Two road bridges currently provide crossings for the traffic over the River Trent in Burton upon Trent. The northernmost bridge, popularly known as Burton Bridge, but actually called Trent Bridge (and that’s the name I will be using in the article) was first built in 1864, replacing an old medieval bridge which ran almost parallel to Trent Bridge, a little further to the north. The second bridge, still known sometimes as the “New Bridge”, but actually called St. Peters Bridge after the nearby church, was opened in 1985 and runs between Bond End in Burton and Stapenhill, crossing over part of the pedestrian Ferry Bridge viaduct. Plans have often been mooted for a third road crossing over the Trent, but none have so far come to fruition.
The first recorded bridge over the Trent in Burton was built in medieval times. It had a span of 36 arches, and ran almost parallel to the current Trent Bridge. It was the scene of two historic battles; one in 1322 and the other in 1643. In the mid-19th century, however, it was considered in need of replacement. A county surveyor gave it a damning review, calling it “the longest, the most ancient, and the most inconvenient structure of its kind in the United Kingdom”. In 1859, The Midland Railway wanted to lay tracks along the route encompassing the west end of the bridge, and so permission was granted for it to be demolished and replaced with a new structure.
The “new” Trent Bridge was paid for jointly by the Marquis of Anglesey (the lord of the Burton manor), the Midland Railway and other railway companies. The “old” bridge was demolished entirely after the new one opened, although some fragments remain in the town; on Meadow Road and in the riverside gardens. On 22nd June 1864, a general holiday was declared in the town, and a lavish opening ceremony for the new bridge was held, with the Marquis of Anglesey at the head of the procession, also including members of the yeomanry, principal inhabitants of the town and many others. The roadway was 20 feet wide, with 5 foot wide pedestrian walkways either side.
In 1903, the trams came to Burton on Trent, with Burton upon Trent Corporation Tramways running services between Burton and Stapenhill and Burton and Winshill, using tracks laid on Trent Bridge. The increase in road traffic in the early 20th century was causing congestion with the trams, and so it was decided to widen the bridge to accommodate the doubling of the tram tracks. These works were completed in 1926, and are commemorated with a plaque on the bridge.
In order to test that the bridge could take a heavy load after the widening was completed, a workman stood on a platform underneath the bridge while two steam rollers and a dozen trams coupled together rolled over the bridge. He claimed that if the structure had moved under the weight, he would feel it touch his bald head! The trams were discontinued just three years later in 1929 due to the rise in the use of buses.
In 2018, the bridge was mostly closed to traffic while essential repairs to prolong the life of the bridge were completed. One lane was kept open to traffic, while the other three were closed, causing major traffic problems. During the works, the old tram tracks were rediscovered, having been covered over when the tram network was closed. They were uplifted and are due to be reused in a sculpture commemorating the 1919 tram accident, in which a tram lost control on nearby Bearwood Hill Road and crashed into a garden on Newton Road, killing two people.
An amusing incident occurred in the autumn of 2019. A herd of cows grazing on Burton meadows decided to have a walk into town. They traversed a flooded cattle grid, crossed over Trent Bridge and down a pathway towards the library. Local farmers rounded them up and took them back home. My favourite line in the local paper’s article about that incident is “They were licking the windows of the library.”