The Hanford Bridge Disaster

Today nothing remains of the ancient stone bridge that spanned the River Trent at Hanford. This ancient highway has always been one of the major routes travelling through the county and by the 17th century the bridge was known to have had at least three arches.


Before local councils took over the responsibility for the upkeep of roads, this obligation fell upon the parish and its officers, in particular the officer known as the Overseer of the Highways. Upkeep was often a combination of levies and labour. As well as financially providing for the maintenance of the roads within their parish, the inhabitants were also required to physically work on the roads themselves, usually for six days each year.


Despite being situated on the highway, for much of its existence Hanford was a tiny hamlet with only a handful of dispersed houses along with a watermill on the Trent below the eastern side of the road. Even during the 1840s there were still only a few houses along the A34 and Church Lane. Forty years later much of New Inn Lane and Church Lane had been developed with residential housing, although the main A34 was still only sparsely populated. Until the 20th century the community was detached from the growing pottery towns until Campbell Road was built.


Both the bridge and the road it carried appear to have suffered from poor maintenance. In 1762 the extent of the road ‘from a certain place near a newly erected cottage in New Inn Lane in the possession of Margaret Carthlich to the end of Hanford liberty towards New Inn Mill adjoining the liberty of Trentham containing about a quarter of a mile in length and ten yards in breadth’ was described as being out of repair and recommended that ‘the inhabitants of Handford ought to repair and amend the same.’ In 1772 at the Stafford Quarter Sessions there were complaints that the bridge was out of repair and that the inhabitants again ought to repair it.


What condition the bridge was in on Monday October 6th 1794 is unknown. This was the date of ‘a sudden and terrible accident’ caused by ‘the violence of the flood upon the River Trent which overflowed the turnpike road at the north end of the bridge.’ When this disaster occurred John Wright, a carrier, was crossing with his load. While he was on the bridge ‘the stream being very rapid forced the horses to vary from the track and overturned his cart into the water.’ The unfortunate accident reduced Wright from being a person of ‘comfortable and easy circumstances to great difficulty and distress.’ This was because his load consisted of twenty-six chests of tea which he was obliged to make good to the owners.


An estimate of Wright’s loss was totalled at £344-4s-3d. This included £256-16-3 for the loss of the tea, £15-15-0 for its carriage, £21-5-0 expense for getting the tea out of the water and drying it, £35-0-0 for the loss of his wagon and horse, and a further £15-15-0 in expenses attending the misfortune.


The Justices of the Peace for Stafford petitioned the Lord Chancellor to grant what was known as Letters Patent. These were to enable him to ask for and receive charitable contributions towards his relief throughout Great Britain. The Justices pleaded on his behalf that without these bequests it would cause ‘the utter ruin of the said poor sufferer and his family unless relieved by the charitable contributions of well-disposed Christians.’ Sadly what became of Wright is unknown as no further documentation survives concerning his plight.