Tarn Gill Bridge (known locally as Chantry Bridge), Townhead, Ravenstonedale, has been saved from demolition – for the moment. Friends of Tarn Gill Bridge commissioned a survey, design and specification for repairs from a firm in Kendal, but this was not acceptable to Cumbria County Council Highways (who own the bridge) as they do not agree with the surveyor’s findings. Although the Council have reinstated the sum of £15,000 into their budget for the bridge, they are not prepared to use any of this to investigate the problems with its structure, which they are sure stem from the bridge support being eroded by water disappearing down a sinkhole upstream. The Friends are therefore exploring other sources of funding for investigation and repairs, including the Orton Fells Hidden Landscapes Project, an initiative to bid for Heritage Lottery Funding for projects in the area which became part of Yorkshire Dales National Park on 1st August 2016.
Yorkshire Dales National Park also have limited funds to repair structures in conservation areas, provided suitable traditional materials are used, and they recommended a contractor experienced in repairs to traditional bridges. CCC Highways have now agreed that the perceived problem with the settling of the upstream abutment may be investigated to see if the abutment is being undermined and if so, whether it can be stabilised. The Friends will have to pay for this and the necessary permission is being obtained. The Friends have also applied to Historic England to see if they will recommend that the bridge should be listed.
Meanwhile, the History Group are trying to find out how old the bridge is. They are also trying to establish whether the bridge was known as Chantry Bridge before the nearby house called The Chantry was built. The earliest map showing a bridge on the site is Cary’s map of 1789 which later accompanied the edition of Camden’s Britannia (Richard Gough translation) published by John Nichols in 1798. It seems that the bridge would have been built to allow carts and heavily laden horses to cross Tarn Gill without having to go through the adjacent ford, which would have been impassable after heavy winter rain or snowmelt. Even the new “Irish Ford” was impassable to traffic on one morning during the December 2015 floods – but the bridge stood firm and pedestrians could use it! Our latest research has uncovered a former name for the bridge in use locally – Ford Bridge – which would have been used before The Chantry was built. The beck itself has also uncovered some cobbles under the bridge and just upstream, laid by hand at some point in the past, which we understand were probably placed there in an effort to streamline the flow of water when the beck is in spate.