Monks Bridge, Swanside

After chapel on Sunday I parked up at Downham Bridge in search of another. I had seen pictures online and found it with little difficulty. This is Monks Bridge, elegantly crossing Swanside Beck. It is considered a packhorse bridge, its lack of parapets rendering a pony’s panniers less likely to get caught and pulled off. It points towards Sawley Abbey, just a mile or so hence, and the name suggests its erection was connected to the monks there.


Dating it is hard. Maggie Dickinson says seventeenth-century, its official Listing suggests it might be older. As the abbeys were shut in the 1530s, I would think it dates back the sixteenth or fifteenth centuries.


I crossed it and followed its path across the fields direct to the abbey. Apart from walking across the A59 and passing through three fields occupied by bulls (they offered no worse than malevolent glares), it was a most pleasant walk. I imagined Sawley’s cowled Cistercian monks walking up and down these paths, visiting the sick or collecting their rents. They were wealthy landowners, erecting bridges over becks and establishing granges for produce. They even owned land at Martinestoftes, now known as Martin Top.

The bridge outlived the abbey when the latter was destroyed. Now a queer relic of a former age, it provides an interesting place for picnics and a talking point for walkers. In its day, it was a main road, a busy rural thoroughfare. Now it’s the haunt of kingfishers and hares. How times change, how societies shift. Monks Bridge survived into the modern era because it still performed a service, a necessary function. The other features of monasticism vanished as we reformed our nation and then secularised it. The only features of your current life that will survive your death are those which have eternal function: what you do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. One day, all else will be ruins. 


“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” John 5:24