A1-The Great North Road

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From Harry Inglis, The 'Contour' Road Book of England 1911

The Roman Ermine Street (also called Watling Street) crosses the Went half a mile west of Wentbridge, passes west of Pontefract and crosses the Aire at Castleford, while the Great North Road took a more easterly route.  The building of a bridge over the River Aire at Ferrybridge in the 13th century produced a realignment of the road through the village of Wentbridge and a resulting growth in its importance.

There is a picturesque stone bridge over the river Went, largely 18th century, but probably enclosing an earlier medieval bridge which carried all the A1 traffic until bypassed in 1965. The Went flows in a narrow, steep-sided valley and the road had a very steep gradient on the northern side.  The original highway is just a public bridle-way now, climbing through the woods out of the valley to the north. The road was made safer when the adjacent cutting was blasted through the rocks in about 1830, rather late in the day for the coaching era. Even this 'new' road has the second steepest gradient (after Alnwick) on the Great North Road. Inglis noted it as "1 in 14 (dangerous)".  The bridge is mentioned in what may be the earliest Robin Hood ballad, Robin Hood and the Potter: "Y mete hem bot at Went breg,' syde Lyttyl John"

The Blue Bell Inn

The Blue Bell Inn is one of the oldest remaining pubs on the Great North Road, though the exterior is so well kept it looks quite modern at first glance.  On closer inspection it urns out the place was pretty much rebuilt in 1974 though the old stone was reused and the interior has been fitted with a lot of reclaimed timber and ex-church furniture.
There was another inn, closer to the bridge, called the Bay Horse but it closed in the 1870s.  It was more of a drovers inn than used for coaching.  On the north side of the river a large 18th century house is now the Wentbridge House Hotel


In the mid 1960s a high viaduct was constructed half a mile downstream from Wentbridge to carry the A1 over the valley.

The Highways Agency received an award for excellence from the Concrete Society for the Wentbridge Viaduct on the A1 just north of Doncaster. Judges praised 'The clean and still contemporary lines of the structure which are no less elegant than when it was built'. Certificates are given to structures more than 25 years old and are judged on their appearance and harmony with surroundings, workmanship, durability and design.

From above,

The Wentbridge Viaduct


from the side

and from below.

The southward expansion of the Prince of Wales Colliery under the Went Edge area was limited by the need to preserve a sterilized pillar to support the Wentbridge Viaduct.


Brockadale Nature Reserve occupies much of the Went valley eastwards from the Wentbridge Viaduct to the Smeatons.  To walk to the reserve from Wentbridge, take the public footpath that leads off the main road opposite the side road to Thorpe Audlim (B6474).  The path runs along the south side of the river and under the A1 viaduct.  The track on the north bank goes past the church, a sign saying "Private access no right of way" and a padlocked gate covered in barbed wire before reaching the nature reserve.  No right to roam here then.  Sad, this would have made a pleasant circular walk from Wentbridge.

Here is Fletcher's description, written about 1900:

"Here, if it happens to be spring or summer, the lover of the beautiful will pause unconsciously, minded to stay near the old bridge until he has satisfied his eyes.  Few villages in Yorkshire are so picturesquely situated as Wentbridge.  From its southern point on the Great North Road - redolent with memories of the good old days when highwaymen and post-chaises, run-away lovers and mail coaches, were as thick as blackberries - drop suddenly down through the woods and coppices, past the famous Blue Bell Inn to the bridge spanning the Went, only to rise again on the shoulder of Went Hill on the other side, to the undulating land stretching towards Ferrybridge. Looking eastward from the bridge, the Went winds in delightful curves along an ever-narrowing valley until it is lost to sight amidst the woods of Brockadale.  Nothing could be more picturesque than the picture thus offered - a picture of quaint houses and cottages with trim gardens and smooth green lawns and quiet stretches of meadow-land on either side the river.

"Nowadays Wentbridge is a peaceful and a sleepy place, but it was busy enough in the days when the Great North Road was the main highway from London to York.  There were at that time four inns in the place, and of these, one, the Blue Bell, is worth climbing the hill from the bridge to see.  It is said to be the oldest licensed house on the Great North Road, and it is certain that its license was taken away three hundred years ago because the landlord had been harbouring footpads and other ne'er-do-wells.  In 1633 the license was restored, and the sign then erected - a stout oak board, ornamented by a bell - still hangs inside the house, and will apparently defy decay for another century.  The ivy-covered house close to the bridge was until twenty-five years ago the Bay Horse Inn."

It's remarkable how, a hundred years on, Fletcher's description accurately fits modern Wentbridge, now that the A1 traffic is kept half a mile away.

About four miles downstream from Wentbridge, the River Went flows under another Went Bridge, this on the eastern branch of the Great North Road, now the A19, from Doncaster to York via Selby.

This cast-iron milepost stands, somewhat buried and sadly neglected, on the west side of the road as it climbs steeply out of Wentbridge, reminding us that we have come 11 miles from Doncaster and that it is 4 miles to Ferrybridge, 161/2 miles to Tadcaster and 251/2 to York.

The old road through Wentbridge rejoins the A1 at the top of the hill half a mile north of the village but turn left just before the junction to visit the next village, Darrington, without joining the rush of A1 traffic for a short way.


North of Wentbridge, the next village is Darrington (no not in Borcetshire).  The A1 crosses the Pontefract-Womersley road with a fly-over built in the 1980s over the top of the old traffic light controlled crossroads.  The drawing shows the crossroads before the road was widened in the 1930s.  The two inns, the Ship and the Crown, with its extensive stables, were demolished in the process.

Great North Road crossroads in Darrington c.1920.

Click on image for enlarged view and Darrington Website

Ah well! that's progress.  The village has still got two pubs, The Chestnut, overlooked by the passing flyover traffic and the Spread Eagle, a hundred yards west.


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©Biff Vernon 2001, 2002