Eighteenth Centry Anchor Bridge Anchor Bridge and Warf 1905, with Anchor Inn to right. Anchor Bridge viewed from north.  

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Many people stand on Anchor Bridge to look at the river, perhaps unaware of the long and interesting history which lies beneath their feet. The bridge we see today is the third one on this site. It was built in the late 1950s and replaced an earlier “hump backed” brick bridge which was built in 1775. This in turn had replaced a wooden bridge built in the fifteenth century by John Abell, a wealthy clothmaker who lived in Nayland at that time.

John Abell died in 1524. As well as leaving money to the church and the poor, in his will he provided for the maintenance of the bridge in perpetuity from the proceeds of his farm and land at Layer Breton, near Colchester. For nearly two hundred years the trustees satisfactorily carried out John Abell’s wishes but in the early eighteenth century the county authorities began to take an interest because the bridge was becoming unsafe. One of the problems was the bridge was half in Essex and half in Suffolk. Today we still have difficulties where the two counties do not always seem to liaise, so it is no surprise that while the trustees of the bridge were coping neither county wanted to know, but when the income from the farm was no longer sufficient to keep the bridge in good repair action had to be taken.

In 1714 the trust was taken out of the hands of the surviving trustees and the two counties eventually carried out major repairs to the bridge. They continued to keep it in repair until 1774 but then because of the increasing volume and weight of traffic passing through Nayland (remember there was no bypass until two centuries later) it was decided to demolish the old wooden bridge and to replace it with one constructed of brick [see photographs above]. Interestingly, a suggestion was made in the nineteenth century to replace the brick bridge with one of cast iron but this did not happen.

The three bridges have had many names over the years: the wooden bridge in John Abell’s time was called Plod Bridge. Other names over the years have been Poole, Nayland, Horkesley, Bell, County and Anchor Bridge.

It is not known for certain how the keystones on each side, showing a bell surrounded by a letter A, came to be incorporated into the two brick bridges. It has been said that the stones were taken from a bridge demolished in Fen Street where John Abell lived and inserted in his memory in the first brick bridge and then in the later bridge. Whatever the truth these stones provide a link with the benefactor of the first old bridge.

During the Siege of Colchester in 1648 the bridge was occupied by Suffolk men in support of the besieging army because this could have been a possible means of escape for the Royalists. Another interesting tale about the bridge is that when the current bridge was built in the 1950s, dynamite was found underneath the old bridge by the builders. It had been left by the army during the war in case of a German invasion and had obviously been forgotten. Nayland residents had been blissfully unaware of its presence as they travelled over the bridge!

The River Stour through Nayland had always been the boundary between Essex and Suffolk until 1989 when the Parish Council instigated a change to a section of it. The floodstream running alongside Horkesley Road became the new boundary instead of the loop of the river on the south side of Bear Street. This meant that Anchor Bridge, the two houses on the west side of the bridge and Nayland Lock Cottage could finally claim to be officially part of Nayland! How much easier the problems of the maintenance of the bridge would have been for the highway authorities in the eighteenth century if the bridge had been in Suffolk at that time.


Wendy Sparrow, Nayland