Swanside Packhorse Bridge

Swanside Packhorse Bridge, Rimington, Lancashire

GRID REFERENCE SD 78496 45380.  Grade 11-Listed

Lancashire County Council takes care of this genuine packhorse bridge, which has been well serviced and repaired over the years.  I would date it 17th century, and believe it would have replaced an earlier model.  The major building period for packhorse bridges was 1650-1750.

The turnpike system was responsible for phasing out the packhorse trade, albeit very gradually, although packhorses were still around into the early 1900s because in hilly terrain, where carts couldn’t travel, ponies were the only practicality.  Hence there’s a rich heritage out there where the tracks and lovely bridges remain – such as Swanside (also known as Monk’s Bridge).  Most bridges have been extended, others have had parapets added, and many have been rebuilt, but Swanside is a genuine bridge, under 6’ wide and could not have accommodated wheeled carts.

This crossing would originally have been initiated by the monks of Sawley Abbey (1147-1536), formerly in Yorkshire before the county boundary changes of 1974, handily nearby, and far more important and much older than Whalley Abbey.  Both were of the Cistercian order which was particularly occupied with the wool trade.  Another major industry in this area from very early times was lime.  This was taken to sweeten the sour soils of the Pennines which area also provided coal for the Clitheroe region on their return journeys –  as packhorses never travelled with empty panniers.

In my childhood dad frequently took us to the Rimington area and we would paddle in Ings Beck and have picnics.  There was a shop in the village where they made home-made lemon barley water.  I can taste it yet.  The major attraction of Rimington was the excellent, but former, Black Bull Inn, run for many years by the Herd family whose delicious home-made food was a real magnet for weddings and funerals.  Many of the functions organised by factories and organisations over a wide local area held dinner dances here.  The lanes were so complicated, and often minus signposts, so that drivers (especially those who had been imbibing in the days before drink/driving laws) frequently ended up back at the front door in the early hours of the morning, thoroughly lost and disorientated.

During the war dad was in the Home Guards in Barrowford, and was the driver of a jeep in which he shuttled the officers around, which often included dinner at the Black Bull.  Dad would feed his face in the kitchens and, because the area was so rural, he’d come home with wonderful black market eggs and farmers’ butter.  Both, I believe, were 6s.0d a dozen/pound.

To find the bridge take the Rimington Road from the village towards Chatburn/Downham to a layby on the right just before the road goes over Ings Bridge.  Just before the bridge on the right is an unsurfaced area that is perfect for leaving cehicles.  Look right across the field to see the old Gisburn railway line.

The road climbs after the bridge and in a short distance a muddy lane strikes off to the left and opposite on the right is a stile.  Follow the path down the field, alongside the wood, to the beck and bridge.

Recommended reading: Guide to the Packhorse Bridges of England, Cicerone Press. Ernest Hinchliffe

© Maggie B Dickinson

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