Bothwell Bridge – an odd feature


Bothwell Brig1I was looking recently at an old plate photo by Andrew Guthrie dating from around 1870. However, this picture of the bridge gives me a REAL headache and keeps bringing me back to a subject I’m been previously too shy to propose in public. You’ll think i’m crazy as its often been written that Bothwell Bridge was an old 14th Century Bridge, but I think he was photographing that bridge as it was relatively new! It’s SO new looking, the stonework, the piers, however I’ve never read EVER about the bridge being reconstructed. So decided to investigate…..

Here’s my evidence and a theory. In 19th Century engravings, the bridge is clearly then not a linear, horizontal bridge, but is actually humped, just as separate engravings were earlier depicting Battle of Bothwell Bridge. This river was allegedly spanned in the 14th Century. The humps are not just a romantic viewpoint of the bridge, but were probably accurate, the bridge once having a tower in the middle and portcullis toll gate.
The current modern bridge, is indeed much flatter as shown in the 1870 photo. There were rumours that a 5th arch was present, but engineers upgrading the bridge in the 20th century didn’t find it. It is rumoured a 5th arch once existed. Thats quite probable, for I think the current bridge is a new, different modern 19th Century bridge! The arches are very round on the current bridge, by comparison to a slightly more gothic looking bridge arch in earlier views. By this point, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy, but i will present a little more evidence….
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So here is my strongest evidence. In the 1870 photo, on the west embankment on the Bothwell side, beside all the clean, beautiful stonework is EVIDENCE of a previous ribbed arch! I’ve zoomed in on the photo. I’ve thought about this often and it is now covered in undergrowth but would be directly behind the current Covenanter monument (1903).  The detail is lost today as theres so much undergrowth and ivy there now, but there definitely is a prominent feature there, as captured in early drawings of this bridge in the mid 19th Century.

Why has nobody apparently written about this before? Further evidence of a new bridge, above it, on the parapet, is a sharp, noticeable change in angle. Something IS going on at that point in the bridge, and I would just LOVE now to propose the current Bothwell Bridge it is actually a new 19th Century bridge, built to replace the old one which now only exists on the far western embankment.

It wasn’t built for Queen Victoria though she did visit it in 1842 with Albert.  Now I turned to newspaper archives and noticed Thomas Telford wrote up his life story in the early 1823, observing then in that book “The Life of Thomas Telford” that Bothwell bridge, was an old bridge, long and very narrow and did not serve purpose well. In 1799, Journals of the House of Commons Vol 54 talks about “road improvements near the old Bothwell Bridge”

The description of Queen Victoria visiting the bridge comments in newspapers that “the original bridge was only 12 feet wide.” suggesting that by 1842 the current bridge had already been built. So I went further back into old records and noticed in 1826, 22 feet was added to its breadth changing the whole appearance of the bridge! So, i think the detail at the side IS the original arch that those Covenanters saw. The new bridge may have been built around the old one in 1826, but i don’t think so, for the piers are all in different locations and the arches, wider than the engravings and there is strong evidence that for the best part, the current bridge is a new, different bridge to that originally there.
Interestingly, the same article told that in 1826, the hollow at the Hamilton end was filled in and the western end road was realigned. The open park in which the Covenanters fought the Battle of Bothwell was by 1826 enclosed fields and plantations and the battlefield itself became a “cultivated and beautiful region.”
On social media:
Chris Ladds As far as I know Paul it is well accepted by archaeologists and all appropriate records on this subject that the 1st bridge in its original late 15th century form hardly survived and that the modern bridge is the result of the later additions and improvements you refer to upon a later underlying 17th century bridge which itself was thought to contain elements of the later 15th century bridge. It was assumed by archaeologists that the abutments may carry remnants of the former bridge. This is what was investigated during modern improvements and nothing of that nature was found. After 1826 the bridge was again improved in 1871 and that is likely to explain the appearance you see in the photo. The widening process would require that the entire visual surface could change.

1. Earlier crossing relating to Douglases/Hamiltons and Bothwell strategic crossing.
2. Medieval Bridge c. 1490.
3. Early Modern Bridge c. 1600s.
4. 1600s bridge.
5. 1826 improvements.
6. 1871 improvements.

The dates of these improvements will be abundantly recorded in public records relating to County of Lanark which are held at Glasgow City Archives. These are the go-to during archaeological proposals relating to previous investigation. The road records include the Turnpike records and bridge improvement records, and are all held in the same repository. The minutes are preserved which likely refer in some detail to the subject to.

Chris Ladds The visible arch is likely a device to level the bridge approach compared to the original descent to the older bridge. Look at most of the region’s medieval bridges we have and you see the steep approach on either valley side. A progressively later and widened bridge such as Bothwell would require the gentler approaches that we take for granted with most modern bridges. Previous arches peeking out from an older bridge would be expected to be lower rather than higher, as the later additions encase and build up on top previous bridges.
The Blantyre Project thanks Chris. I found this all fascinating. Appreciated as always.

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