The bridge at Pooley Bridge

by Emma Bray

Banner image: Pooley Bridge on old postcard, courtesy of Jane Newport

The steel bridge at Pooley Bridge was constructed in 2020 to replace a stone bridge built in 1764 which collapsed after Storm Desmond in 2015.

Named after its bridge

The village of Pooley Bridge was called Pooley (meaning “pool by the hill”) until around 1800 when the word bridge was added to the name, probably as a result of the building of a new stone bridge in 1764. That bridge replaced a previous bridge of an unknown date, shown in a sketch by the antiquarian Rev. Machell in 1689. It had two arches and straight sides. From very early times, there was a V-shaped crossing made of stones across the river which was used to trap fish by placing a net in a gap between the points of the V shaped stone. This was known as a stank.

The 1764 bridge was made of stone and had three arches with two large buttresses sited in the river to support it. The River Eamont which it spans marked the boundary between the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, so agreement was reached between the two counties for it to be built. The initials of the masons and constructors were carved into the stone buttresses.

Pooley Bridge on old postcard, Courtesy Jane Newport

A casualty of Storm Desmond

Sadly, at 2pm on Sunday 5 December 2015, the central span of the bridge was swept away by the swollen river, a result of Storm Desmond which caused devastation to so many parts of Cumbria. The remainder of the bridge was swept away that evening leaving the flooded community cut in two by the river. Fortunately, although people had been on the bridge that day to look at the flood waters, nobody was on it when it collapsed.

For four months, the community on the east side had a long diversion to get to Penrith as Eamont Bridge was also closed due to safety concerns. Stone and debris were removed from the river during January 2016 by Waitings Drainage and on 20th March 2016, a metal bailey bridge, built by Story Construction, was opened to traffic.

The fall of Pooley Bridge © Phil Rigby

First stainless steel bridge for the UK

The community held meetings in the summer of 2016 to try to agree on a new bridge, but it was not until 26 July 2017 that formal community consultations began. Three designs were put forward and there was universal support for the final design which is a single wide, low arch structure made of stainless steel – the first stainless steel bridge in the UK. It was constructed by Eric Wright Engineering. The crossing was closed to cars once again during construction, but a footbridge was opened on 20th September 2019 to link the two banks for pedestrians. The steel structure was built off site and delivered in January 2020. Delays in construction were caused by the Covid 19 pandemic, but the structure was lowered into place on 7th May 2020 by the largest crane in the country. The operation can be viewed in the You Tube link.

Pooley new bridge © Jane Firth

Completion of the bridge was on 23rd October 2020. The opening ceremony was low-key due to the pandemic. The first to cross the bridge were sheep accompanied by William Coulston and his family from Hole House Farm. Local people and supporters donated money to have their names carved into paving flags on the footpaths over the bridge.

by Emma Bray


Miles MacInnes, The Destruction of Pooley Bridge in December 2015

John L. Towler, A Full History of Pooley Bridge from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 1990

Luke Coulston helps drive the first flock of sheep across the new bridge © Steve Barber

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