The Priory Bridge is an iconic name and structure in Blantyre that still exists to this day. Whilst the bridge is entirely closed off to traffic for several decades, it still stands proudly as an old monument to Blantyre’s history at the side of the new A724 reprofiled Glasgow Road to the South of the old Mavis Mill location and to the North of Caldergrove Lodge. It spans the Rotten Calder River, which is the boundary between Blantyre Parish and that of Cambuslang.
It’s actually very, very close to the Glasgow Road itself and you can easily drive past on the way to Cambuslang, not knowing it’s there at the roadside in the woods. Sketched here in 1799 by Jean Claude Nattes, the bridge is a fine example of stone vaulted arch construction.
To the immediate North East side of the bridge was the Black Mill (Bardykes or Spittal Mill), which is now in ruins today.
A remarkable account of Priory Bridge which gives a bit of history to the bridge dates from 1859. The transcribe is :
A Bridge over the “Rotten Calder Water” — the Boundary of the Parish, on the Turnpike Road between Glasgow and Hamilton. This Bridge is supposed, by the authorities given, to be as old as “Blantyre Priory.” No authentic information can be obtained,
relative to its date, or probable date in any accounts of the Parish or the neighbourhood. There is however, a tradition in the neighbourhood of the Bridge. — “That when the building of the “Priory” was finished the Masons employed there were so numerous, that upon each bringing a stone from the Priory they were sufficient to form the Bridge, which was built in one night.” The Arch of this Bridge is not as wide as the Road over it. The alteration in the width of the Road, as stated by Mr Jackson of Blantyre Park, was made about 50 years ago (1809). The construction of the Bridge, which is not seen until under the Arch, is supposed to be of a very old date. As stated by R. Ker Esqr. of Auchinraith House, the description given of the Arch, shows it to be similar to the construction of Bothwell Bridge, before it was improved. The oldest and best authorities have been applied to for information. The name “Prior” is a corruption of “Priory,” supposed to have been adopted for sake of abbreviation.”
I personally find the account to be fanciable at best. I don’t believe the bridge is as old as the Priory (13th Century) and think it is probably more 17th Century, noted on a 1634 map, although an older crossing at that point may have been possible. I think it highly likely that the bridge was called The Priory Bridge given it’s location to the nearby Priory, which in the 17th Century was one of the most relatively adjacent buildings.
When extending the tramlines from Blantyre to Cambuslang between 1903 and 1907 this bridge represented a major obstacle and
was the source of a lot of expenditure to make the dual tram lanes run over it. At this time, the bridge started to become known also as “The Spittal Bridge” a reference to the nearby area being mined.
Contrary to other local reports, the bridge was never widened beyond 1907, nor ever encased in concrete. From underneath you can see three clear stages of rebuilding or extension. In the centre is the early portion – a high single span arch of ashlar masonry, 3.3m wide. This original arch has the appearance of 17th or possibly early 18th century work. On either side is another extension, which is dated from the above account as being constructed in approximately 1809. This is furthered by the modern brick-and-girder extension of 1907. There is a moulded stone course round the arch of the original span.The top of the bridge is quite ‘modern’ dating from 1907. The trams traversed this bridge until around 1928.
In 1939 , a forty seven year old man died at the bridge when can be read about here. https://blantyreproject.com/2014/09/10/fatal-black-out-at-priory-bridge/
I hadn’t been to see Priory Bridge since i was a child, so in September 2014, i revisited the side, ear the entrance to Caldergrove estate. The bridge is still closed off to traffic and now also to pedestrians and has been so overcome by nature, there are trees actually growing on it’s bridge deck now. I forgot what an incredible height the bridge actually is and the steepness of the slopes immediately beside it, made it feel quite perilous to be in the area. I did however, manage to take this picture from the deck level.
From what I saw, (as demonstrated better in Jim’s photo) the ivy trailing down over the parapets, gives the bridge a romantic, idyllic feel, but the truth is it’s neglected and being left to nature.
In case anybody is trying to find the Priory Bridge, here it is with a blue dot noted on this modern ordnance survey map. The modern map shows the profile of the old road in white and just how close it is to the busy Glasgow Road (in pink)