Mention the ‘Iron Bridge’ and every Bidefordian will know where you mean – but there were once two such bridges. The first and earliest was at Landcross on the Bideford-Torrington road and was a prefabricated structure probably made in South Wales. It was brought to North Devon by boat in 1825 when the present riverside road to Torrington was being constructed. (See above.) It was rebuilt using steel in 1926.
The second ‘Iron Bridge’ is the more familiar one over the Torridge that used to carry the railway to Meeth and is now part of the Tarka Trail (below). This was built when the railway was extended to Torrington in the early 1870s – but its construction was not without controversy.’
In September 1869 the Mayor of Bideford, C.Pedler, wrote to the Board of Trade opposing the ‘construction of a railway bridge by the London and South Western Railway Company across the Torridge‘ on the basis it would impede the river for boats. The Board passed this letter on to Mr.Galbraith engineer-in -charge of the new line who replied ‘Bideford town council could not be serious in opposing the construction of the proposed bridge across the Torridge as it will improve rather than injure the navigation of the river.‘
In November of that year the council held a ‘Special Meeting’ to discuss the proposed bridge which saw tempers fraying – and when the vote was taken to oppose its construction the vote was split equally between those for and against. A journalist who attended the meeting noted ‘the proceedings were unfit for reproduction in any respectable newspaper.‘
The railway company merely pushed on with the scheme though in October 1870 councillors reckoned there had been ‘a deviation on the original plans and an encroachment on the river‘ – an allegation repeated in November 1871. Indeed so incensed were they over this presumed illegality they sent the Borough Surveyor up to London to trace the original plans to bolster their argument. Unfortunately the surveyor had to report that ‘from a careful examination he was satisfied that the work was being done according to the plans.‘ By now the bridge was virtually complete and so the councillors withdrew their objections – and the bridge went on to become an iconic part of the scenery on this part of the river.
Today. The iron (railway) bridge is now the property of Devon County Council and was recently repainted. The Tarka Trail comes under the management of Martin Caddy of DCC, who is Public Rights of Way Officer for all this end of Devon.