Last Bridgekeeper takes last penny

The Old Pey Brig

The Old Pey Brig

 On Tuesday 26th April 1949, one of the River Clyde’s oldest landmarks passed into the limbo of forgotten Blantyre things. The suspension foot bridge linking Bothwell with Blantyre was closed on that Tuesday night, and shortly after, dismantled. Opened in 1852, four years after David Livingstone left Blantyre, the bridge was built by the firm of Henry Monteith for the benefit of their workers in the old dyeworks at Blantyre. It served as a short cut for miners, school children, and thousands of visitors to the Blantyre Village works , then later after 1929, to the Livingstone Memorial. Workers and children for a few years following it’s closure, had to go round by bus via Hamilton, a distance of five miles against a quarter mile. Everyone in the district called the Bridge, The Toll Bridge or Pey Brig. It was only referred to as The Suspension Bridge in modern times.

It used to cost a halfpenny to cross it. Regular customers such as miners and school children got a reduced rate of 4d a week. Those using it seven days a week paid 6d, a weekly pass if you like. Eighty-year-old Walter was the last ‘ keeper of the bridge”  pictured here in 1949. Although he only had the job since July 1948, he was known by the bridge keepers all all his life. Prior to Walter, the previous keeper was Mr Peter Sharp, a job he had for many decades.

By 1876 the Mill Owners recognised the fact that the Bridge could be used to make money. Disgruntled at miners taking liberties in crossing their bridge (intended for their own mill workers), the owners applied a toll to it. The bridge became known as The Pey Brig. The very first bridgekeeper in 1876, was in fact “Blantyre woman, Kate Hamilton.” This was quite an unique profession and highly unusual at the time. Walter remembers she took his halfpenny when he first crossed a seven-year-old laddie . Some of the keepers, like Walter, worked for a weekly wage. Others leased the bridge toll for the nominal sum of £30 year. During the 1900’s, the toll was increased to a penny. This permitted one pedestrian to cross the 73m expanse. The bridge was famously the last toll bridge built in all of Scotland until the Construction of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964.  A worker owned token was provided to the mill workers and later to miners to allow them cheaper crossing. If you wanted to cross with a barrow, it was twice as much! Bothwell grocers wishing to sell produce to the Mill workers would often pay a 4d weekly ticket, a concept still in use on modern bridges today. These could be bought from Jock mcBain at Waterloo Row prior to 1928. It is widely reported that children would crawl in the voids below the bridge to bypass the toll booth, which was apparently a dangerous thing to do. A small drafty and cold toolbooth was located on the Blantyre end of the bridge to house the toll keeper.

Forerunner of the bridge was a ferry boat. The original board giving regulations as to the crossing is preserved at the Living stone Memorial. It makes amusing reading in parts, judging by this excerpt:— 5.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m.—3d N.B. —No charge for re passing on same day within above hours. 10.30 p.m. to midnight—3d. Midnight to 5 a.m.—6d. , If not paid at the time, fares to be doubled. Persons going to and coming from employment the works at the regular hours to pass free. The boatman shall not be bound to ferry over any other person, but if chooses to do so be allowed to charge double the above rates, but no more. For the last two years of its life the bridge has belonged to the nation. As it had become the property of a coal company, it was taken over by the N.C.B. when the mines were nationalised in 1946. The N.C.B. considered it a liability. Warning notices had been posted that persons using the bridge after it is closed did so at their own risk. The old bridge, demolished in 1949.

A new modern “David Livingstone” bridge opened in its place in 1952, which wasn’t of the best construction. Indeed, so many shortcuts were taken on it’s construction, that by the 1990′s it was deemed unsafe and was eventually replaced by the current bridge, the third bridge at this approximate location. The 1952 bridge fell into disrepair, after years of neglect, whch was caused by a dispute between Hamilton District Council and Strathclyde Council about who was to repair and maintain it. The bridge was eventually declared unsafe due to deterioration caused by rust. When the bridge was demolished in May 1999 (not 2002 as reported by other websites) it was found after cutting down the main supports of the bridge that they could still not pull it down. The attempt was abandoned until the next day when welders arrived to burn the metal. Two heavy machines, either side of the river pulled simultaneously on heavy cables attached to the main supports to topple the whole structure. Construction began of the next bridge almost right away. The present bridge opened on 18th October 1999, ready for the Millennium. Blantyre historian, the late Neil Gordon was honored to be the first to cross the bridge commenting “there were no side rails and i suppose it was quite dangerous, but i found it an exhilarating experience”.


Walter and the last crossing of the brig

Leave a Reply