took almost two years to build.
The second river crossing joining Caversham and Reading was built in 1923, in order to cater for the expansion of both centres. The ferro-concrete bridge was built near the site of the treacherous (and dangerous) former "Clappers" wooden bridge across the Thames (see below), and would have formed the main Caversham river crossing between 1924 and 1926. It specifically helped people in Lower Caversham, who would have had to rely on the Clappers before then.
In April 2007 it was reported that the Conservative Councillor for Caversham ward, Andrew Cumpsty, had voiced concern that vital safety checks on Reading Bridge were not being carried out, and there were allegations that parts of the bridge were in a poor state (Reading Chronicle 05/04/07 p5, 19/04/07 p15). Reading Borough Council was said at the time to be considering major repair work at the bridge, to be paid for from the Borough’s local transport plan. (Reading Chronicle 05/04/07 p5)
The ‘Clappers’ Footbridge
The ‘Clappers’ is a wooden footbridge over the Thames close to Caversham Lock – a version of it still exists today. Its name apparently means a bridge or stream crossing, and (as with Caversham Bridge) the footbridge has ancient origins. The already rather sinister reputation of the footbridge became much darker in 1896, when it was the scene of a series of infant murders committed by a Mrs Dyer.
(Several of the photos above come with kind permission from the collections of the Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive - where you can see more images of old Caversham). » Website