Aldwark Toll Bridge: Repairs to Yorkshire's only private toll bridge to be delayed by a further two months - leaving drivers facing 25-mile detour

Aldwark Toll Bridge work in June (Photo: James Hardisty)
Aldwark Toll Bridge work in June (Photo: James Hardisty)

Aldwark Toll Bridge was built as a crossing over the River Ure near Easingwold in the 18th century, and the current structure dates back to 1880.

In April it shut for six months of maintenance work, with the intention that it would re-open to vehicles in October.

Yet this closure has now been extended to December after defects were discovered.

The bridge is still run along traditional lines by a manager living in the tollkeeper's cottage (Photo: James Hardisty)
The bridge is still run along traditional lines by a manager living in the tollkeeper's cottage (Photo: James Hardisty)

Operations manager Dudley Valentine, an RAF veteran who lives in the traditional tollkeeper’s cottage beside the bridge, said: "Phase One of the bridge refurbishment is complete, and the engineers are moving on to start Phase Two.

"As the project has progressed, it has not been as smooth as was at first anticipated, and there have been certain operations that have had to be redone as we have gone along. This is, after all, a very old structure, and, as it is Grade II-listed, we have had to work to very stringent guidelines.

"This has adversely affected the planned timescales, and therefore the completion date has had to be pushed back. The new planned opening date is now early December.

"Speculation and misinformation circulating locally is not helping, to the extent that on one closed Whatsapp site, it has been said that the bridge is not opening until April 2024. This is wholly inaccurate, and this kind of information is not conducive to community relations.”

Mr Valentine also confirmed on the Friends of Aldwark Toll Bridge Facebook group that a set of wooden boards from the old bridge had been given to Great Ouseburn Parish Council by the contractors without permission of the bridge owners, who will now decide what happens to future boards removed from the structure. Several local residents have expressed interest in taking them as souvenirs.

Drivers currently have to take a 25-mile diversion to cross the river – the detour it was originally built to avoid.

The bridge was purchased by Derbyshire businessman Alex Bell in 2020, and a structural survey then found that the archways needed to be repaired and the deck replaced.

The toll, set at 40p for a vehicle not towing a trailer, has not changed for almost 20 years despite both inflation and the owners’ attempt to double it in 2020, which was refused by a government planning inspector.

The bridge’s ownership over the centuries has been shrouded in mystery. A local landowner received parliamentary permission to build it in 1772, in order to replace a ferry service and speed up journeys. It was owned in the 20th century by a company called Yorkshire Farmers Ltd, and was then sold in the 1960s to the Montagu Burton clothing manufacturer, based in Leeds.

Future plans for the bridge include improving the traffic flow and reducing congestion at the approaches through the introduction of automation and a traffic light system, which would prevent two cars crossing in opposite directions at the same time. Smart card payments are also being considered.

The largest expense for the bridge’s owner is wages, which have doubled since 2005 – the current operations manager, Dudley Valentine, collects the tolls from the traditional booth.

In the 1960s, the bridge and others like it were even debated in Parliament, with MPs expressing frustration on behalf of their constituents that fees were levied by ‘anonymous’ landowners who did not pay tax on the tolls as the laws around the system dated from the Georgian era.

At the time, Aldwark’s female tollkeeper was mentioned, as she earned just £1 for a seven-day, 7am-10pm working week once the rent for her tied cottage had been deducted.

Also criticised was Selby Toll Bridge, which nowadays carries the A19. In the 1960s, it had a reputation for generating large tax-free profits for its owners while causing gridlock in the town. In 1991, local businesses contributed to a council buy-out of the bridge and the fees were abolished.