Somerset Bridge, Huddersfield
- location: at intersection of Upper Aspley & Storthes (now Wakefield Road), Aspley
- status: still exists
- category: misc feature
- architect: John Henry Abbey
- notes: bridge over the River Colne, replaced the earlier Huddersfield Long Bridge
Discovering Old Huddersfield
Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter:
When Ogilby reached the river Colne he marked it as a brook crossed by a wooden bridge. This was the bridge shown as Hothersfield Bridge on the 1634 map of Almondbury. Presumably it was of frail construction and built low down near to the water as it seems constantly to have been in need of repair. For example, it was repaired by the Wapentakes of Agbrigg and Morley in 1638 and yet, only four years later, it was reported that "Huddersfield Bridge beinge a very useful and necessary bridge for the countrye is through the violence of the water decayed and quite taken away." At that time £30 was made available to Sir John Ramsden who was required to see the money "husbandly bestowed" for repairing the bridge.
In 1699 the wooden bridge was replaced by one of stone and when John Warburton surveyed the road in 1719 he described a stone bridge of three arches over Huthersfield Water. This seems to have been a narrow humped structure built, like its wooden predecessors, at a low level and it, too, needed rebuilding after being damaged by floods in 1744. It was decided at that time to reduce the number of arches from three to two to allow the water to have a freer course and save the bridge from the worst buffeting of the water. Subsequently the width of the bridge was increased from twelve feet (3.64 metres) to twenty-two feet (6.66 metres) and the parapets were raised.
By the mid nineteenth century the bridge, which was once described as "looking as near as possible and not very much wider than an elephant's back", was having to carry much more traffic than was ever intended. The approaches were very steep and the gradients made the driving of vehicles across the bridge quite dangerous. The footpath over the bridge was very narrow and was often encroached when two or more vehicles attempted to cross at the same time.
By 1860 moves were afoot to replace the old bridge and on 6th. January 1864, at a meeting of the Improvement Commissioners, Mr. Clough, the clerk, reported that on the previous day at the Wakefield Sessions he had succeeded in getting a True Bill against the inhabitants of the West Riding for the nuisance in respect of the Long Bridge at Aspley, which gave the Magistrates power to make it imperative that the bridge should be widened. He stated that thirteen hundred vehicles passed over the bridge in one day together with eighty four omnibuses and ten thousand pedestrians.
However, nothing seems to have been done until after the Incorporation of the town when the new borough, in the Improvement Act of July 1871, received power to take down and remove the bridge over the River Colne known as the Long Bridge of Huddersfield and construct a new bridge also to be called the Long Bridge of Huddersfield. The county authorities were to contribute £3000 out of the county rate and the Council persuaded Sir John Ramsden not only to give the land necessary for widening the approaches but also to contribute £1000 towards the cost of the new bridge.
Early in 1872, under the direction of Mr. J.H. Abbey, the borough surveyor, work began on pulling down the old structure. A temporary wooden bridge was erected for use during the alterations. The foundation stone of the new bridge was laid on 20th September 1872 by the then Mayor, Alderman Wright Mellor, and on the 4th October 1873 the keystone was fixed by Mr. James Jordan, the chairman of the Bridge Committee. On that day it was decided to change the name to Somerset Bridge to honour Lady Guendolen Ramsden, daughter of the Duke of Somerset, who had agreed to open the bridge.
The new bridge contained only one arch which spanned seventy feet (21 metres) and rested on the springers of two abutments. The height of the arch from the bed of the river was twenty feet (6 metres) and the roadway, which was perfectly level, was thirty feet (9 metres) wide. The bridge was provided with foot paths nine feet (2.7 metres) wide on each side and the handsome parapet of Newry granite was four feet (1.2 metres) high.
In true Victorian fashion the opening, on 25th May 1874, was one of great celebration and the streets leading to the bridge were elaborately decorated with flags and bunting. A grand procession composed of public bodies, fire brigades, volunteers and yeomanry paraded from the council offices to Aspley. At the appointed time, with all the dignitaries in position. Lady Ramsden released a bottle of champagne to smash against the parapet and declared the bridge open.
After the opening, the proceedings seem to have deteriorated into something of a farce. It had been intended that Sunday school scholars and some members of the Choral Society should sing three hymns to the accompaniment of a brass band in Greenhead Park. However the day was rainy and the musical director, Mr. Stocks, was told that the procession might not reach the park so he directed his singers to St. Georges's Square. The procession did not reach there either which was, perhaps, fortunate as only a few children turned up. Consequently, the hymn singing was abandoned. Mr. Stocks, however, did not give up easily and later he conducted the Choral Society as they sang in Greenhead Park. Unfortunately, by this time spirits had been completely dampened and there was no audience Nevertheless, the Society sang several glees in the rain which, it was reported, fell in a most uncomfortable misty manner all day.
Many local people will remember Somerset Bridge which lasted as built until the road improvements carried out between 1964 and 1967. It exists still at the core of the present day bridge but its appearance is completely disguised although some of the old footings may still be seen among the more modern work by anyone who cares to view the bridge from below.