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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Car Tour 4 Spara Bridge and Exe Bridge

This is, finally, the final part of Car Tour 4 driven in June 2023, and it is mostly about Spara Bridge in Lower Ashton. We've already seen the church in Higher Ashton, and way back in June 23 we had the false start to the tour, at Chudleigh Knighton, which ended up delaying the start of the journey in Chudleigh non-Knighton. This means the end of this tour was a non-stop flyby shooting which you will see towards the end of this post. That is my excuse for some blurred, through the car window shots.

Spara Bridge is one of the ancient crossings of the river Teign. The Teign goes on its merry way giving birth to various settlements with the name Teign in them. Take your pick from this selection, Teigncombe, Drewsteignton, Canonteign, Teigngrace, Kingsteignton (at one time, one of England's largest villages), Bishopsteignton, Teignharvey, and the second largest settlement along its course, Teignmouth. This is the Teign where it meets the sea.

The bridge we see today was built in 1660 which seems very precise, but that is because someone in 1660 wrote it down. 'Sparrowe Bridge was in Decay' 'This bridge was builded at the countyes charges Anno 1660'. OK, so spelling wasn't that great back then, but have you been on Social Media lately to see how we are regressing? "I wood of given a link" but I'm sure you've seen it yourself. The date is even carved in stone somewhere although I missed it, dodging the modern traffic still using it today.

What is really interesting though, and I could "of" predicted this, is that this 1660 structure was built because the existing bridge was in a poor state of repair at that time. So how long has there been a crossing right here? It is highly likely for at least a thousand years or even more. The bridge is Grade 2 listed with a star, and not many Grade 2 listings get an extra star. That's like handing in your homework with all the spelling correct.

It was listed way back in 1952, before I was born, so well done whoever did that, 5 years before the first satellite launched into space.

Now you can see it from space.

It is granite of course, being this close to Dartmoor, the Teign springs forth from Dartmoor.

A 2 span bridge with segmental arches and a small flood span; tall cutwaters between the large spans rise to form refuges; parapets with granite coping.

It is right on the edge of the tiny village of Lower Ashton where even the relatively modern, former super highway telephone box of the 1930's is listed, although only Grade 2 without a star.

During my Googly wanderings, researching this piece, I stumbled upon an article which gives more insight into the past on this spot and gives the reason why this bridge needed rebuilding in 1660.

Express and Echo - Thursday 05 July 1956


“Sweet Teign, run softly, till I end my song.”

Clank of armour.

On through widening meadows we come to Spara Bridge and Canonteign. The centuries have unrolled too; this time, it is the clank of armour of Cromwellian soldiery we hear echoing through the hills. Royalists were entrenched on the spur of Georgeteign. As the opposing forces met in this peaceful spot, campaign and skirmish left desolation in their wake. The old bridge was destroyed and lay in ruins until it could be "new builded" at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Spara Bridge was an important position militarily as a result of events in the English Civil War. In this simple map below you can see that it was the main crossing point of the river Teign which was a natural barrier between the opposing forces at Exeter and Bovey Tracey. This ultimately meant that the area in between became a battleground. The major fighting took place during the Battle of Bovey Heath.

In 1645 this area was along with the entire South West held by the Royalists. The Parliamentarians had just secured victory at The Battle of Naseby in Northamptonshire so moved their focus to the Royalist South West. They took Langport in Somerset in July and then moved to the Royalist stronghold of Exeter. The siege of Exeter followed.

The Royalists, in an attempt to relieve Exeter set up a base at Bovey Tracey with three regiments of cavalry. When news reached the Parliamentarians laying siege to Exeter they broke off a cavalry detachment led by Oliver Cromwell to Bovey Tracey. It's amazing to think that this regiment could well have crossed the river right here.

Thomas Wentworth, 5th Baron Wentworth had been given command of the troops at Bovey Tracey. In his history, Amos Miller describes that Wentworth "allowed his officers to keep lax guard", and Cromwell was able to surprise the Royalists with a night attack. The Royalists at Bovey Tracey were playing cards when the attack started and made their escape from the inn in which they were staying by throwing their cash out of the front windows and running out of the back door. As the attacking soldiers fought over the money, most of the Royalists escaped in the chaos, while Cromwell captured 400 of their horses and seven colours (flags) including that of the King.

This catastrophe for the Royalists led to the abandonment of Exeter and refuge was taken in Launceston, Cornwall, where Wentworth was laughingly demoted to "General of Horse" with 400 fewer horses after his defeat. Towns and villages fell in sequence to the Parliamentarians as the Royalists retreated further and further south and west into Cornwall. Exeter fell in April 1646 and the war was concluded by June.

