Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet

A brief history of the crossing over the River Stour, 1200 - 2000


The main road bridge is located in the centre of the village, passing over the River Stour,
It divides the population in two, with Bures Hamlet in Essex to the South and Bures St Mary in Suffolk to the North.

In 855 AD records document the crowning of St Edmund at Burva, consequently we can assume, that Bures was an area with a substantial holding of land. A foot or horse bridge would have existed during that period.

The Domesday records of 1086 indicate the existance of a "Church with 18 acres of free land", again this would make a bridge essential to maintain the surrounding fields.

During the 11th -16th century, the Church, surrounding lands and the ownership of the bridge came under the jurisdiction of the Stoke by Clare Priory,
In 1574 the Priory was dissolved and the ownership of the bridge passed into private hands.
Until the 17th century Bures was predominately a Suffolk village with very little housing on the Hamlet side.

The bridge up to this time, fell into disrepair on many occasions with the owners never willing to spend any money on repairs. Finally in the 17th century, the bridge was completely re-built with a wooden construction.

November 6th 1762 (Reported in Ipswich Journal newspaper)
Bures bridge, near Sudbury has been washed away by the violence of the flood on Tuesday last. Notice is hereby given that no wheeled carriages can pass over the river Stour at that place. A new bridge will be erected as soon as possible.

In 1881 it was once again re-built, but this time replaced by cast iron. The majority of the framework was cast at a foundry in London and somehow transported to Bures for construction. The river, via Mistley being the most likely mode of transport.

Bury Free Press January 15th 1881

The Hamlet side, even up to the early 1900`s was the home of the poorest and lowest paid workers who were supported by the Sudbury Union Workhouse. Wealth was effectively on the Suffolk side and the two `classes` rarely crossed over.

The bridge carries the B1508, main traffic route between Colchester to the South and Sudbury to the North.
The source of The River Stour rises at Carlton near Haverhill and continues through Clare, Sudbury, Bures, Nayland, Stratford, Dedham, Flatford onward to Manningtree where it becomes tidal at Cattawade Bridge.
It continues it`s seaward journey past Mistley joining up with the River Orwell at Harwich.


The river also serves as the county boundary between Suffolk (Sturmer, Nr Haverhill)
and Essex (Harwich)


Road Bridge circa 1900.

These photographs taken nearly 100 years apart, show little has changed in its appearance. On the top two photographs the wharf can clearly be seen to the right of the bridge, where the barges were berthed.


Road Bridge 2002

A regular inspection of all bridges in Suffolk is undertaken every two years and it was at one of these visits in mid 1990, that cracks were found in the supporting structure. The bridge has a 20 metre span of five cast-iron supports interconnected by brick arches, a typical design of the Victorian era.
Cast iron has advantages, it`s cheap and quick to produce and ideal for basic bridge construction. Commonly used by the Victorians.
However all cast iron has one major drawback, it suffers from fatigue, fractures and fails quickly.
As the cracks were on the load bearing girders, directly under the carriageway, an immediate weight restriction of 3 tons was placed on the bridge in addition to traffic lights.
The bridge built at the beginning of the 1900`s was never designed to carry the size and weight of vehicles, that we today, take for granted.
This caused severe disruption to HGV and public transport. Chambers rerouted their buses via Nayland Rd and Smallbridge Hall, a hazardous and very narrow route.
Unfortunately for those living on the Essex side such as Normandie Way, their bus service suddenly vanished.
Local farmers found themselves unable to cross the bridge with their farm vehicles to gain access to other fields and buildings.
Unfortunately not everyone was so law abiding - visiting HGV`s continued to cross the bridge in spite of the warning signs, in order to avoid a lengthy diversion.

Many options of repair were considered:-
(a) Strengthening - problems with services and river below.
(b) Reconstruction - not cost effective at approx £500,000
(c) Temp Bailey Bridge - no viable access on approaches
(d) Reinforcing cast-iron ribs with steel plates - untried.

The situation remained like this for several months whilst the County Council persued other alternative methods of repair.

It was decided to employ a new technique of epoxy-resin bonding, which is literally glueing the bridge back together. Laboratory and field tests were carried out on the remains of a cast-iron bridge from Preston St Mary. As this was successful Suffolk County Council and its main contractor decided to go ahead. (Click Here for a detailed explanation)

On 12th October 1991 the bridge was reopened and normality returned to the village with traffic once again flowing normally.
(Information source SCC/contractor)


View from bridge looking towards Suffolk
View from bridge looking towards Essex

Information obtained from:-
SCC/ECC Records Office
Stoke by Clare Priory Web site