Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Worth the money

Every time the Resident Wise Woman and I go to the theatre at Stratford, we approach the town by a back round in the northern Cotswolds and, just before we reach our destination, cross the Clopton Bridge. This long and magnificent stone structure was originally built in the 1480s. Although it has undergone numerous repairs and alterations since then, it’s still one of the most important and striking of all medieval bridges, with its long parapets (what we usually see from the car) and its fourteen pointed stone arches. It’s not the widest of bridges – there’s room for two-way traffic and for a pavement on one side, but no-one crossing can feel they have much elbow room. But it was even narrower before a widening exercise was carried in 1814. At the same time as the widening, this large ten-sided toll house was built on the southern side of the bridge at the town centre end.

It’s big for a toll house – two floors visible from the bridge and another one below, and each of them substantial. Crenellations on the parapet and an array of windows with four-centred heads and glazing with small panes help it stand out further. The shape allows for windows facing either way along the bridge, so that the bridge-keeper can seem traffic coming from both directions – but that would have been the case with an eight-sided building (the more usual shape for a toll house). I don’t know why this one has ten sides, but it must make for more usable space inside than an octagon and certainly catches the eye.

The various smooth, new pieces of stone in the building are the legacy of a recent restoration, when the noticeboard was also renewed. This lists tolls for a variety of users, based on tolls fond in a record in the archives of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The tolls for wheeled transport are very specific, for example: ‘For every coach, Berlin, landau, chariot, calash, chaise, or chair drawn by six horses, mares, geldings, or mules, the sum of one shilling and sixpence.’ That takes care, presumably, of would-be Scrooges who might try to harness up mules and try to get across for no charge, on the basis that only horses are mentioned on the price list. Today everyone crosses free of charge, giving me some extra pennies to help pay for my coffee in the theatre foyer cafe.


per apse said...

That's a wonderful toll house - I always think of them as cramped and uncomfortable residences always liable to draw the attention of the so-called 'gentlemen of the road' after a busy day or two. But this is something else - a royal residence in comparison! But you restrain yourself most excellently when the modern planning regulations apparently allow such a building to have, as an appendage, the monstrosity actually attached to its main facade. I rather think a better extension, from a visual point of view anyway, might have been made in your favourite corrugated iron - it could then, as elsewhere, have gables, battlements and parapets - but perhaps not! You follow the narrow line between commentator and critic most excellently, as ever - thank you!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Per Apse: Thank you! I think the effect caused by the extension is called Frank Juxtaposition!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Per Apse: PS. Many toll houses do seem to be very small. There's one at the Avoncroft museum of buildings, near Bromsgrove. The interior is quite cramped.