Eventually the railway arrived and has since left. When it ran, the line followed the river right here and only yards from the bridge on the north side. There was a station built in the village and as you crossed the bridge into the village you would also have crossed the line.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams - Monday 09 October 1882


This railway, which is to be opened to-day, has had a most chequered history. Twenty-one years ago a scheme was started for supplying railway accommodation to the inhabitants of the district, under the name of the Devon Central Railway, with one branch extending from Exeter to Chagford, and another, branching off from that, to run down through the Teign Valley........ the Teign Valley Railway scheme was promoted by a Limited Liability Company, with Lord Haldon, then Sir Lawrence Palk, as chairman, his lordship being one the largest landowners in the locality and desirous of developing its rich mineral resources. After the formation of the Company various Acts of Parliament were applied for different times........ For a time, indeed, the works were abandoned, and the scheme lay dormant for years, the rails being almost completely covered with weeds. About twelve or fifteen months ago the Great Western Railway Company entered into an agreement with the Teign Valley Company to work the line, and after all these years it has at length been completed and put in thorough working order.

The Teign Valley Line is about eight miles in length. It is narrow gauge, the width between the metals being 4ft. 8 1/2 in. It is single line throughout, except at the stations and sidings. There are three stations, vz., Chudleigh, Trusham, and Ashton.......

.....The line runs through some exceedingly pretty scenery on the thickly-wooded banks of the river Teign, which it crosses three or four times. There have been no engineering difficulties to speak of to contend with in the construction of the railway, and an almost uniform level has been preserved for nearly the whole distance......

.........From Trusham Station the line makes its way to Ashton, passing at the back of Canonteign Barton, an historical ivy-clad building which was garrisoned during the reign of Charles 1, and which was the residence of the first Viscount Exmouth, the gallant Admiral Pellew. Near here the line passes through some valuable stone deposits, which will probably be worked now that ready means of conveyance is brought so near. ln the locality are also iron-ore, silver-lead, and manganese, and the opening of the line will doubtless soon lead to the working of mines for the bringing of these metals to the surface. Close by Ashton Station is Ashton (Spara) Bridge, a picturesque, ancient, and substantial structure, with V-like projections on either side as seen in connexion with Staverton Bridge and other bridges in various parts of the county.

The river is 31 miles long. The river name 'Teign' is first attested in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 739, where it appears as Teng. The name is pre-Roman, related to the Welsh taen meaning 'sprinkling', and means simply 'stream'. Unusually it has two sources, the north and south Teign rivers which meet at Leigh Bridge.

Western Times - Friday 05 February 1892




The Bridge, Main Roads and County Buildings Committee recommended improvements Spara Bridge at cost not exceeding £15. (£1230 equivalent today)

I am tempted to say that Devon County Council would probably like to get away with spending that sort of sum today for bridge maintenance.

That is all I have about Spara Bridge now, and the end of the Car Tour is coming up. I am not going to say too much as the main subject left, The Exe and its bridges at Exeter will be covered in a later post. This Car Tour and the photos that follow inspired me to do a photo walk in Exeter and the first part of that walk is already up here, Exeter Photo Walk 1. It will eventually reach the river where I will cover the Exe Bridges in more detail. Both the original one and its replacement.

There has been the vaguest flash across my mind about the possibility of doing a second river series on the River Teign, which might be called "River Teign Moor to Sea". River Avon Moor to Sea starts here.

We are now headed for a quick loop around through Exeter. Exeter is a small city and you can be in it and out of it in a flash, as you will see.

No high-rises here, just the ancient cathedral which still dominates the skyline.

Exeter St Thomas railway station is a suburban railway station in Exeter, serving the suburb of St Thomas and the riverside area. The station is elevated on a low viaduct with entrances on Cowick Street and is the only station in Exeter which is listed (Grade 2).

If it is a Grade 2 listed station I must add it to my list of places to see. The railway was worked by atmospheric trains from 13 September 1847 until 9 September 1848. Unique in all the South Devon Railway stations, there was no engine house, so the driver had to hold the train on its brakes against the pressure in the pipes while it was stopped here.

The current Exe Bridge. Not listed.

......and we are quickly out of the city again and headed for the Haldon Forest where we didn't explore on this occasion because we had run out of time.

....down some very narrow lanes.

.... through a farm yard.

....and into the forest. We are planning our next Car Tour, number 5.

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