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This page outlines the working life of the men who were on hand to open the bridges that crossed the canal, and the links below lead to pages which list individual names and service records:

Bridgemen - Purton to Fretherne - Sandfield to Hardwicke - Sellars to Llanthony.
To search for a specific bridgeman's name, use search box on Home page.

     Each of the road bridges along the canal was looked after by a specific bridgeman, with one man covering the two bridges close together at Purton. Each man was expected to open his bridge for any vessel passing along the canal, although sometimes this was done by a member of his family, and he could be called out at night for a small extra payment. The bridgemen were the public face of the Canal Company, being well known not only to regular users of the canal but also to local people who needed to cross the bridges.

Splatt Bridge HouseBridge Houses
The early bridgemen lived in existing houses and were just provided with a simple brick hut for shelter while on duty. Later, to allow the canal to be used at night, it was important to have each bridgeman living close to his bridge, and distinctive classical-style houses were built at some bridges, where required, in the 1840s and 1850s. These originally had a basic plan in the shape of a Greek cross, providing two rooms and a scullery with a portico at the front having a pediment supported by two Doric columns. They have later been given additional rooms, either by an extension on the level or by using the original basement which was built into the canal bank. As things turned out, only eight of these classical-style bridge houses were constructed, and later houses were built according to the needs and fashions of their times. Some bridge houses were provided with a well in the garden, but at others the inhabitants were expected to drink water from the canal that was passed though a simple gravel filter. (Picture of Splatt bridge house: R&CHS)

Two bridges at PurtonEarly Wooden Bridges
Each road bridge originally comprised two wooden half-spans which could be swung open to let vessels pass through. The bridgeman opened one side of the bridge, and someone accompanying the vessel along the towpath opened the other side. Each half-span was rotated by pushing on a long arm attached to the tail of the span. For the bridges near to Gloucester which were mounted on small diameter piers, a curved wooden staging was provided for the bridgeman to walk out on while doing this. The bridges from Hardwicke southwards were mounted on larger piers and so there was no need for staging. (Picture of Purton Bridges: Glos Archives)

Vernon HemmingPost-war Steel Bridges
In the 1950s and 1960s, the original wooden bridges were replaced by single-span steel bridges that could be opened by one man turning a handle. This did away with the need for someone to accompany vessels along the towpath. It was important to keep the gearing well greased, but even so it could be difficult to start swinging the bridge, particularly if there was any adverse wind. Light signals were installed so that the bridgeman could define priority, and red & white poles were fitted to help helmsmen see the bridge opening clearly. In recent years, some of the bridges have been mechanised and two can be operated remotely. (Picture of Vernon Hemming at Cambridge Arms Bridge: Martin Hemming)

Other Duties
In his spare time, a bridgeman had to keep his bridge clean and in good working order and look after about fifty yards of bank on either side of the bridge. On one specified day of the year, he had to close the towpath to the public to prevent it becoming established as a public right of way. An occasional distressing duty was to help recover a body from the canal using the drags provided by the Canal Company (picture right). In the twentieth century, some of the bridgemen were responsible for collecting rent for holiday bungalows built on the canal bank near their bridge.

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