Local historian Norman A Alvin traces the history of Thackley's historic Buck Mill Bridge, which contractors have just finished repairing:
There has been a crossing point of the River Aire near the site of Buck Mill from at least Medieval times.
A trackway mentioned in a 1393 court case came from Idle along the current Buck Lane and across the river Aire at the ford near Buck Mill. From there it was joined by another track from Guiseley, through Hollins Wood to Esholt then passing through Baildon by what is now Station Road and over the moors to Bingley.
The shallow part of the river near Buck Mill provided a natural site for a ford. At some time a cobbled surface was constructed under the water, and the remains of this ford can still be seen along the bank when the water is low. Later a series of stepping stones, or hippins as they were called locally, were constructed, allowing people to cross without getting wet, but over time they became unstable. There were frequent occurrences of people falling into the river and getting their clothes wet, and in times of flood the stones became dangerous and there were instances of people being swept off and drowned.
The 19th century saw a steady increase of populations of the townships of Idle and Baildon, and consequently an increasing number of people needing to commute between them. The only alternative to fording the river was to use bridges at Shipley and Apperley Bridge. Both entailed a lengthy detour of about three miles and at one crossing, a payment toll.
The first official concern about the crossing came in December 1872 when the Idle and Baildon Local Boards agreed improvements were needed. They thought it was the responsibility of the County or owner of adjoining land, General Stansfield. In 1876 the poor state of the stepping stones was brought to General Stansfield’s attention; he replied that he didn’t think he was liable for the upkeep of the crossing. Following this, the Baildon Local Board, which was reluctant to increase the rate burden for its citizens, declined to co-operate further with the Idle Board in securing a safer crossing. There came a period of inaction until the matter was raised again in 1884 when both Boards agreed that they’d have to foot the bill for any improvements. Various plans were drawn up but the Baildon Board was reluctant to undertake any great expenditure and thought that Idle, having the larger population, should bear the greater part of the cost. This attitude was to sour the future planning and construction of the bridge.
General Stansfield was willing to allow his land to be used for the bridge and approaches. The configuration of the ford and stepping stones meant that people crossing the river had to pass through the yard of Buck Mill, the General was keen to put an end to this and proposed that the bridge should be wide enough to carry horses as well as foot-passengers. The first plans were well to the west of the mill with passengers going down Buck Lane, then across a field to cross the canal by means of an overflow tunnel. Eventually a compromise was agreed with the site for the bridge being just to the west of the mill with an access path from Buck Lane and the existing route through Buck Mill yard closed off.
A plan for the bridge was finally agreed in May 1888. It would be an iron bridge 208ft long and 6ft wide, at a total cost of £778. The cost was to be shared between the two Boards, although Baildon was adamant that they wouldn’t pay a penny more than the £389 they agreed to. The bridge was designed by Messrs. Jowett Kendall and J Harper Bakes, Idle architects, and constructed by Messrs J Bagshaw and Sons of Batley. The Idle Board was to organise and oversee all construction, which began in September 1888. It was estimated that it would be ready for foot passengers by the end of October but a number of delays meant the bridge wasn’t completed until well into the following year. The opening ceremony took place on April 19, 1889, with members from each Board present. After the bridge was declared open the Board members retired to the Great Northern Hotel in Thackley for a celebratory meal. The Baildon Board invited members of the Idle Board to a reciprocal meal in Baildon on May 1.
A description of the bridge appeared in local newspapers, giving many technical details. The bridge, originally painted red, is constructed of iron and consists of three spans supported on pillars. The approaches on each side are 6ft wide and slope gradually down to the bridge platform. The foundations to the piers and abutments are cement concrete, 5ft below the river bed. The piers are built of sandstone ashlar from Windhill Wood End quarries, filled in with solid rubble and concrete.
The superstructure of the bridge is 12ft above the level of the river bed and consists of three 88ft spans supported by piers and abutments, making the total length of the bridge 264ft. The superstructure is constructed entirely of 40 tons of wrought iron.
Railings and hand-rails are alongside each main girder.
Wire netting was later added to the hand-rails for extra protection to children. At both ends of the bridge there is a metal plate bearing the names of members of both local Boards, the architects and the Batley constructor.