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A picture of St Ives River Bridge
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St Ives began it's life as the village of Slepe in the later part of the 10th Century. Its location being probably due to it being the last reliable crossing of the River Great Ouse before the river reached the Great Fen. Slepe is derived from the Saxon word for muddy and this is down to the fact that there was no bridge at that time. If you wished to cross the river you got wet and if the name is anything to go by you got muddy too!
By the 11th Century Slepe was part of the estates of the Abbots of Ramsey and they set about turning their new possession into a money making venture. Travellers were focused upon the location owing to its river crossing, then a ford thought to have been situated roughly where the modern Church Street meets the river. At this point a town grew up to service the travellers and the boats plying trade upon the river. We must remember that in those days the rivers were equivalent to our modern motorways.
We are not sure when the first bridge was built but it was certainly in existance by 1107 and probably of timber construction. The provision of a crossing place where users did not get plastered in mud and soaking wet encouraged even greater use of the adjacent new town and its facilities.
Over the next few centuries the town grew even more and by the early 15th Century traffic both over and under the bridge had increased to a level where a timber bridge was insufficient and at some time prior to 1426 a stone bridge, much of which remains to this day was built.
The bridge then had 200 years of relative peace until the English Civil War when in 1645 the southern most arch of the bridge, near what is now the Dolphin Hotel, was destroyed and replaced by a drawbridge. The drawbridge was removed in 1716 and the arch replaced in stone and brick funded by the town's major landowner; Charles, 1st Duke of Manchester.
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